Ontario Walleye FishingOntario Walleye Fishing Tips and Resorts
Staying Current on River Walleye
Finding walleye in rivers can be just as challenging, if not more, than locating them in lakes. This difficulty can make rivers a second choice when lakes are easily accessible. These neglected waters can sometimes contain more and less pressured fish to be caught by anglers wise on the ways river fishing. One key factor to locating fish in rivers is establishing productive current areas containing fast and slack water close to prime structures and cover. Add a food supply to the mix, and you’ve got a gourmet recipe for river-walleye.
Keying in on Current
Aggressive and opportunistic feeders, walleye position themselves in mild or slack water areas close to fast moving water. Staying in slow moving water requires little energy, allowing them to feed on vulnerable minnows and other disoriented forage caught in the strong current. Walleyes can quickly ambush prey and then return to calmer current areas to wait for more food to arrive.
As an angler, one must learn how-to read the water to differentiate between non-productive and productive water. Finding areas with current is a step in the right direction. Dams, points, culverts, boulders, bridges, islands and inlet streams, all create fast currents, and subsequent slack water areas, on rivers. Finding current areas close to deep water pockets and drop-offs or next to weedy shallows holding baitfish are prime feeding spots for hungry walleye.
Low-light feeders, walleye aggressively feed in the shallows at dusk, dawn and at night; however, they can still be caught in the day. Current areas with varying depths allow walleyes to travel a range of water depths depending on the different light conditions. Locate shallow and deep water structures containing current and a natural pathway that concentrates fish (like a point or spine) and you’ll get into rod-bending action.
On a recent outing starting at first light, my partner and I found walleye aggressively feeding on minnows in four to six feet of water. We were fishing a rocky and weedy point adjacent to an inlet stream. The point’s depth slowly extends to 20 feet, and then quickly drops into a deep hole bottoming out at 45 feet. As the day became brighter we hooked more fish in 10 and 20 feet of water.
By late morning, the walleye had traveled to deep water to escape the bright sunlight. Luckily the area we were fishing had deep water structure nearby, allowing us to target these fish after dawn as they moved progressively deeper to escape the day’s bright light. What made the spot productive is that it has a significant current in addition to other great structure, such as deep water and a food supply from the inlet stream.
When fishing for walleyes in rivers it’s wise to have an assortment of lures that will cover various depths in vertical (jigs) and horizontal (minnow baits) presentations. In the scenario I describe above, both vertical and horizontal presentations had applications throughout the day.
At first light we found twitching minnow baits, like Rapala’s Husky Jerk and Smithwick’s Rogues, to be quite effective on walleye that were feeding on minnows in the shallows. A three-inch twister-tail grub on a jig head tipped with a minnow also fooled some walleyes in the eight to 10 foot range. As we worked fish on the edge of fast moving water between 10 and 20 feet, quarter ounce jigs became the best producer.
The key to fishing jigs in current is to cast the bait upstream on an angle and constantly maintain a tight line. Keep the jig on a tight line as it falls, and then hop it back towards the boat once it hits bottom. The deeper the water you fish, the heavier the jig you’ll need. In water over 20 feet, a jig may be more productive vertically jigged directly below the boat. Experiment with your presentation, from aggressive lifts to small hops.
Boat control is crucial to properly present lures in current. Anchoring is one solution, affording anglers the luxury of parking directly over a school of fish. This is advantageous when targeting finicky fish with finesse baits. To reduce too much sway in strong currents use two anchors, one at the bow and one at the stern. Although moderate sway can be beneficial as it allows you to fish a larger area when anchored.
Drifting is another option to fish current. The secret to successful drifting is finding the right speed, which is often slower than the current itself. A slow drift allows you to thoroughly fish an area, better control your lure, and choose the right presentation speed to match the fish’s mood.
An electric trolling motor will help you control the drift, preventing your boat from spinning as well as slowing the speed at which you move downstream. Using a drift sock is another method to slow a boat’s drift, although they can be difficult to use when fishing areas with different and fast moving currents in close proximity.
Tackle and Gear
Seven-foot rods provide better control over your bait when fishing in the current. Super-lines between eight- to 10-pound-test will heighten your sensitivity to jigs when hopped along the bottom as well as detect light bites from walleyes. Carry an assortment of jig heads in various weights (1/8- to ž-ounces) and grub and shad bodies ranging in size from three- to five-inches. Also make sure you have baits in both natural and hot colors, especially yellow and chartreuse grubs which are two of my favorites.
Minnow baits and shad crankbaits are also good bets for working current areas. Worms, leeches and minnows are a staple bait in any walleye boat to tip jigs when fishing lethargic or heavily pressured fish. Finally, a hydrographic map and fish finder will help you find current areas, structures (inlet streams and island) as well as drop-offs.
Finding current areas close to deep water and with a good supply of forage will increase your river-walleye catches this season. It takes time to locate productive areas, but it’s worth the effort. Not only will you land more river-walleye, but I’ll bet you a jig you’ll also see an improvement in your results the next time you fish a lake and key in on current.
By Tim Allard