Think "Shallow" For After Dark Spring Walleyes
Spring in Wisconsin is synonymous with lots of things; morels, turkey hunting, and of course walleye fishing. Naturally, most of us think of the spring walleye run (pre spawn) as being the apitomy of the walleye action. Here in the Madison, WI area we can't fish the walleye run, however we can target these fish post spawn. Now is prime time to get after these hungry walleyes, especially after dark. With a combination of trolling and casting these fish are very catchable.
Location is absolutely key this time of year with cooler water temps and a lack of weed growth. Sure, you might find some fish out on deep structure, however the majority of these walleyes are pushing up shallow, especially after dark to feed. Shallow water is generally warmer and holds the best early weed growth witch attracts baitfish and subsequently walleyes. Anywhere you can find shallow weeds, especially a pronounced shallow weed edge, you will find the walleyes.
Fishing these shallow fish can be challenging as they can be very easily spooked out of their shallow hunting grounds. This is why trolling with planer boards is particularly effective. They allow you to cover a wide spread of water while keeping your baits away from the boat and spooking less fish, while also serving as a bite indicator. The OR12 side planer from Off Shore Tackle is our top choice for a planer board. We also rig our boards with K-Fin Kwik Grip glow stick holders so we can attach glow sticks to the boards to see them after dark. Also having a quality headlamp makes life a LOT easier when working in the boat and netting fish.
The crankbait arsenal is pretty basic early season with the majority of the baits being stick baits appropriately sized to match the forage in the system. Hands down the top producer is a Rapala Husky Jerk size 8. The classic baitfish profile paired with a subtle rattle and less aggressive action makes this a perfect choice for cooler spring water temps after dark. Typically we run these baits about 20 feet behind the board over 4-6 feet of water with weeds at about 1.5 to 1.8 mph. It is important to vary boat speed and lure depth to determine what the fish want as every day is different this time of year.
One helpful tip for trolling shallow early season is to run a titanium leader. The walleyes aren't the only predators hanging out on these shallow weeds this time of year, so utilizing a leader will save you a lot of money and allow you to catch these other toothy critters. We use a section of 18lb tiable titanium wire by Knot 2 Kinky with a small snap on one end and a small swivel on the other connected to our 10lb monofilament main line. The titanium wire is super light weight so it doesn't mess with the action of the lure, and with the thin diameter the walleye don't seem to mind it whatsoever.
We also utilize the wire leader for a casting approach for these fish. If we run into a concentration of fish in a small area trolling, we will go back through them casting to better pick apart the area and extract these fish. A 7 foot medium light spinning rod with 10lb braid and a titanium leader is perfect for a "twitch, twitch, pause" style retrieve. Again, Rapala Husky Jerks are the go-to, however the Rapala Rip Stop minnow has also been a top producer casting over the shallow weeds. Naturally as the weeds come up this style of fishing becomes more difficult, however while the weeds are still short it is hard to beat!