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4 Top Early-Season Walleye Strategies

Use these proven techniques to make the most of the great walleye fishing opportunities that occur during late spring and early summer.

walleye on Lindy Jigwalleye on Lindy Jig

“Let’s drift this flat and see what we find,” said Reed Ylitalo of Wings & Walleyes Guides Service in Northern Minnesota, noting that a lot of walleyes had been using the area and that the wind was perfect to drift.

I cast upwind, let my jig and shiner find bottom and began a process of snapping my rod tip upward and letting the jig fall back to the bottom. After the third or fourth lift I felt a slight tap as my jig was falling, followed by steady pressure. I paused a moment and then set the hook into a Lake Winnibigoshish walleye. It was the start of a good drift – one of several that day – and we were well into an excellent day of walleye catching.

Late spring and early summer deliver some of the best walleye fishing of the year in many areas. The walleyes typically find comfortable conditions and plenty of food in shallow water, which keeps a lot of fish shallow and makes fish finding and catching easier than at other times.

We’ll detail a few highly effective walleye fishing techniques that can help you make the most of this highly productive time of the year.

1) Lindy Rig

We’ll start with the iconic Lindy Rig, letting Jon Thelen of Destination-Fish TV tell you all you need to know.

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2) Pitching Jigs

Lindy Jig WalleyeLindy Jig Walleye

When walleyes are atop shallow humps, points or reefs or are holding along weed edges or in sparse cabbage, pitching a Lindy Jig tipped with a shiner or other minnow type allows you to stay back from the fish and make very controlled presentations.

Jamie Elting of Bemidji, Minn. likes pitching when the fish are on shallow structure because he can position the boat a cast’s distant away prevent spooking the walleyes. He doesn’t necessarily need to see fish on electronics to try a spot that he thinks will hold fish.

Elting uses a 1/16-ounce Lindy Jig for the calmest conditions and shallowest water and for feathering his offering through vegetation and a 1/8-ounce if there’s a bit of wind or if he wants to work a bit deeper. He mostly baits his jig with spot-tail shiners early in the year, running the hook into the bait’s mouth and out the center of the top of the head.

Elting keeps a semi-tight line as the bait sinks and works his jig with short, gentle lifts of the rod tip, usually in series of two or three lifts, before letting the jig fall back to the bottom. Many hits come on the initial fall or as the jig is falling between lifts, and bites are often light, so Elting pay close attention as the bait falls.

3) Drifting Jigs

jig drifting walleye catchjig drifting walleye catch

Where fish-holding zones are broader, such as along lengthy break lines, over vast flats, or atop large, broad flat humps, walleyes are often scattered, making a making a more mobile jig fishing approach more efficient. That’s likewise the case when highly mobile schools of baitfish keep the walleyes on the go.

Drifting allows you to keep your bait in the zone virtually all the time as you cover water and search for feeding fish. If two or three anglers get hit at once about the time a bunch fish show appear on the graph screen, you can always toss a marker or hit a waypoint and circle back and fish that spot more thoroughly.

Drifting sounds random, but effective drifting is anything but random. Beginning with an understanding of how a structure lies and the strength of direction of the wind, you can start at the upwind end of potentially productive line to stay in a good zone. While the wind doesn’t always blow a perfect speed and direction to cover water efficiently, you can use drift socks to control speed and orientation and your trolling motor to control lines and even to create “drifts” on calm days.

Ylitalo generally drifts sideways and moves forward and backward with his trolling motor to shift the line, based on what he sees on his electronics. He combines drifting and pitching by watching his live sonar continually and directing clients to reel in quicky and cast in a specific direction when he spots a group of fish.

Ylitalo mostly drifts with 1/8- or 1/4-ounce jigs, tipping them with shiners. He works the bait along the bottom, but often uses fairly sharp rod snaps to trigger interest. That said, the amount of action to add to a jig is a patterning game and can change day to day, or even during day, often for no obvious reason.

4) Slip Bobber Fishing

leech on slip bobber rigleech on slip bobber rig

A slip bobber rig allows for a natural finesse presentation that suspends an offering just off the bottom, in the key strike zone, and is hard for walleyes to resist. Often switching to a slip bobber can help you pull more fish from a spot after they stop hitting a jig/shiner combination.

Slip bobber fishing is extra effective early in the morning and late in the evening when the fish move shallower because of the stealthiness of the presentation. That said, this approach can be effective all day.

If the water is shallow or the fish are extra fussy because of water clarity or other factors, a slip bobber rig can be cast to a key spot to avoid getting on top of the fish. For deeper fish and stained water, the rig can be fished next to the boat. Either way, if properly set, it will suspend the bait about 6 inches off the bottom.

Jon Thelen generally uses a 1/16-ouce Lindy Live Bait Jig or Lindy Jig baited with a leech early in the year. He’ll use a Thill Pro Series Slip Float unless significant wind inhibits casting or there’s need to cast a bit farther than normal. Under those conditions he’ll switch to a Wobble Bobber, which is engineered for longer casts.

Color Matters

assortment of Lindy Jigsassortment of Lindy Jigs

Whether you opt to pitch or drift a jig and shiner or fish a leech beneath a slip bobber, the color of your jig can make a major difference in your catch rate. As with jigging cadence, finding the right color for the day often requires experimentation and paying attention to what the fish tell you.

For drifting or pitching, Ylitalo often will start with a different color on every rod, and he’ll watch carefully and strategically make changes to try to determine whether color is the difference maker when someone is outfishing the rest of the boat. A little later in the year, if he is pitching to rocky areas, he’ll often start with orange because he knows the fish will be relating to crawfish. For slip bobber fishing, he generally prefers black because it’s subtle and matches a leech.

Prevalent forage can play an important part in the color selection process. Water color and sky color also factor into the equation, with natural tones often best in clear water, bright colors excelling on bright days, and dark colors performing best in low-light conditions. Those are starting points, though. Ultimately, it’s best to let the fish decide!