It is that time of year again when anglers from all over the state head out in pursuit of a trophy walleye. The snow is melting, and the rivers are starting to flow. This is nature's process that will get the walleyes ready for the spawn. This is also the time of year when females carry an extra few pounds that add bulk to the trophy fish that are caught throughout the many river systems throughout the state. The Bay of Green bay and its tributaries offer some of the best trophy walleye fishing, and is becoming one of the premiere fishing destinations in the Midwest.
One of the top destinations in the spring is the Fox River in De Pere. There are approximately 300,000 walleyes each year that venture up the Fox River to spawn. At times during the walleye run, you will find hundreds of anglers in their boats up near the dam. I have found that the 6 miles of the Fox River downstream from the dam is just as good as the areas near the dam, but without the fishing pressure. Walleyes travel along the bottom of a river because there is less current here. One of the most popular techniques is vertical jigging with a lead head jig and a minnow. A couple of complements for the jig head and minnow are ring worms, twister tails, and the various Gulp and Powerbait products. All these options produce fish, some produce more on any given day as long as your presentation is correct. "Vertical jigging" means your line is straight up and down and you want to be able to feel your jig "tick" the bottom as you move downstream. That means when you are in the current you must follow your line downstream. I do this by pointing the bow of my boat upstream, and by pulsing my Minn Kota Terrova on and off. By doing this you can keep your boat going at the same speed as your jig. I also try to keep my jig working up and down the breaks as we move down the river. I will only use a good graphite rod, with a reel spooled with either PowerPro or Fireline in a 6lb or 8lb test. At the end of my braid, I tie on a 6lb-8lb fluorocarbon leader about 2 feet long. I do this because this will give my jig a very natural presentation, and with the braid, I can feel my jig tap every rock on the bottom. When jigging always make sure your knot that is tied to your jig is at the top of the eyelet. This will help your jig sit level in the water.
Baits of Choice:
Various sizes of jig heads 1/32oz to 1/2 oz. with a full spectrum of colors. Tails: Paddle tails, twister tails, ring worms, Gulp minnows and Powerbaits. All these will have multiple colors and sizes. On the easy days, fish bite on just about anything. It's the tough day when you try everything in your box and whatever you don't have in your tackle box that day, is the very thing they were biting on! Believe me, it happens to the best of us!
Another great technique is trolling the mud flats. When the sun shines down on these flats the water tends to warm up fairly quickly. Walleyes are attracted to the warmer areas of the dark shallow water. This isn't necessarily where you may start off in the morning, but these areas can turn on in just a few hours after the sun starts to warm these waters. This is where you need either very small baits, or the large crank baits. When I troll upstream I usually troll at a 30 degree angle to the current. Fish face upstream so trolling at an angle will present a larger profile for the fish to see. When trolling downstream, keep the current in mind or your baits will not have any action and again, try and troll at a slight angle to the current to give your presentation a larger profile to the fish.
Baits of Choice:
Large shallow running crankbaits, Rapala # 12 or #14 Husky Jerks and small crankbaits like #4, #5 and #7 Flickershads, and Salmo Hornets.
A seemingly little known fact is that there are more and more walleyes spawning along the rocky shores of the bay. These areas are becoming more and more popular with anglers and are producing some of the best trophy fishing on the waters of Green Bay. In the spring, trolling Rapalas, Flickershads and Salmo Hornets along the rocky shorelines are the baits of choice. These shallow areas warm quickly along as the sun is shining and the winds aren't blowing cold water into the shoreline.
Other areas you can find walleyes are out front of the many tributaries along the eastern and western shorelines. The staging areas for the pre spawn walleyes along the western shore run from Oconto to Marinette. Along this stretch are several rivers in which the walleyes spawn namely, Oconto, Peshtigo, and Menominee. On the Eastern Shores these trophies are staging along the rocky shorelines of Sturgeon Bay. You will have to search to find these fish, as they sit in waters from 20ft to 4 ft., and anywhere from right out in front of the rivers and Channels, to several miles up and down the shorelines. This is where I use my Humminbird Helix 12 to find these fish. With the high definition, it can pick out these fish very quickly. When you find them, back off from the spot and use your bow mount trolling motor to work the area. I prefer the Minn Kota Terrova, as it is one of the best on market. When you find active fish, set the anchor mode, this will allow you to fish and not have to worry about boat control. Rapalas Rippin' Raps and the Shiver Minnows take the majority of fish. It can take several hours at times to find the active females, but when you do, it might become one of the best days on the water you will ever have!
With the Rippin' Raps we make long casts and allow the bait to sink to the bottom. To use the bait properly, you lift and reel, keeping the bait near the bottom without it touching and getting fouled with Zebra mussels. Lifting fast enough, you can feel the rattle with your fishing rod. Changing your speed of lift and speed of retrieval until you find what the fish are looking for. The walleyes just don't hit these baits, they crush it!
Baits of Choice:
Rip Raps #5, #6, #7
We also use the Shiver Minnow making long casts and letting it reach the bottom. The first way is to lift up your rod tip and reel, lift and reel, lift and reel. Doing this fast enough that the bait is just off the bottom. Another way to use it is a slow hop. You do this by snapping your rod tip straight up, which will pull the bait off the bottom and then pulling your rod tip back to the side. You stop your rod tip, you then set the bait on the bottom, keeping tension on your line. If you are getting zebra mussels on the bottom hook, it generally means you are dragging it on the bottom, not hopping it and setting it back down. Doing this, the bite will happen when the bait stops and hits bottom. Keep tension on your line as the walleyes will pick it up right off the bottom. We are trying to imitate a Gobie, which hop and make short swims right on the bottom. This can be absolutely deadly, even when the fish are turned off.
Baits of choice:
Shiver Minnows #2 (1/2oz) and #3 (1oz)
The time frame for these fish are from ice out, to the first of May. This always depends on the wind, which can blow cold waters from Lake Michigan down through the Bay, this can keep these fish around for a little longer. Our seasonal temperatures, a cold spring, this bite can last longer, and with a warm spring, these fish are here today and gone tomorrow. If you stay away from the crowds, you will find you can be much more successful on most days.
This time of year the waters of Green bay are very cold, hypothermia can set in in 30 minutes or less, so make sure your boat is in proper working order, you have a marine radio, and you inform someone as to where you are fishing.
Good Luck, have fun and most importantly be safe!