Most would agree that fall is the best time of year for trophy-sized walleyes, but I have no doubt that the hard-fighting, crank-bait-crushing fish of spring rank number one when in comes to pure enjoyment on the water.
As these walleye move into their post-spawn patterns in large mesotrophic Canadian Shield lakes with sparse weeds, it’s been my experience that bigger females will separate from the smaller males and venture out to rocky shorelines and boulder points to ambush schools of roaming baitfish in an attempt to bulk up.
This period provides anglers with an excellent opportunity to chase highly aggressive trophy-class walleye, and here are the locations and tactics you can use to target them.
Location, Location, Location
There’s no bigger factor in successfully targeting post-spawn walleye than location. Generally at this time of year, although large walleye aren’t schooling, they will be relating to the same structure and depth as one another throughout the lake.
Preparation: Start off at home by looking at depth charts of your lake and figuring out where the walleye spawn in the area. Whether in large rivers or rocky shoals, bigger walleye won’t be far away, and the nearest islands or shorelines with access to deep water will be a good area to explore.
Structure: When looking for a structure to target, I place bouldery bars in the 8–10-foot range off of islands that drop off into deep water as top priority. This type of structure will hold fish all day, as it provides a good ambush point for walleye along the break.
These areas are also beneficial to anglers because they’re easy to dissect, while secondary areas like rocky island shorelines require more time and searching to pinpoint fish.
Peaks and Key Periods: It’s no secret that dawn and dusk are peak activity periods for walleye, and this still applies for these applications. But don’t be afraid to fish in bright skies, especially if there’s a good chop; spots can become super charged with big walleyes when a good wind comes blowing in on your structure. Any storms or overcast, low-pressure systems can also turn fish on.
Main Course Meal
Now that you’ve scouted areas with good potential, it’s time to start putting gold in the boat. There are a number of presentations to go about enticing these big walleye to bite, but my absolute favourites are crank baits and jerk baits.
Both presentations offer the same principle: slowly worked baits dragged over the break where these big walleye lay in wait.
Jerk Bait: For a jerk-bait setup, I prefer a 7-foot medium-heavy spinning rod with 12-pound braid mainline tipped with a 4-foot, 10-pound fluorocarbon leader.
Start out your retrieve by working the jerk bait with sharp twitches and quick pauses. As you approach the break, begin to slow down and lengthen the pauses and twitch the bait less aggressively. Don’t be afraid to let the bait suspend dead in the water, even for up to five seconds—this gives fish lurking deeper off the break a chance to come up and investigate.
Make sure to pay close attention to any line movement on the pause—not all the time, but most of the time—as this is when the fish will strike.
Crank Bait: When it comes to crank bait setups, I prefer a 7-foot-6 medium-action casting rod with an extra fast tip, spooled with 20-pound mono. Make long casts up shallow using diving crank baits such as Rapala Tail Dancers, and slowly pump the rod before reeling up the slack. I’m not exactly sure what it is about this retrieve, but I’ve found that it out produces steady retrieve a large majority of the time.
Whether you’re fishing jerk baits or crank bait, when these big spring walleye hit, they usually crush it and fight for their lives after the hook set. Add the right location, the right time, and the right presentation, and you’ve created a recipe for giant spring walleye success.