It’s early March and the Ice has finally broken, or maybe, like this spring there was no ice to speak of. Anyone with a Sander Vitreus addiction, has for months already, been sorting jigs and grub tails. You have been checking and re-checking your tools, snips, jig eye cleaner, pliers, net. Your tackle box is in pristine condition, for the upcoming event, that you have been pacing your sport room in anticipation for. You have re-spooled all of your precision casting instruments with your go-to line and have probably even made up dozens of Carolina rigs just to make certain you are ready.
There are many of you that are new to this addiction, and I hope that you find the information that I will be sharing to be of some benefit. I will give you a little history on this predatory fish that many of us have been hunting for years. In two previous articles, I covered safety and necessary gear. I will retouch on both just so that you have a full picture of what you’re about to engage yourself in. When you are finished reading this article, I hope that I will have generated enough enthusiasm about this addiction, to make you run out and gear up. I am certain that with the information that I will be sharing, you will have the basic tools necessary, to be able to walk down to the banks of the Mighty Maumee River and learn for yourself, what that head-shake, that many of us know already, can do to your soul.
I have been fishing the spring Walleye Run, down at the Maumee River for about 20 years, give or take a year or two. I was fortunate to have a father that knew the importance, of teaching us about the outdoors. I learned how to fish, as soon as I was old enough to hold a fishing pole in my hands. My father instilled first and foremost safety near the water. Most importantly however, he taught us that it is good to enjoy the sport of fishing, but it was of the utmost importance, to only take what you need. He always made certain that we were aware of, and abided by, the laws and regulations of where ever we went to fish. I task everyone that heads down to fish this epic event to do the same. The laws and regulations that our Department of Natural Resources has set in place, are there to ensure futures and futures of fishing for those of us that do it. I can assure you, that if I see you pulling more than your limit, I will turn you in. If I see you stringing a foul hooked fish, you guessed it, I am going to turn you in.
While some of you may think this is harsh, I can assure you that more often than not, I won’t have to go out of my way to get you off the river. During the Spring Maumee River Walleye Run, Ohio DNR pulls officers from the entire state to supervise this event. You may not see the DNR officers, but I can assure you, they can see you. They sit in trees camouflaged with cameras. They set up blinds in the tree line and watch. They will even stand in the hole next to you, and pretend that they are snagging and keeping foul hooked fish, just to make you think it is ok. So, what am I trying to say here? Follow the rules and you will have nothing to worry about.
Something to remember, about wader fishing, is to use a LOT of common sense! Make sure that you are dressed properly for the water temperature, which most often is about 20 degrees colder than the air temperature. Wearing clothing such as wool, synthetic fleece or polypropylene as your layers will help preserve your body temperature if you take a dunk in the drink.
Wearing a good quality pair of chest waders, with the belt cinched at the waistline outside of the waders, will help prevent the waders from filling with water, in the event that you go down in the river. Water weighs about 8 pounds per gallon and waders filled with freezing cold river water, will definitely impede your walk back to the shoreline.
Consider carrying a walking stick or wading staff to provide balance. Let your friends or family know of expected departure and return times while on a fishing trip or out on a boat. Be prepared to handle an emergency should one arise. Be VERY aware of the current while wading out. By keeping your body parallel with the current, you will remove some of the pressure, of the water rushing against you. Do not enter in too deep of water and maintain good footing.
Wearing a life jacket or other flotation device is not shameful. Enter the water slowly. Running into the water should never be an option, especially down at the Maumee River. The bottom of that river can be treacherous. Lastly, have a dry change of clothes. These things that I just mentioned can make or break your trip.
The more that you know about the fish that you are targeting, the more likely you will be able to present exactly what it is looking for. Walleye are large predatory fish and have mouths full of sharp teeth. They belong to the Perch family and are known by many names, including yellow pike, pike-perch, walleyed pike, jack salmon, white salmon and in this area “Eyes.” Walleye are closely related to Sauger but have very different body characteristics.
The body color of Walleye is typically olive, gray or silver compared to the bronze or brown colors of a Sauger. (1) Walleye have dark saddle patterns over their backs, which can be seen on the upper part of their sides as thin vertical bars. Walleye also have large, bright white areas, near the lower part of their tail and anal fins. The first dorsal fin has no spots and the membrane between the spines is not clear like a Sauger. Saugeye occur when a male Sauger has fertilized a female walleye’s eggs. This hybrid was produced by the Ohio Division of Wildlife and is frequently stocked in reservoirs.
Walleye are carnivorous. This means they will eat other fish. Young walleye, feed on zooplankton and insect larvae for several months, before engaging in a diet of small fish. (2)The male walleye gather even though the water temperature may be only a few degrees above freezing and actual spawning time is a month or more away.
Walleye belong to the Percidae Family; Perch and Darters. A typical adult Walleye will go 14″-22″ but can reach lengths of 36″. They will weigh in around 2-4 pounds but can reach weights of 16 pounds. Their main diets consist of Gizzard Shad and other small fish. I hope that I have your attention now!
Females will begin moving in several weeks later, or when the water temperature reaches the upper 30s to low 40s. Walleye begin spawning when the water temperatures are between 40 and 55 degrees. The Maumee River usually reaches those temperatures around the third week of March. Sometimes the temperatures will remain optimal for spawning through the first couple of weeks of May.
The actual spawning takes place at night, in groups of one large female and one or two smaller jacks or two females and numerous jacks. Male Walleye are not territorial. Unlike many fish, walleye do not build a nest before spawning. They are what we consider “free-spawners.”
Prior to spawning, there is a lot of pursuit, pushing, circular swimming, and fin erection. Finally, the spawning group rushes upward, into shallow water and stops. When the female walleye rolls onto her side and releases the eggs, the jack simultaneously releases the fertilizing milt. The female walleye will typically deposit most of her eggs in one night of spawning. Female walleye seek out the riffle areas of tributary streams or over the gravel to boulder-sized rocks in reef areas, of Lake Erie to deposit their eggs. Fertilized eggs weigh more than the water and tend to fall into crevices between rocks in the river or lake bottom. They will stick to the rocks, pebbles and other debris on the bottom. The eggs hatch in about 10 days. Females can lay as many as 400,000 eggs. How many she lays will depend on her body weight. Per pound a healthy egg bearing female will drop anywhere from 23,000-50,000 eggs.
Walleye prefer clear to slightly turbid waters of large lakes and rivers such as the Maumee River. The greatest abundance occur over reefs, shoals of gravel, bedrock, and other firm bottoms. In the past, Walleye were abundant in Lake Erie, the Ohio River and many of their larger tributaries. In March 2004, the size limit was mandated by Ohio Department of Natural Resources, to a 15 inch minimum year-round, to protect immature fish.
Spawning may take up to three weeks. Males will typically remain in the area for a short time. After spawning the female will not feed for up to two weeks. After this period of time, they begin a fast and furious feeding pattern.
Both adults will return to deeper water, offering no protection for the eggs. Of the total amount of eggs laid, only 5 to 20% will actually hatch. Reasons for not hatching include cold-water temperatures, heavy winds blowing them onshore or silt covering the eggs. 1996 saw one of the most productive hatches.
I would like to make a few points about Walleye Run Etiquette. Try to remember first and foremost that we’re all here to have a good time and catch our limit. Unless I know you or have invited you to go to my spot, it is NOT okay to fish in my pocket. There is an entire river full of fish during the spawn and really no reason to be stepping on my toes, unless of course you’re trying to kiss me, in which case, your man card will get pulled because, there is no kissing in fishing.
There are a few of you gentlemen that think just because you have seen me land fish after fish, you have a right to move into my hole. Believe me when I say that this is not the case. Either wait your turn, or move down the banks. If I only take 10 steps from shore, do NOT stand next to me and take 30 to get in front of me, you will probably get drilled with lead. Avoid letting your line drift 30 people down…there is No excuse for you to be that far away from me snagging my waders with your jig. Boaters, it is NOT okay for you to anchor 5 feet away from me upstream and fish…stay with the boat pack in the middle, that’s why you have a boat. If you want to come on out to the shore and fish, please go put your boat away first.
We’re all after the same results, keeping our hooks out of the rocks, whether you’re fishing old school with lead heads or with the newer floating jig method. Success depends on casting placement and retrieval method. To begin with, after you have safely entered the water, start by standing with your shoulders parallel with the current. I will try to position myself so that I am facing slightly upstream of actually being parallel. Never face directly up or downstream, especially when the water is high and the current is strong, or if you’re out fishing in “The Pack.” You are just asking for troubles that you don’t want or need.
Typically, I cast slightly upstream. I have found that casting slightly upstream may allow me a few seconds of additional time in the strike zone. I will use variances of casting straight out or slightly downstream, provided my surroundings will accommodate such casts. Even the slightest variation in the trajectory of a cast can make a huge difference on where your jig is ending up, as well as, whether or not a walleye is in position to see and hit it. I recommend trying different casting angles if your surroundings permit. Just be aware that normally the further upstream you are casting, the greater your chances are of snagging that treacherously rocky bottom.
Another area of experimentation should be with casting distances. When I first started fishing the walleye run, I thought, if they weren’t biting, then I must need to cast farther out. After words of wisdom from my father and years of practice, I found that this is NOT always the case…as a matter of fact it’s rarely EVER the case. Chances are the walleye are directly in front of you, sometimes right under your feet, and for those of you standing in the middle of the river, you better believe they are behind you! Try to remember, that the more line you have out…the less sensitivity you have trying to feel what is going on with your jig.
Speaking of experimenting, the question of colors is age-old and has as many answers, as there are lucrative combinations. There is one thing that is for certain, the only colors that Walleye can actually identify as color are RED, ORANGE, YELLOW and GREEN. Now, with that being said, contrast plays a much bigger part on catching your limit than does the colors that you choose. More often than not, I will use either a solid color jig head with a multi-colored grub tail, or vice versa. Having this additional contrast has definitely proved to be effective for me.
There are different times of the day that different combinations will be more appealing to the fish than others. There are many variables that will make one combination more lucrative than others as well. One of these would be sunlight skies or overcast skies. In a full on sunshine day, Walleye will tend to sit at the bottom virtually motionless. Throw some overcast clouds on the river and they’ll be up high, ferociously feeding. The sunlight or clouds will also affect how your rig appears to them. As I said before, having a good contrast of colors or colors that contrast against the stained Maumee River waters is my best advice.
I have seen some crazy rigs being used down there; to each his own I guess. The most common and most lucrative rig that I have used is the Carolina Rig with a floating jig head. Something to keep in mind, no matter what you choose to throw, your hook cannot be more than 1/2″ from point to shank and treble hooks are illegal during this time.
The set up is simple and can be pre-tied. The tackle that you will need to make a Carolina Rig is:
Floating jig heads
Lead jig heads ~ painted or unpainted
1/8 oz – 5/8 oz (depending on water turbidity)
Plastic grub ribbon tails (typically 3 inch)
Plastic paddle tail grubs
Plastic double tail grubs
Lead weight ~ no snag, trolling, rubber core, split shot, egg sinker
Swivels ~ barrel and ball bearing
Monofilament or fluorocarbon leader
I will typically tie on right there on the spot if necessary. My preference is 10 lb Suffix Elite Lo-Vis Green on my spool, which is my main line, and an 8 lb Fluorocarbon leader. I like PLine fluorocarbon. It has tremendous abrasion resistance and amazing sensitivity. There are a couple different ways to put this rig together. The first is using a trolling sinker. A trolling sinker is somewhat of an oval and has a swivel on each end. In this instance you are not using it to actually troll. If, like me you choose to use the Palomar Knot, you will want to tie your leader onto one end of the sinker first. Your leader length is going to vary and is typically going to be anywhere from 12″ – 6′. The only way you’re going to know how long of a leader you need is trial and error, unless the guy or girl catching fish next to you is nice enough to tell you what they’re using.
The way that you determine leader length is by knowing where the deep holes are and their approximate depth. To help you visualize what is happening in the water, think of it this way; as your sinker tick, tick, ticks along the bottom, your floating jig is suspended and following behind the sinker. The length of your leader is going to determine where in the water your jig is. The shorter your leader, the closer to the bottom your jig will be. The longer the leader is, the higher up toward the surface your jig will be. Something else to keep in mind is that as your sinker drops into a deep hole, you jig goes down along with it. All of this should help you figure out how long your leader should be, well, this and a lot of experimenting. I will usually start out with a longer leader and clip it as necessary.
Alright, back to putting the Walleye Death rig together. After you have tied your leader to one end of the trolling sinker, your next step is to tie the other end to your mainline. Again, this is the way that I do it using Palomar Knots. If you don’t know what a Palomar Knot is right now, don’t worry, I’ll give you a play-by-play of it in a little bit. You are now ready to tie your floating jig onto the other end of your leader and add your grub tail to the hook. The grub tail will be fed onto the hook nose first. You want the hook to exit just above the grub tail. Make sure you keep the grub butted up against the actual head of the jig.
The second variation of the rig used is by using an egg sinker, plastic bead and swivel. The first step is to tie your leader onto the swivel (if you’re using the Palomar Knot) Next, choose your egg sinker weight. The weight you choose should be matched to how high and fast the river is moving. If the river is low and slow-moving, you will want a much lighter weight than if it is high and fast. Slide the egg sinker onto the main line from your pole followed by a plastic bead. A plastic bead you ask? This keeps the egg sinker from slamming into your knot on the swivel. That constant slamming can destroy your knot and cause your line to snap at inopportune moments. Now you are ready to tie your main line to the other end of the swivel that has your leader on it. Once all of this is complete, you’re ready to tie on your jig head and put on your grub and fish.
I try to keep the gear that I am dragging around to a minimum. Rod, reel, line & tackle, along with an extra warm, dry shirt and rain gear if there is a chance of rain or inclement weather. I am not a big fan of having to lug my sporting room down to the river with me, so I sort my tackle the night before and take what I will need for a few hours of being down there. I will leave extra gear and tackle in my car just in case.
I prefer using a longer, faster action rod. I have both 7′ and 7’6″ medium power graphite rods. The casting distance that I get from the longer length is tremendous. The sensitivity is there as well. My reel is a larger 4000 size spinning reel, which is equivalent to a reel that is rated for up to 12 lb mono. Some other tools and gear that are necessary are:
Long nose pliers
I talked about gear and safety at greater lengths, in previous articles, which of course I recommend that you read. I do want to cover some instructions for tying a Palomar Knot though, because I feel that It is one of the most secure and durable knots to use down there. I also recommend that you look it up online to get a visual of how it’s done. There are many sites that offer knot information. The reason I choose the Palomar is because unlike most knots, you have 2 strands of line through the jig eye instead of only one like with the Anglers Knot. It is also a knot that can be tied with any line. The following should get you on your way to learning how to tie the Palomar Knot:
Feed your line through the eye. Bring it back and feed it through the same way again. You should have a loop in one hand and your main line and tag end in the other. The jig should move freely between both hands on the line. Tie an overhand knot in the doubled line being careful not to cinch down yet. You want to make sure that you do not have the lines crossed as this will cause them to cut into each other. Pass your jig through the loop and bring the loop up, making sure that the line on the eye is all up near the top. Then pull on the hook, the standing line, and the tag end of the line to tighten the knot. Snug down tightly around the eyelet and clip the tag end.
Okay, so, we’re in the river, shoulders parallel with the current, our first cast is slightly upstream about 15 feet out…what now?? Well, the first thing you’re going to feel is what you’ll swear is a fish hitting your jig. I can promise you it’s NOT a fish…more than likely it’s your weight hitting every rock on the way downstream.
So you ask how do I know when to set my hook?? The answer to that, I’m certain varies, as much as grub tail color choice. My answer is, as you feel the “tick, tick, tick,” of your weight going downstream pay close attention to that feel. If at any point during that, you stop feeling the “tick, tick, tick” of the weight hitting the rocks, it may be because a walleye has your jig in its mouth, SET YOUR HOOK. When I say set your hook, I do NOT mean yank so hard you rip the fish’s face off, because I can guarantee, if it’s a rock or snag fish, you’re likely to bust your rod.
Once you’ve set the hook, feel for the unmistakable head-shake. If you got that, you’re in business. If not, let your jig continue downstream into the line’s drift. This is when your line can go no further and your jig is fluttering in the current at the end of it. This is likely when most novice or beginning walleye fishermen or women are going to actually FEEL a walleye hit their line. The hook set is the same as if you were bouncing downstream. If you feel that head-shake, you’re good to go. Start reeling.
Now I recommend you pay attention to the drag on your reel. You don’t want it set so tight that you’re going to snap your line on hook set, but you also don’t want it so loose that your hook will fail to set. Before casting you should test where your drag is at by tugging on your line. Once you have it set at a mediate level is when I would start casting. During your retrieve, if more line is going out than you are reeling in, chances are your drag is set too loose, tighten it up slowly.
After a few head-shakes, a walleye will typically go limp causing you to do more current fighting than fish fighting. No worries, at some point, the jack’s head will come up out of the water, gills fanned out like a dragon. The second he see’s where he’s headed he’s likely to give you one last battle and attempt at escaping your net.
You’ve felt the pull and have confidently reeled in a beautiful 22-inch, three-and-a-half pound walleye. You just want a picture, but it’s putting up quite the fight, and that jaw full of teeth is nowhere near inviting. Knowing how to handle a walleye can save you from serious injuries to yourself as well as the fish. If you palm the back of the fish’s head, extending your fingers and thumb down the sides, you will have a firm grip. The gill plates on a walleye are razor-sharp and their teeth are just as vicious. Holding the fish by its eyes or gills can cause life threatening injuries to the fish. Also, do what you can to keep the walleye in the water as much as you are able.
If you intend on stringing the catch, first and foremost, make certain that you’re hooked legal. Legal equals from the inside to the outside of the mouth. If you’re hooked any other way, or anywhere else on the fish, kindly remove your tackle and release the fish. This could save you hundreds of dollars and spare you your gear. Ohio DNR take their jobs and our Walleye run very seriously. If you’re hooked legal and the fish is 15 inches or longer and preferably a jack, it’s time to string him. I personally don’t like the rope stringers. I use the metal chain stringers. Once that rope is slid through the walleye’s gills, there is no releasing the fish back to the waters. By using the metal chain stringers, you will hook the fish through its jaw and do much less harm if it becomes necessary to put him back. Why would you put a walleye back? It’s called Culling. As you fish you may hook into a larger fish than what’s on your stringer. By using the chain stringers you will be able to return the smaller fish back to the waters safely and take possession of the larger fish.
I’m sure that you noticed me saying I preferred you only keep jacks. This is the way that I was brought up. The reason for this is that the more females that are left to spawn, the more likely this past-time will continue to be a lucrative, freezer filling event. Since females tend to be larger, a lot of you are keeping them to hang on your wall. If you’re looking for trophies, I recommend hitting Lake Erie during the summer when catching a 10 lb jack is what’s on the menu.
I hope that what I have shared will help you not only choose gear, but make you able to go down and fish the Maumee River Walleye Run safely and effectively. I hope that pointing out some conservation issues will give some of you a better understanding of why some laws are in place and make it easier for you to follow them. A lot of times, articles are read and questions are raised, with no way of asking the writer what was meant. I would love to answer your questions. My author box provides information on one contact point and there is always the messaging system here on Ezine.com. Thank you for your enthusiasm and hope to see you on the water.