Brett McComas

How to catch BIG early-season river walleyes

You dreaming of open-water yet? No doubt winter has taken its toll, and we’re jonesin’ to put fat ‘eyes boat-side! Lot of the lakes across the ice belt will be locked up for a while — say ’til July lol — but a handful of river systems are open and can kick out pre-spawn giants like these:

We reached out to multi-species guide and big-fish junkie Doug Wegner to get his approach for early-season slaunches. Doug spends most of his spring trips on WI’s Fox River, but same type of deal can work on other river systems like the Rainy River, Mississippi, Peshtigo, etc.

Location

> Doug: “Some of the best areas to find early-season fish are sand or mud flats adjacent to the main river channel…fish position themselves on top of these because they usually warm up the fastest.

> “I also look for current breaks and seams close to the main channel…areas where walleyes can get out of the current and create natural ambush points.”

> “Subtle bottoms transitions can be crucial on tough days (sand to gravel, sand to mud, etc). I rely a ton on Humminbird MEGA Side Imaging to find these transition areas quickly — saves a bunch of time — especially in stained water.

> “I also keep a really close eye on my temperature gauge. It sounds obvious, but there’s often pockets of water that will be 1-degree warmer and fish will load up.

> “I’m a firm believer that early-season fish move shallower with the sun — just because they’re walleyes doesn’t mean they’re scared of light. At the end of the day, they want to find the warmest water.”

Baits

> “The first few trips of the season — when the water is still super cold — it’s tough to beat live bait. My go-to is a 1/4-oz jig tipped with a minnow. Stinger hooks help with the short strikes from lethargic fish.

> “As the water starts to warm (36 degrees and up) I transition to plastics and hard baits. I like ringworm-style baits and paddletails…our water is pretty stained so I stick with orange and chartreuse for colors.”

> “As the water continues to warm up and the bay opens up, I’ll start focusing more on the area outside the river mouth.

> “This where a Rapala Rippin’ Rap really shines. My go-to size is the #6, but I’ll bump up or down a size depending on depth. The retrieve is everything — think of it as ‘yo-yo-ing’ it back to the boat.

> “Cast it out, let it hit bottom, then lift the rod tip to 11 o’clock…keeping the tip up as the bait swings back down. Drop the tip to 9 o’clock and repeat.

> “The biggest mistake I see people make is dropping the rod tip as the bait falls – you don’t want a super sharp fall, rather a subtle swing. Most of the bites will come on that swing…you’ll feel the fish as you make your next lift.”

Looking to book a trip with Doug? Get at him here, and maybe gitcha a spring melon like this:

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