Throttling Back for the Spring Attack
By John Peterson with Noel Vick
Energies and ambitions have been suffocated since
fall; back when turkey was served with mashed potatoes and ‘eyes
were stacked on points like lumber. Those were Hallmark moments, the
days after the leaves dropped but snow had yet to fall.
Yeah, ice fishing provided a redeemable outlet, too,
but spring is still spring. Putting the boat in; running your
fingers through a mess of leeches, all black ones; cocking back the
bail for the season’s maiden cast. That’s it. That’s the feeling.
But with a powder keg of restlessness within, when
the moment finally arrives, it’s easy to fish too fast.
Instinctually, you spray the water with casts and retrieve at
break-wind speeds. The lure would spark if it weren’t for the water.
Trouble is, though, the fish – your walleyes – aren’t inspired to
chase. They want to dine leisurely. Nibble. Hang onto lures.
But before discussing ways to neutralize this
lethargy, it’s necessary to first comment on the “where.” You see,
not all lakes were designed with spring walleyes in mind. Certain
undeniable characteristics make some bodies of water more qualified
Shallowness is trait one. Lakes with sweeping
littoral zones – areas 15 feet and shallower – and maximum depth of
35 feet or less are favored. They warm the fastest, especially if
the water is stained and or laden with sediments. Deep and clear
lakes are out, too, at least for now. Save those for midsummer and
Walleyes fancy certain terrain on “spring-oriented”
lakes as well. Sand and rubble bottoms are of interest, as are
emerging greens. Patches of deceased bulrushes also attract fish, as
they house baitfish and sprout from promising hard floors. Add to
the list tributaries and the protected northwest corner of the lake
and you’ve got an enticing menu of starting points.
You know the spots. They’re historic, proven. Alls
one has to do is pitch a jig to the bottom and ready the landing
net, right? Well…not always.
Suffice it to say, the lead headed jig is the
deadliest of all lures on spring walleyes. They are and forever will
be. But occasionally, conditions warrant the deployment of other
styles, like trolling crankbaits, dragging live bait rigs, even
Floats, yep, they’re the chosen ones under certain
circumstances. Underused and often misunderstood, slip-bobbers are
just what the walleye ordered in cold and sleepy springtime
environs. Balsa puts the bait in just the right spot and holds it
there, letting it swim, writhe, and tease. No chasing required.
Bobbers also fish exceedingly well over
obstructions, such as rocks and timber. Snaggy weeds and moss are
easily avoided too, as the bait passes safely overhead. But
most importantly, slip-bobbers provide the means to deliver bait to
a precise spot over and over again. Rock piles offer a prime
example. In the spring, walleyes will pile into the windward flank
of a wave driven reef; 90% of the fish might cling to 10% of the
structure. In such instances, maintaining boat position is grueling,
notwithstanding the evils trolling presents. Everything can get
spooked out if the hull whooshes over head. Anchoring and pitching a
slip-bobber is a far better option. Doing so yields control, as well
as the opportunity to plant the boat strategically, never passing
over the fish.
Effective bobber fishing must also entail correct
rigging. Essentially, there are two schemes for fixing-up a
slip-bobber; one includes a plain hook and the other is end-weighted
with a jig.
The second method is preferred, though, but oddly
enough, is the least utilized. The end-weighted slip-bobber rig
features a 1/32nd ounce jig with a long shank and wide-gap hook. The
Northland Tackle Gum-Ball Jig® and Glo-Ball Jig® are the best
overall lures for this application.
The jig achieves two objectives. For one, it, due do
its shape and coloration, acts as an attractor, enhancing the bait’s
inherent abilities. Secondly, the jig’s bodily weight holds the bait
at the selected depth, yet is light enough to allow the bait some
wiggle room. Too heavy a jig can render bait totally static.
Weighted and painted hooks, which are lures
in-and-of themselves, perform similarly. The insect-looking
Northland Ghost Grub® is a perfect example. It carries a broad gap
Kahle hook, making it marvelous for slipping walleyes.
Unfortunately, though, a 32nd ounce jig alone isn’t
massive enough to balance a walleye-sized bobber, let alone keep a
larger and sprightly minnow at bay. So shot must be implemented,
namely, Northland Hot-Spot Split Shot®. Pinch 1, 2, or 3 shot
6-inches to 18-inches above the jig. (How many and what size shot
you use must be determined by first testing bobber buoyancy. Add or
subtract shot until the bobber, with bait attached, rides just above
the surface but isn’t easily swamped.)
Hot-Spot Split Shot® – available in hot neon and
phosphorescent attractor colors – operate in chorus with the jig as
a temptation, especially in stained water and during low light
conditions. The alternate slip-bobber package is founded on a
plain hook, or one with modest flare, such as the Northland Super-Glo®
hook. Again, the jig program is superior, since it presents a bigger
and brighter target and keeps the bait in check, but when the bite’s
light, an old fashioned hook is priceless.
The size of the hook used is dictated by the type
and dimension of the bait in hand. Sizes 2 and 4 live bait hooks
match well with minnows; 2’s with shiners and other large minnows
and 4’s with fatheads. Size 4 and 6 hooks are best suited for
Shot spacing with a plain hook is the same as with a
jig; build in 6 to 18 inches. Once more, it’s prudent to tighten the
gap in colored water and widen it when the water’s clear.
Setting depth is comparably as important as rigging. With an
alligator-clip style depth finder affixed to the hook, slide the
knot up the line until the float plunges 6 to 8 inches beneath the
surface, which in reality means the bait will ride 6 to 8 inches off
the bottom. Unless the bite dictates otherwise, shallow springtime
walleyes operate tight to the bottom, so keep the goods low.
How you put the wood to ‘em is a final
consideration. Every Tom, Dick, and Harry has a “foolproof” regimen
for setting a slip-bobber. Some guys choke down a cigarette before
tightening down; others count, “one, one thousand…two, one thousand”
etcetera until reaching thirty or so, and then set. And some, the
twitchy-types, reef back at first sign the bobber has moved.
Unless you’ve already established a personal,
bulletproof process, try counting slowly to 3. With a sharpened
hook, low-stretch line, 6 ˝ foot or longer pole, and a sweeping but
assertive hookset, that fish should soon be at boatside.
It’ll be tough to do. Changing ones ways is never
easy; giving up the manly speed troll and power drift for an anchor
and rub-a-dub-dub tactic. You might even loose a chest hair or two.
But when the walleyes are pinpointed, and or their mood is subdued,
nothing bests the bobber.
To learn more about Northland Tackle’s complete
lineup of winter and summer lures go to
or dial 1-800-SUN-FISH and request a free catalog.