Driftless Outdoors: Will we see March weather in April?

By Capn. Ted Peck

Capn. Ted Peck

Walleye fishing in Pool 9 is phenomenal right now! Last week the “clicker” used to count fish coming across the gunnel of my board recorded 100 walleyes, sauger and perch—by Wednesday.

About 90 percent of these fish fell to a B-Fish-N Tackle B-3 Blade Bait, a half-ounce piece of metal based on the Heddon sonar which has been catching fish on the Mississippi and elsewhere since 1956.

Approximately 70 percent of these fish were saugers or walleyes just short of the 15-inch minimum keeper size.  Four of the 100 were “slot” fish, 20-27 inches long, protected from harvest to ensure egg production. Fish in this size range are at least 90 percent female.

Over 30 percent of a walleye’s pre-spawn weight is comprised of eggs. Walleyes typically spawn on Pool 9 from April 15-20.  Several years ago, the females dropped their eggs on April 1.

These myopic fish typically carry on the family name when water temperatures reach 45-48 degrees, dropping eggs over rocky rubble bottom, within three days of the full moon if possible.

With unusually warm temperatures this month, water temperature on the river mainstem rose four degrees to 36 by last weekend—the full moon period. If Spring weather holds, walleyes may spawn before the end of March—unless next month develops “lion” tendencies. If so, we’ll likely see March weather in April.

Regardless, the arrival of meteorological Spring is almost a month away, the river is running low and quite clear and those dual-dorsaled denizens of the low light are really “on the chew”.

These fish are beginning to move out of wintering holes, “stair stepping” into ever shallower water as temperatures warm.  Walleyes have been in 22-32 feet of water, sauger in 30-50 feet of water and perch relating to wingdam rocks on the main channel 14-18 feet below the surface.

The traditional way to catch these fish on Pool 9 is a Taylor Tackle hair jig tipped with a three-inch minnow jigged vertically just off the bottom while the boat drifts slowly downstream.

Walleyes tend to prefer purple colors in a snap-jigging presentation, sauger like Kelly green fished with a slow lift/drop presentation within 18-inches of the bottom. Old “River Rats” hold this secret close to the vest.  Many younger rats have switched to pitching or dragging soft plastic baits like the ringworm, Pulse R and Ribb-Finn.  Purple firecracker/chartreuse tail works well in low, clear water.  A product called Liquid Willowcat, manufactured in Caledonia, Minn., squirted on the plastic produces amazing results.

Heddon Sonar template baits, like the local popular “Zonar” knockoff were one of my favorite spring walleye lures 60 years ago when I first started chasing these fish below the Bellevue dam on Pool 13. Rods were fiberglass back then. Electronics and electric trolling motors were unheard of. Lure presentation was essentially just vertical jigging. When the minimal sense of lure vibration felt through the fiberglass rod stopped, you set the hook.

Today’s electronics reveal intimate depth contours, bottom structure and actually show fish. “Spot lock” feature governed by GPS enables an angler to hold a desired position within five feet once fish are located.

With this technology and the ideal rod, reel and terminal tackle, putting 100 walleyes in the boat in les than a week is no big deal if you fish essentially every day.

My favorite tool is a St. Croix Avid 7’3” MLF rod, Seviin spinning reel spooled with 10 lb. test hi-vis Sufix braid line with a 22-24 inch 17 lb. P-Line fluorocarbon tip and a number 4 snap attached to the front hole of a purple glow or gold plate B-3 blade.

The only other variable – and it’s a critical one – is lure presentation. Unfortunately, mere words can’t adequately explain technique. The best teacher is time on the water.

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