Boat Control Methods For River Walleye
by Keith Krych
True river rats know current is their best friend. Moving water concentrates gamefish behind current breaks. Walleye hold in slack-water areas and eddies to ambush prey floating by.
Natural breaks include inside turns of river bends; flats where the water has eased and dropped sediment; and eddies created by rock outcroppings near dams. Slight depressions or holes in the river bottom also will hold fish.
Eddies also form where feeder creeks and secondary tributaries empty into the main river. The junctions can also be prime spots when rain causes one or the other of the waterways to muddy - fish just inside the clear-water line.
Manmade current breaks include bridge abutments, navigational markers and moored barges. In some major rivers like the Mississippi, wingdams built to channel current away from shore play a key role in locating sauger and walleye. Walleye hold near or on the bottom. Two techniques work best to reach them.
While ``slipping,'' let the boat drift downstream pointed into wind or current. Use your bow-mounted Minn Kota trolling motor to match your speed to the current and a jig heavy enough to maintain bottom contact directly below the boat. A 1/4- to 3/8s or a 1/2 ounce will generally do. Dress your jig with a minnow or a minnow and Fuzzy-E-Grub. Tap the bottom or drag your jig across it. Use short bursts on the trolling motor to keep slack out of your line so you can feel strikes and set the hook fast.
The second method is to troll upstream with a double-jig rig. Tie a big jig of 3/4- to 11/2 ounces to a short dropper line about a foot long atached to the eye of a three-way swivel on your main line. Tie a trailer line of about 18 inches or more to the upper eye and tie on a shallow-running crankbait, a floating jig and live bait or just a plain #6 hook and live bait. The hook can be used with a Fuzzy-E-Grub or just a red bead in front of the hook. Use your trolling motor to move against the current at a speed matching a slow stoll on shore, bouncing the jig so you can feel the bottom. Use an S-pattern to try different depths, later focusing on the depths where you connect with fish. A variation of the double-jig rig is a favorite to fish wingdams among folks on some parts of the Mississippi River.
First, a word about what wingdams are and why they attract fish; The U.S. Corp of Engineers erected wingdams to funnel water toward the channel to lessen siltation by boosting current speed. Some rivers, such as the Mississippi, have hundreds of them. Others, like the Illinois River, have few or none.
Wingdams run perpendicular to the shoreline. Some are in ``L'' shapes, some form a ``T.'' But most are simply straight line affairs.
Water depths can vary from 5- to 25 feet in front of the dam and 1- to 10 feet above them. Each dam has its own individual makeup _ nooks and cranies, brush piles or other structure along the face with fish-holding potential.
Many are marked on charts or fishing maps, where available. Others are not. To find those, anglers reading the river will spot telltale turbulence lines on top of the water caused by current churning from the bottom of the wingdam to the top. In fall, water levels are at their lowest and wingdams are working as designed. About 80 percent of the water is being shoved along the upstream side of the wingdam toward the main channel. With it go baitfish. As walleyes migrate up- and downstream, it doesn't take them long to discover which wingdams are holding the most food. Fishermen can locate choice wingdams by placing their boats at the tip. If the current shoves the boat toward the channel, you can bet walleyes will be waiting along its face. Water rolls when it strikes the dam creating a slack area at the very base. There is where you will find the most active fish.
Watch for blue herons hunting fish along the shoreline or baitfish jumping above the surface near the best-producing wingdams.
The first wingdam upstream from major backwaters almost always holds gamefish attracted by minnows forced out of the shallow, slacker water as water temperature drops.
Fishing wingdams takes keen control of both boat and bait. Jigging wingdams can be tough because current speed often requires a weight too heavy to be effective. That's where the double jig rig comes in. In some cases, it may evolve into a double-crankbait rig. Here's how:
As before, tie on a three-way swivel. Attach a dropper line about 15 inches to one eye and tie a 3/4- or 1 ounce jig to it. Weight choice depends on current speed. Use a jig heavy enough to stay on the bottom such as Lindy's Jumbo Fuzz-E Grubs. From the other eye, tie a longer line. Attach a floating jig, or use a bare hook, such as a #2 or #4. No ``razzle dazzle,'' like beads or propellers are needed. A fat leech or a juicy nightcrawler is enough.
Or try tying two crankbaits in tandem to the upper line. Attach the rear one with a line tied to the eye of the rear hook of the front one. Number 7s and 11s work well. Check with conservation authorities and make sure this rig is legal in your state. Position the boat with the bow facing into the current and use an electric trolling motor or a gasoline kicker motor to move the boat from side to side across the wingdam's face. Let out enough line to let your three-way bounce along the bottom behind the boat with the current until it reaches the strike zone at the base of the dam. Not an easy task, but one that can be mastered with patience and time on the water. When fishing with a partner, the angler in the front of the boat should use a heavier jig to avoid tangled lines.
If you find brush, big rocks or other breaks along the dam's face, anchor and cast small jigs into it.
When water is rising, fish shoreline riprap or off points by pitching small jigs from 1/8- to 3/8s. Dress with a shad body, a Fuzz-E-Grub, a leech, nightcrawler or minnow.