Spring is a magical time for the angler. A long, cold winter finally releases its tight grip on the lakes and rivers of northern Ontario. The disappearance of the ice triggers movements of pike and walleye to the spawning grounds. Once the deed is done, both species are hungry, making for some of the best fishing of the year. Here is a look at the spring habits of pike and walleye and the best ways to catch them.
The walleye spawning period varies in the north, but depending on the arrival of spring, it will usually be some time from middle to late May. There are years when the opening weekend catches the tail end of the spawn. Generally, however, the fish will be through the spawn by the May long weekend.
Walleye typically spawn in running water in rivers, and in streams that run into lakes. They also will spawn on wind blown, rocky shores. Much of the spawning activity happens at night and is over relatively quickly. In spring, when the cold drags on, fish may hang around spawning areas a bit longer. The larger female walleye will tend to leave the spawning areas first, and the males hang around longer in case they missed anyone. That’s why it’s common to catch smaller fish dripping milt in rapids on opening days. These are the keeners.
In late May and early June, it will pay off to start any fish search near potential spawning areas, like at the bottoms of rapids. If they aren’t there in numbers, start spreading your search out. Spring walleye will also generally be shallow, usually in less than 10 feet of water. Prominent visible structure on lakes such as points, boulder fields, or rock reefs, are also worth a look.
One of my favourite areas to catch spring walleye is in shallow, sandy bays with emerging weeds and reeds. Even a few old sunken stumps will attract fish. Post-spawn walleye will chase minnows and bugs that is hiding in this cover. It is incredible how shallow these fish can be. If the wind starts to blow, expect that the walleye will move even shallower and close to shore. A warm south wind will kick things into high gear.
Spring Walleye Techniques
The go to spring walleye technique for most anglers is a jig and plastic. In shallow water, use a lighter jig in the ¼ to 3/8 oz. range. A brightly coloured head will draw attention, especially in stained water. Add to the jig a three or four-inch plastic body, depending on hook shank length. A short-shanked hook coupled with a longer body will mean missed fish. Some people like to use a stinger hook with a jig, and it can help hook short striking fish.
The most popular choices for spring walleye jigging are rubber bodied twisters or minnow shaped flukes. A three-inch chartreuse, yellow, black, or white twister will normally be enough to get you a lot of fish, but don’t be afraid to try oddball colours like purple, pumpkin or blue. Scented bodies always seem to be a bit more effective, especially when the water is cold. Drop the jig to the bottom and lift it slowly. When you jig, always follow the line down with your rod tip and watch for any sudden slack. That will be a walleye sucking in the jig. Set the hook! Minnow shaped bodies or flukes are often the best when targeting larger walleye. Use a pointed or bullet shaped head and cast it out and swim it back slowly just off bottom. A natural looking body often works best, but I’ve seen chartreuse, white and glow minnow bodies do a lot of damage as well.
If jigs aren’t your thing, try casting a Rapala Husky Herk, towards shore and working it back with downward pumps of your rod. Husky jerks throw a lot of flash and attract big fish. Silver, perch, and fire tiger HJ’s all work very well. Consider taking all but the back treble hook off a sit is easier on the fish and angler.
Pike are the first to spawn and will often do so under the ice or just after ice out. Most of the time, they spawn in shallow, weedy back-bays, but river mouths are also prime pike spawn areas as well as reeds along shoreline. Pike are quite active when they spawn, and you can often see them – or hear them – swirling in the back bays and shallows. Pike can also be aggressive with each other, and they will bite each other leaving nasty scars.
Spring Pike Location
As mentioned, pike spawn in shallow, weed laden areas, and are especially fond of bays with a southern exposure. Sandy bays are favoured spots for post spawn pike, especially if there is new aquatic vegetation poking up. Pike will sit like logs in shallow back bays, soaking up the spring rays. Often, they will be dormant in the morning, but get on the feed in the afternoon as the water warms. Spring pike will also be attracted to current, as bait fish like suckers hang out there as well as minnows and even small walleye.
I’d recommend keeping it simple when it comes to pike fishing. My number one early season presentation is a Johnson Silver Minnow weedless spoon. This is a no brainer lure and catches big gators. Just cast it out and retrieve it straight back, allowing the spoon to wobble temptingly. I like to add a 4-inch white twister to the single back hook for a little more action. For pike that are in more open water, a #5 Mepps Musky Killer is a great presentation. Silver or white and red blades matched with white or black bucktail will work very well. I prefer a single treble or Siwash hook over multiple trebles. Add a for inch white or red twister for outrageous action that will make pike go bonkers. Always use a steel leader when you fish pike. It will save you losing a lot of lures and is ultimately easier on the fish.
Spring is here and the time is right to hit the water. Armed with the information found here, you should be ready for your most successful pike and walleye season ever.