The Best Baits for Catching Giant Prespawn Walleyes

Dial in jumbo spring walleyes by knowing which baits to use and how to fish them

angler holding up a walleye
Finding walleyes near the surface in spring often points the way to trophy pay dirt.Lee Thomas Kjos/The Raw Spirit

It’s no secret that come spring, you’ll find sumo-size walleyes in the general vicinity of shallow spawning flats. This is one of the best times of the year to catch the trophy of a lifetime, because the pre-spawn fish are at their peak weight. However, because walleyes spawn in waves, you’re likely to encounter big fish in various stages of the process. Their position in the water column often dictates their willingness to eat, as well as how you need to approach them. Success often revolves around versatility, so here’s a breakdown of the two methods I lean on most often to crush high and low walleyes, including a foolproof guide to choosing the perfect lure based on conditions and the big girls’ overall mood.

The Ups...

It’s no secret that come spring, you’ll find sumo-size walleyes in the general vicinity of shallow spawning flats. This is one of the best times of the year to catch the trophy of a lifetime, because the pre-spawn fish are at their peak weight. However, because walleyes spawn in waves, you’re likely to encounter big fish in various stages of the process. Their position in the water column often dictates their willingness to eat, as well as how you need to approach them. Success often revolves around versatility, so here’s a breakdown of the two methods I lean on most often to crush high and low walleyes, including a foolproof guide to choosing the perfect lure based on conditions and the big girls’ overall mood.

High Speed Dialing

Subtle Presentation: Rapala Husky Jerk

Rapala Husky Jerk
Rapala Husky JerkRapala

This suspending crankbait actually suspends. (Many that are supposed to do not.) Use this to your advantage and make slow S turns to speed up the lures on one side of the boat and stall the others. This will help you determine how the fish want the baits moving.

Moderate Presentation: Smithwick Perfect 10

Smithwick Perfect 10
Smithwick Perfect 10Smithwick

This jerkbait hits 10 feet and features a tungsten rattle that cold-water walleyes love. The larger profile requires slightly more speed to achieve the right roll. Hang one boatside to see how it moves, and adjust your speed accordingly.

Aggressive Presentation: Reef Runner Ripstick

reef runner ripstick lure
Reef Runner RipstickReef Runner

The banana shape and unique V-bill hit greater depth and have a unique action not found in any other stickbait. They also perform at nearly any trolling speed, making them the perfect option for fish that want a fast-moving target.

…And the Downs

Unstable spring weather can send walleyes diving down into the mud in the blink of an eye. While it’s much easier to spot them on your sonar when they’re deep, the bottom huggers are often not interested in feeding. When you do find fish feeding on the bottom, make the most of it, because bite windows can be small. Regardless of which stage of spawning these deep fish are in, catching them often requires ice-fishing tactics. The first step is using your electronic spot lock or the anchor to hold you directly over the fish. Try to coax them off the bottom, using your graph to watch how they’re reacting like you would while ice fishing.

Low Speed Dialing

Subtle Presentation: Jigging Rap

Jigging Rap
Jigging RapJigging Rap

Just as you would on hard water, vary the retrieve speed and watch how the fish respond. Sometimes letting this lure sit motionless is the ticket. Tipping the Rap with a minnow can improve your success.

Moderate Presentation: Silver Streak Blade Bait

Silver Streak Blade Bait
Silver Streak Blade BaitSilver Streak

Many anglers overfish a blade bait, thinking they need to feel the vibration strongly in the rod for it to be effective. If you feel a drastic zip, chances are you moved the lure right out of the strike zone. Adjust the cadence to gauge activity level, but don’t overdo it.

Aggressive Presentation: Rippin Rap

Rippin Rap lure
Rippin RapRapala

This lure's rattle and pitch seem to drive walleyes nuts, particularly in chalky to off-colored water. Subsequently, dirtier water can make bottom huggers more aggressive. Rip this lure up and control your slack on the fall, because that's when fish often will take a shot.