A Midwesternexpert reveals his surefire seasonal approach
RIVER WALLEYES PRESENT A UNIQUE CHALLENGE, mainly because an angler must cope with moving water to catch them. The direction of the current influences where walleyes hold, where to position the boat and what the fishing methods should be. Fail to make the right adjustments and the river will send you home skunked every time. No one knows this better than Minnesotan Tommy Skarlis, who refined his river jigging skills long before he became a champion walleye tournament angler.
Skarlis has spent countless days jigging the Mississippi and Illinois rivers, as well as the Cedar River, which flows near his former hometown of Waterloo, Iowa. What he learned on these waters has brought him success in walleye tournaments across the country. His methods will work wherever walleyes swarm in moving water.
MAKE: Lindy’s Jumbo Fuzz-E-Grub, Lindy’s Max Gap.
SIZES: Use 5/8- to 1-ounce Max Gap jighead with matching Fuzz-E-Grub or Thumpin’ Grub bodies in stronger current; go with ¼- or 1/8-ounce in slower current and near shorelines.
ADDED ATTRACTIONS: In early spring, Skarlis dresses his jigs with minnows and a stinger hook connected to 8- or 10-pound-test line. The stinger is allowed to hang free, unless snagging is a major problem. From late spring through fall, dress jigs with a minnow, leech or Berkley’s Power Bait and Gulp! softbaits (leeches, grubs, finesse worms, crawlers, tubes and minnows).
COLORS: Black, brown or purple jigs, leeches, grubs and worms in water of normal clarity and at night; chartreuse and pepper, pumpkinseed or electric blue jigs and trailers when water is muddy or stained.
ROD: 7-foot medium-heavy Fenwick TechnaAV spinning rod.
REEL: Abu Garcia Cardinal 772 spinning reel.
LINE: Fluorescent green Berkley Sensation Solar line or FireLine in flame green; 4- to 6-pound-test for lighter jigs; 10-pound-test for the heaviest jigs in strong current.
ICE-OUT: Look for walleyes on the edges of flats to depths of 25 feet when fish begin migrating upstream as water temperatures climb into the upper 30s and low 40s. Fish the subtle bottom changes, such as where a gradually tapering bottom suddenly falls from 14 feet to 15 feet.
Skip the heavily pressured tailwaters. Instead, locate depressions in river bends downstream of dams. In slow current flows, drift over the deep midsection of a hole. In moderate current flows, concentrate on the downstream edge of a flat that extends from the inside of the river bend. In early spring, fast flows push walleyes close to the bank on the outside river bend, where the current is a little slower.
SPRING: Drift with the current and work the jig with a gentle lift-drop action on a vertical line. Let the current dictate the jig’s pace, and use a bowmounted electric motor to slow the boat’s drift and stay close to where the line enters the water.
“Most guys try to make their jig go where they want it to,” Skarlis says. “That’s a mistake. You have to let your jig take you to the fish.”
SUMMER: Fish the face of wing dams, either from a boat held in place with an electric motor or from shore, casting into deeper water. Feeding walleyes usually set up along the upstream face of wing dams. Let current dictate the size of your jig. Try a 1/8-ounce lure in light current, up to ¾-ounce for heavier current.
“Walleyes move to the face of the dam for one reason: to eat whatever baitfish they can catch,” says Skarlis. “When they’re there, they’ll bite.” Their primary feeding station is the scour hole along the face of the dam, which is typically 6 to 12 feet deep.
In moderate current flows, walleyes might feed anywhere along the face of a wing dam, from the bank to the tip. Anchor upstream at different spots to cover the dam thoroughly with short 20- to 30-foot casts.
Natural rock points and the riprap foundations of channel markers also create good current breaks where walleyes feed. Fish these structures as you would a wing dam.
“The hottest structures,” says Skarlis, “have deep holes around them compared to the rest of the bottom. The hole could be anywhere from ten to twenty-five feet deep.”
FALL: Walleyes often move away from wing dams and other main current structures and tailgate baitfish into smaller tributaries. Target them in deep holes of outside bends–especially holes lined with rock.
In dingy water, go with the current and jig with a vertical line. A ¼- or 1/3- ounce jig tipped with a 3- to 4-inch finesse worm or grub will score big. Small crappie-size tubes also fare well.
“When the water’s clear, I’ll hold in deeper water and pitch a jig into the shallows,” says Skarlis.
Â BackingDown a River -Â Drift jigs on a vertical line with a subtle lift-dropaction. Let the current dictate the jig’s pace and use the bow-mounted trollingmotor to slow the boat’s drift and keep it close to the jig’s entrypoint. Â JiggingRiver Bends -Â A. In slow current, drift and jig the midsections of holesin river bends. B. In moderate current, concentrate on the down-stream edge ofthe flat that extends from the inside of the bend. C. Fast flows push walleyesclose to the bank on the outside river bend. Â GearedUp – Tommy Skarlis uses a 7-foot Fenwick TechnaAV spinning rod and Abu GarciaCardinal 772 reel to fish with his favorite walleye jigs: Lindy Fuzz-E-Grubs orLindy Max Gap jigheads teamed with Thumpin’ Grub or Berkley’s Power Bait andGulp! soft-plastics. Â Covering a Wing Dam – In moderate current during the summer, walleyes mightfeed anywhere along the face of a wing dam. Anchor upstream at various pointsalong the face of the dam and make short casts to maintain lurecontrol. Â Fishinga Buckle – High flows create large eddies behind wing dams. The point where aneddy hits the bank and sends current in both directions is called a”buckle.” Fish parallel to the bank at the buckle, as walleyes willoften hold in the buckle and feed.