As I write this in Mid-March, having just went through yet another round of seemingly endless Winter wonder…as in wondering when it will all end. One cannot help but to yearn for diminishing snow banks. Watching, and better yet, hearing their departure as the comforting sounds of trickling, melting water. I cannot think of a more uplifting remedy than a trip out over some of this new “soft” water in a quest for early Spring walleyes.
I am most familiar with the large Reservoirs on the Missouri River, specifically Lake Oahe. A great destination at any time of the year, but even more so in the Spring. Particularly, the northern reaches. As walleyes are creatures of a riverine nature, it only makes sense that they instinctively head upstream each Spring in search of suitable spawning areas. This is what makes the upper end of Oahe so productive, it not only draws a huge amount of nomadic riverine walleyes…it hosts just as many resident walleyes and produces far more. Keeping the population not only high, but relatively stable.
Quantity of walleyes is never much of an issue. Keeping them adequately fed, at times, has been. Which bodes well for the fertile upper reservoir, with its extensive shallow flats in the myriad of large bays, creek and river arms that serve as spawning grounds and nurseries for not only traditional food sources such as minnows and shiners, but also bite size young of the year panfish such as crappies, white bass, drum, perch, goldeye and the like.
This has relieved the pressure for cold water baitfish like the steadily recovering smelt and allowing for the establishment of the latest transplant, lake herring. Juvenile herring now supplement the deep-water void and provide further diversity. The reservoir has regained as healthy a baitfish balance as I have seen in many years as evidenced by good numbers of mature and colorful perch.
Now, we have viable food sources deep, shallow and suspended pretty much anywhere in between. Fish can be, and are, found literally everywhere. This is what makes Oahe such a fascinating fishery as most any style of presentation can and does work. For Spring, concentrating on the shallows is hard to beat as the recently spawned and hungry resident populations are present, along with newcomers, boosting the numbers to yearly highs.
Tactics, Techniques and Tools:
Aggressive tactics such as scurrying small shallow running crankbaits through the fish at a fast clip is called for, no matter the water temp or the date. Reef Runner’s shad bodied 200 series and minnow bodied 100 series are go to early season baits. Others to consider are Salmo Hornets, Jointed Shad Raps, Berkley Flicker Shads, and the like. Do not hesitate to put the boat in 2 to 6 feet of water along slowly tapering flats. The presence of the boat nor speeds beyond 3mph deters these active biters. No planer boards required either. Run your lines 25 to 50 feet back and they will often hit right in the prop wash and immediately surface behind the boat.
As aggressive as these fish can be, at times changing conditions can make them a little finicky. This calls for more subtle presentations such as live bait rigs presented via a bottom bouncer. With or without attractors such as spinners, floats, etc. I personally run a lot of Mack’s Lure Smile Blades in various configurations, as they offer seductive visual cues at any speed. Most often those incorporating a Slow Death style hook.
Overfed neutral to negative walleyes can be cat like as they toy with baits. Turn the tables and put the odds back in your favor by utilizing ultra-sensitive rods. A niche for discerning anglers that St. Croix has served well for decades. A quick recommendation I would make is to scope out their Tournament Walleye line up as they are not only species specific, but also technique specific as well. Ensuring you get the utmost in value for your investment. The right tool for the job concept has never had more meaning than here.
Cool tools definitely apply to the very interactive style of fishing we now have thanks to the ongoing efforts to implement the amazing technology available today from electronics manufacturers such as Garmin, Humminbird, Lowrance and Raymarine. This year, I am excited to be running Garmin’s Pan Optix units with Live Scope features. The breathtaking technology now shows us fish (often well enough to distinguish species) and their movements in real time. Allowing us to instantly adapt our presentations according to the fish’s reactions. Hit the internet to scope out some eye-opening displays from all the major players. Person versus Pisces locked in one on one competition. Video games for the Big Boys!
And, speaking of competition…
Competition is calling:
Lake Oahe is just as notable for the quality of its fisherman as it is for the fish themselves. Some of the best anglers to ever wield a walleye rod cut their teeth on the big reservoir. Refining their skills even further by participating in the numerous tournaments popping up along Oahe’s shores. The most recent development on this scene was the formation of the Northern Oahe Walleye Series in 2015.
There has been high angler interest in a reputable team tournament circuit for many years. With several established, respected and well ran tournaments in place already, it just made sense to combine them into a tournament series with a dedicated championship tournament and team of the year honors.
This innovative concept has proven successful for both anglers and host communities alike. I would encourage you to check out www.northernoaheseries.com for details and dates. An open invitation is extended for you to come out and join us, make new friends and take part in the camaraderie. There is also a good chance that you will appear in these pages or one of several shows that will air as part of Focus Outdoors TV’s ongoing coverage of the Series.
Notable Intel on Oahe:
Brent Kemnitz, who runs Mo Pros Guide Service along with the MoRest Motel in Mobridge with his wife Kelly has his finger on the pulse of northern Lake Oahe and offers the following insights. Brent feels we are now in as good as shape as we have been since before the 2011 flood. He reports smelt numbers are at pre-flood levels and increasing. This coupled with the aforementioned herring brought the best fall big fish bite he has ever witnessed. He also confidently predicts an excellent Spring bite for good numbers of 16” to 18” walleyes. With a very strong year class from last Spring and another one expected with rising water levels, the fishery should be in top form for the foreseeable future.