Historic walleye spawn happening now

By Capn. Ted Peck

Mark Kauffman with 11 lb. 9 oz. walleye. (submitted)

The elusive double-dorsaled denizen of the low light – the walleye—is in the midst of the annual spring rite of procreation on the Upper Mississippi. 

Walleyes spawn at night when water temperatures warm to 45-48 degrees, preferably over rocky-rubble bottom on the quiet side of a moderate current backeddy.

When all these variables line up in conjunction with the full moon period most spawning will occur within three days of full moon splendor ruling the night sky. The full moon this month was March 25.

This year’s run is historic on at least a couple different levels. The Mississippi is flowing near historic low levels. The lowest recorded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers since 1988, within just a couple feet of lowest ever levels since USACE started keeping records in the 1930’s, when dams first spanned the Immortal River during the Great Depression and dust bowl years.

I was guiding on Pools 12 & 13 between Clinton and Guttenburg in ‘88. My records indicate 1,004 walleyes boated between May and September that year. The spawn that year came in spurts and dribbles over two weeks around April 12.

Over the four-plus decades I’ve been seriously chasing walleyes on the upper Mississippi the average date of spawn has been April 19, although this peak has been skewing earlier over the past decade.

In 2019 the walleye spawn happened April 1 – the year of perpetual flood. Many walleyes spawned in backwater marshes. Technicians working at the Genoa fish hatchery told me it had been over 30 years since they set nets to capture walleyes for their eggs in the marshes.

Most years these federal hatchery personnel set their hoop nets just offshore near the main channel.  One popular site is just north of the Iowa/Minnesota state line on the east side of the river.

This year the river has revealed the ideal spawning habitat of this location, exposing rocky-rubble shoreline which is usually six feet under water now due to spring flooding.

I’ve been on the river 23 days since this column last ran about a month ago. In that time frame eight pound plus walleyes were boated on six consecutive trips – three of these fish were “legal”, beyond the 27-inch slot limit. All these fish were released.

Over the past week there have only been three “slot” walleyes boated. Two of these fish were males which typically don’t reach the pot-bellied dimensions of females.

As you read these words, I’m out there probing new waters looking for “fat girls”. The perch spawn is essentially over. Northen pike are done too. Pike that were kept all had bellies full of little sheepshead (drum).

Both smallmouth and largemouth bass have been very active over the past week ago, starting when water temperature moved past 43 degrees. 

The best way to become a better fisher is time on the water. After 49 days of open water fishing covering six states so far this year, the only pearl revealed is “You don’t know what you don’t know”.

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