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How To Catch Walleye

Early spring brings serious Walleye fishermen to The Columbia River in pursuit of one of "the finest eating freshwater fish available." This time of year, known as the "pre-spawn" period, also presents the finest fishing action for the species. This is due in part to the availability of larger concentrations of fish in smaller areas.

As water temperatures slowly climb to 36-38 degrees Fahrenheit, Walleye begin their spawning runs from the lower reaches of impoundment's towards the tailraces of dams. It is here where they will find good spawning gravel and rock, aerated water and a good food supply. When the temperature reaches 44-46 degrees, the Walleye will be getting ready for spawning and some may already have. Either way, this is prime time to catch good numbers of fish.

Fishing techniques for the early part of runs emphasize vertical jigging. Your choice of jigs may not be as critical as your technique, but some consideration to size and color should be carefully thought out. In the high and muddy waters of February and early March, I usually have better results with high visibility colors, such as chartreuse, fluorescent green or red, or a fluorescent pink and white combination. When the water clears, a myriad of colors will produce fish, but the greens and chartreuse's remain my favorites as the river always has a darker cast to it at the depths we find fish.

The Lure

My favorite jig is known as a "bullet jig" or "tube jig." It is simply a bullet shaped lead-head jig with a tube skirt over it. Some bass fishermen may know this as a "Fat Getzit," only we tend to use a little heavier weight to offset strong currents encountered below the dams. Start with a 3/4 oz. or 1oz. bullet jig with a 1/0 or 2/0 hook and attach a "stinger hook" (trailing hook size of your choice, snelled to the jig hook with twelve lb. monofilament). Slide the lead head into the tube skirt using your favorite scent attractant or WD40 as a lubricant. Now all you need to do is thread on a nite-crawler (THIS IS A MUST!) and go fishing. To thread the 'crawler,' start with the stinger hook and thread the worm from below the band towards the tail onto the hook. Now hook the head of the worm onto the jig hook so it is stretched out between the two.

The Technique

Jig fishing for Walleye is a "finesse" technique that can be quickly learned if one has the proper equipment. You can simply drift with the current and quickly lower your jig to the bottom. Once down, work your lure only six to eight inches, making sure you keep a taught line on both the up AND down stroke. The key here is always keeping your line taught as the Walleye's bite can be very subtle, and any slack in the line will produce a missed strike. Another method for a more controlled drift is to use a bow mounted electric motor to slow your drift. This will keep your jig at a bit of an angle ahead of you so you can prevent more snags and detect the strikes easier. It will also allow you to stay in preferred depths as the current carries you downstream.


Without going into great detail on boats and motors, I would just say that the Columbia River can go from a calm impoundment to a raging river with five to six foot swells in a matter of minutes, due in part to prevailing winds blowing against the current. If you are in a smaller boat, stay near the shore, near the boat ramp, AND ALWAYS watch the weather! Your choice of rods and reels will be a critical factor in your success, and should be matched to the tackle you are using. With the heavier jigs, I prefer a six and a half to seven foot medium or medium/heavy action rod. A "soft tipped" rod will NOT give you the control and feel of what your jig is doing. Both level wind and spinning reels will work, but I prefer a level wind finding it easier for line control and "adjusting" for changes in depth. Eight to twelve lb. monofilament will suit most fishing conditions. I find the new "Spectra" lines are great, just a little hard to break loose from snags.

Finding the fish

Walleye can be found most anywhere in the river, but a good place to start is on or around sunken islands, generally in the twelve to twenty foot depth range. Breaklines or shelves that run parallel to the bank are another prime holding area. These breaklines generally taper or stairstep off towards the center of the river offering a variety of depths for fishing. Try a drift in ten to twelve feet of water, and gradually move to deeper drifts until you locate the Walleye. A fishfinder is a must, if only for depth control, though it is always nice to know there are fish in the area.

Patience and Perseverance

Walleye fishing can be a frustrating experience IF you expect to catch your limit (or even one fish) on every trip. The sometimes elusive fish seems to be affected by many factors, including but not limited to such things as barometric pressure, water fluctuations, wind and current. Don't be discouraged if you go out one day and catch a big stringer of fish, then come home "skunked" the very next day. Sometimes they just do not want to bite! Stick with the basics, experiment a little, and be persistent. Eventually they WILL BITE! Good Luck.......

This article submitted by: Jack laFond Young's Fishing Service, Inc.