River Walleye Fishing: How To Catch ‘Eyes in the Spring & Fall

River Walleye Fishing

The melting of snow and ice signals the end of winter, and the start of spring. It also signifies that it is time to go for walleye in the river. When temperatures drop towards freezing again, it is time to take a second look at the river.

Although you will find larger wallies in still, deep lakes, most walleye anglers can relate to a fight in strong current. Many northern US fishermen have to go to the cold rivers in spring and fall in search of large females with huge appetites.

River walleyes are different from their lake-bound cousins, so a few tips may help you win.

Learn more about how you can catch your limit.

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River Walleye 101 – How to Catch ‘Eyes in Spring and Fall

Mother Nature has a bounty for big rivers on either side of winter: monster walleye

Warm water and the spawn drive the walleye into the riverine systems in spring. In fall they will seek out deep spots to find a last good dinner.

Both seasons offer outstanding fishing if you are able to understand walleye behavior.

Walleye are waiting for brave souls who can face the cold and harsh weather.

Sander vitreus is a strong-swimming predator that is native to North America. The walleye is comfortable in both cold and wet weather. It uses low-light vision to hunt prey. They prefer active swimming over ambush.

After a long winter, spring sees large females looking to gain weight fast before they spawn. Fall triggers an instinct to eat to gain weight for the good times ahead.

Is there anything more?

Get ready for early river walleye

Walleye rods

Although river wallies aren’t as big as their lake-kin in size, they can still be tough to beat when combined with their strength and weight.

Therefore, medium power rods should have enough backbone to pull well.

St. Croix’s Eyecon Walleye Spinning Rod is one of our top picks. I would recommend the medium power, extra fast action option for river walleye. However, I am not sure what the differences are between the 6’3 and 6’8 options. Both offer the power and sensitivity to detect strikes and feel the bottom.

This article provides a complete rundown.

Walleye Rod Reviews & Buying Guide: Best Walleye Rod

Walleye reels

A Cadence CS8 spinning reel is the best for jigging. It comes in sizes 2000 and 3000, and has plenty of capacity.

You can find our complete review and recommendations here.

Walleye Fishing’s Best Reel – Buying Guide & Reviews

Walleye lures and baits

A fathead minnow or fathead minnow can be used as live bait to jig. However, in spring currents, a slip flotilla is not an option.

You will need larger jig head that can buck current.

When used correctly, soft plastics such as Gene Larew’s 3 1/2-inch Rock Banger can be amazing. It is important to stay vertical and not drag your jig behind you boat.

There are many options for walleye fishing. This article will give you a more detailed look.

Walleye Baits, Lures and Jigs: A Guide to Monster Walleye Fishing

Walleye Tips for the Spring River

It’s not surprising that the tried-and true jig is the best for walleye fishing on cold spring rivers. However, there are many tips that can dramatically increase your chances of success.

Avoid shallow water

Walleye anglers are most likely to search for deep holes with large numbers of fish when they go fishing in rivers.

While there is nothing wrong with this, it’s worth considering if it’s pursued to exclusion of all other options.

Walleyes are attracted to changes in the bottom composition.

Three effects simultaneously will make walleye shallower in spring. All three of these should be enough to show you that thin water can be rich with fish.

All that melting water will increase water levels and strengthen currents. Bill Shimota, a professional angler for walleyes, says that this is not what walleyes like. They will move shallow looking for easier swimming and current breaks that can hold baitfish.

The second is that river walleye will begin staging for the spawn. If you find a staging area close to a shallow, expect to see large females.

The third is that, although cold water might not be a problem for walleye, their prey needs warmth. You’ll always find predators where there is food. You should look for areas with a lot sun and large heat sinks, such as rocks.

Active minnows will also be found where there is active walleye!

Even small temperature differences can make a difference. It pays to search for pockets of warm water, even if they are only a few degrees.

A tip that really works is to look for flats near the main channel. There will be warmer water, which attracts walleye.

Visibility is important

Walleyes are sight predators and swim to find prey. Their eyes can withstand low light but they are not magical.

Your river will look like your morning coffee if it is turbid. They won’t be able to see your lure well enough.

Mark Courts, a professional, looks for clear water with at least 6 inches visibility.

Legendary Minnesota fishing guide Turk Gierke likes to search for rising or falling water that alters visibility. After several days of invisibility, Turk Gierke likes to introduce his clients to fresh water and the hungry walleye that hunts it.

Trolling is the best option as lower visibility tends toward spreading the walleye out. The bite will increase dramatically when the water is clear, so vertical jigging deep pits and staging areas really shines.

Check out the current offers

The spring currents can be intense. Prey items such as minnows require a break from being swept downstream. Even strong-swimming wallies cannot work a constant current.

Walleye will be found anywhere there is a break.

Fall River Walleye Tips

Although fall may not produce as many fish as spring however, you will find less anglers and more pressure.

There is no magic way to catch walleyes in a river. However, there are a few options that will produce consistently year after year.

Locate a Hole

Walleyes are attracted to deep holes in autumn and areas where the bottom is gravelly or rock-like.

Anglers who have high-quality electronics should use them to find these key spots. The tried-and-true horizontal jig works just as well in fall as in spring.

Anglers who fish from the shore or from a boat that is not equipped with the most recent Lowrance or Humminbird products will benefit from a good understanding of river currents.

Brad Fenson knows his share of river fishing for walleye. He suggests that you start by looking for the confluence between two rivers or the point where a stream or creek meets the main river. The water that flows in is able to drain the river’s bottom and creates prime habitat for fish-holding. Another obvious spot is outside riverbends, where the current digs at the bottom and bank as it turns.

Clear Water calls for natural colors

Spring thaw can bring a lot of silt, dirt, and sand to the water, which can muddy waters tremendously. Fall is a different story. Most rivers will be clear and cold.

This is a good sign for savvy anglers as it signals a change of lure color.

Soft plastics can be used to imitate minnows, in the 2- to 3-inch range. This is a common prey item for hungry fish in fall.

Last Thoughts

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Lewis Mark is a vastly experienced fly fisher. His encyclopedic knowledge of fly tying has led to start blog on fishing. He also review Fishing equipment based on his knowledge and experience.