Proper rig is key when going after spring walleye

  • It's time to go after walleye, which should be in more shallow water this time of year.

    It's time to go after walleye, which should be in more shallow water this time of year. Daily Herald File Photo

By Evan Gregor
Daily Herald fishing writer
Updated 3/23/2021 7:07 PM

Spring is here, and that means the annual walleye spawning migration -- the "run" -- is about to begin.

As the ice melt concludes walleye make the transition from their winter homes, usually lakes or other deep water areas, to their spawning grounds in rivers and other tributaries. During this short period, anglers have a reasonable chance at catching great numbers of the prized catch, even from shore.


To make the most of the walleye run, you have to understand a few key details about their spawning habits. Walleye tend to flock in fairly shallow areas of rivers, streams and creeks. Any area from 6 feet down to a foot is suitable.

Structure is also important as walleye prefer to spawn over rocky, gravel-strewn areas. By seeking out spots with this kind of bottom composition, you're putting yourself in better position to find fish.

Once you locate the right area condition-wise, approach becomes crucial. River currents can be rather variable in early spring, and rain and snowmelt both can create drastic swings. When locating springtime walleye you want to be fishing just off the bottom, so it's important to coordinate the weight of your rig with the speed of the current. The faster the current, the heavier the weight.

Choosing a rig for spring walleye can be a bit of a challenge, mainly because there are a lot of options that work well in specific applications. Of all the choices, the three most popular are jigs, plastics and crankbaits.

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Jigs are arguably the go-to bait, and definitely the most versatile. They can be fished from shore on a three-way rig or with a soft plastic trailer, vertically on a boat with a live minnow or leech and drifted through eddies or other slack water.

The key to plastics in for current walleye fishing window is the array of colors that are available. Walleye-specific plastics often come in highly visible colors like chartreuse, neon orange and glow-in-the dark, which are perfect for using during lowlight conditions and in muddy water.

As waters warm up throughout the course of the day, fish tend to become more active. This is where crankbaits really shine. Reeling in a crankbait with the current and allowing it to periodically tick off the bottom is a great way to draw strikes. Baits like the Rapala Husky Jerk and the Lucky Craft Pointer are walleye favorites.

The spring run is no doubt one of, if not the best, times of the year to target walleye. If you're looking to take advantage of the run nearby, check out the Fox River system near the Chain O' Lakes in northern Illinois or the Rock River system about 100 miles west of Chicago. If you can travel, legendary walleye runs occur annually at the Maumee River in Ohio and the tributaries of the Bay of Green Bay in northwestern Wisconsin.

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