Outdoors: Fish flock to dams in spring

Rivers can produce large numbers of fish in the spring time, especially this year when there has been little snow and rain runoff.
Rivers can produce large numbers of fish in the spring time, especially this year when there has been little snow and rain runoff.

BY STEVE CARNEY

ECM OUTDOORS

Fishing on our open water rivers has been excellent this spring as we have had very little snow and rain runoff and the river currents and levels are ideal.

I have been spending a lot of time fishing river dams and these areas tend to congregate pre-spawn walleyes in big numbers. No matter if you fish the Mississippi, Missouri, Rainy or the Fox River, the dam areas are the place to be in April.

Here are some tips to assist you in your spring walleye quest.

1. Dam face

The dam face is the area where the walleyes congregate and have no place to go.

Most of these areas are man-made dams or sometimes natural obstructions that limit their ability to get any further upstream. These areas often have current running through the main dam face whether it’s hydroelectric power or just gate runoff.

Even if the main river fishing is slow, you can always catch fish at the dam face — no matter what river you choose.

2. Current

I look specifically for “seams” in the current. This means you will find active and running current and then all of a sudden the current breaks and you have “dead” water.

Walleyes will sit in the dead water and intercept baitfish swimming by in the current. You can read these seams by watching the surface water as it flows. It’s very obvious if you pay attention to the water flow.

3. Pitching vs. vertical jigging

All the rivers I have been on this spring have very clear water. Because of the lack of snow and rain runoff, the water is clear and it is easy to spook these clear water walleyes.

I see anglers fishing below their boats, vertical jigging with little success. They don’t know they are driving their boats right smack over the fish they are trying to catch…not good.

I find that making long casts and pitching well away from the boat works best. The farther away you can get that jig the better off you are.

Most of the walleyes I have boated this spring have come from eight feet of water or less — meaning if you’re not pitching, you’re not catching!

4. Baits

Tiny jigs in the 1/16th- and 1/8th-ounce size are the ticket.

Spring walleyes will have a tendency to pick up smaller jigs in this cold water versus the heavier jigs. Using six-pound test monofilament adorned with small jigs will get the job done. Minnow choices don’t seem to matter.

The advent of plastics the last decade has also changed the game. Four-inch, ribbed plastic baits have worked well on small leadhead jigs and there are many days when the artificial plastics outperform live bait.

I believe these plastic baits are something they haven’t seen and these new baits tend to trigger bites that you normally wouldn’t get. Again, keep those plastics well away from the boat.

Some of the best walleye fishing of the season is happening right now on most of our river systems. Why wait another five weeks for the inland opener when you can catch walleyes now!

Steve Carney is an ECM outdoors columnist