Pre-Spawn River Walleye Fishing

My absolute favorite time of the year has finally arrived.  I know I’m not the only angler that intentionally drives over the bridges crossing the Missouri River just to see what the ice is doing.  I’m willing to bet my wife has heard countless reasons as to why it took me a little longer to get home from work. Checking boat ramps and ice conditions is not one of them.  

I start my season by looking through my log books from previous years.  I don’t get too technical in the information I keep, but I always jot down water temperature, clarity, barometric pressure and the output of the Garrison Dam followed by that day’s catch and what type of baits they were fooled by.  It’s river walleye fishing season, and the chance at a big fish is now.

Check Your Walleye Gear

Rods and reels scattered about my living room are a common sight this time of the year.  Preventing my three-year-old from destroying them is proving impossible. Then again, he’s probably wondering why he only has a Snoopy rod and Dad has expensive sticks.  

I begin by breaking down all my reels in order to clean and oil all the necessary parts.  I prefer Quantum Hot Sauce since I’ve never had an issue with it. Whatever you choose to use, it’s better than nothing.  I like to replace my mono each spring simply for peace of mind. I like to know that I have enough line on the spool and that it isn’t nicked up in any spots.  I tend to stick with Suffix mono in the six or eight-pound tests. 

When Berkley came out with their line stripper, I sort of turned my nose up at it.  I’ve always spun my cordless drill onto a screwdriver and stripped my line off fairly easily.  Scheels Fish Fest has a funny way of making me buy things I wouldn’t normally purchase. I’m happy I did, as it really is a handy tool to speed up the process.

My braid, typically 10 lb Power Pro Super Slick 8, gets a few yards cut off and a new 10 lb fluoro leader tied on.  I almost always use an Alberto knot simply because it holds up and I can tie it fairly quickly. For fluorocarbon, I’m a firm believer in Seagar Red Label not only because of the durability, but the price doesn’t break the bank.  

In my boat, you’ll find three rods that are always at the ready, my JT Mag Med Lite in 7’3”, a 7’1” MLXF St. Croix Legend Extreme and a 6’10” MXF St. Croix Legend Xtreme.  Prior to the season kicking off, I like to make sure the guides are free of any burrs or nicks.  

Simple maintenance of your fishing gear can go a long way when you hook into something big.

Fishing Walleye in a River

River Walleye Fishing Tackle

It wasn’t a good trolling season if I don’t have to sift through all of my trays and pluck out stray crankbaits that don’t belong.  Once I get everything back to where it’s supposed to be, I start checking for damaged treble hooks. Nothing grinds my gears more than having messed up hooks.  Now is always a good time to see what cranks are beaten up enough to warrant a new paint job. I know, some of the best cranks are the chewed up ones, but I can’t help but make them look pretty again.  

I’m getting a serious collection of jigs at this point in my life.  It seems like every year I start to like a certain style jig and end up buying all the colors and sizes that are offered.  

My main two jigs I still use are the VMC Moon Eye Jig and the H2O Precision Jig from Custom Jigs & Spins.  Once I have everything back into their respective bins, I snap a picture so I can refer back once I get to a tackle shop.  This leaves the guesswork out of it and it helps save some cash from unnecessary spending.  

Plastics.  I don’t know where to even begin with this addiction.  I have enough flukes and paddle tails to last my kid into his retirement years.  Again, it’s a good idea to go through your bags or trays of plastics to make sure you don’t buy your 20th pack of Pulse-R’s in firecracker with a chartreuse tail.  That color just looks too dang good.

One tip that I’ve picked up over the years is to have one small tray dedicated to cross-lock snaps, snap swivels, swivels, split shots, bobber stops/beads, etc.  It makes life a lot easier with all of those small items in the same place.    

All in all, a good once over all of your tackle saves you a lot of time on the water when you know everything is functional.  It’s easier to do it now while you wait for the ice to leave than wasting valuable minutes in the boat.  

How to Fish River Walleyes
While the pre-spawn river walleye fishing produces a lot of giant fish, they turn on a week after for some fun fishing as well.

River Walleye Fishing Tips

When it comes time to finally hit the water, I can’t help but be a little nervous.  I spent the first few trips finding the river channel while trying to preserve my lower unit.   I’d rather take a couple of days to find safe, navigable water than scratch the itch for that first fish.  

Once I’ve established a safe travel route, finding fish is my only goal.  After I moved to Bismarck, ND, I struggled to locate fish for quite a while.  This was an unfamiliar section of the Missouri River, which seemed to constantly change day to day.  I grew up fishing the tailrace and Stanton area of the river where the structure, flow, and current seams tend to stay fairly consistent.  

I try to stick to a couple of general rules of thumb.  Finding current seams or slack water, warmer water (especially when the spawn is near), feeder creeks and structure/sandbars/gravel shorelines should be your main goals.  When you do locate these little gems in the same spot, you often encounter fish.  

My absolute favorite tactic for spring river walleyes is to pitch a light jig into the shallows.  There is nothing like that thump on the end of your rod. I always try to use the lightest jig possible that allows me to feel the bottom contact.  Typically, that’s an eighth-ounce jig. If you start getting into a little heavier current, I side with the quarter ounce jig. The rare chance that I drift; I use 3/8 oz. jigs to maintain a vertical presentation.  Whatever your preference is, always try to match the conditions. I grew up with my dad and his friends using sixteenth-ounce jigs while out fishing everyone around them.  

Your bait of choice is of absolute personal preference.  The wide world of plastics offers a wide array of colors, shapes, and sizes to fill everyone’s personal preferences.  I like Zoom flukes and almost always stick with something close to white. It may be nothing more than a confidence bait, but I have had a lot of success with this setup. 

If I’m not pitching a jig, I’m pitching a Rapala Rippin Rap.  These lipless cranks have become an absolute favorite of mine and you’ll find one tied on to one rod throughout the year.  I tend to sift through my entire tackle box when choosing colors. Between all of the custom colors I paint and stock colors, I generally side with anything purple or gold.  If the water is dirty, I stick with darker colors while bright and shiny patterns get the nod if the sun is out and the water has cleaned up.  

I know we’re all chomping at the bit to get the boats out of their slumber.  Remember to be safe and lend a helping hand to those that may struggle at the boat ramp.  A little humanity and karma go a long way.  I hope these river walleye fishing tips help you get on a few pigs before it’s over.

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