Spring means warming waters and shallow baitfish. The north shorelines, larger flats, shallow rocks, and longer bays warm faster than the main lake. Somehow, shad, shiners, small bluegills, and other bait know exactly how to find comfortable water. Well, the walleyes follow.
Post-spawn fish are spread out so moving fast is key and crankbaits facilitate speed. Jigs are often just too slow covering water. Casting cranks is a fun way to work a shallow water area. For equipment, look at a 7-foot medium light Cabela’s Prodigy Walleye Spinning rod because the extra length helps with casting distance and the slightly softer tip gives some initial shock absorption before the hook. These fish are not leader shy so tie a #1 Berkley Cross-Lok snap directly to 10-lb Berkley Fireline Ultra 8-Carrier braided line. This line allows you to feel the lure vibrating as well as when the crankbait ticks bottom. This new Ultra 8 is also smooth and thin to help lengthen each cast and allow the lure to dive a bit deeper.
Shorelines are never consistent when it comes to depth and steepness, so having different crankbaits that dive to different depths gives an angler the tools to effectively keep a bait in the strike zone. The standard Flicker Shad in the 7cm size is a workhorse. It dives quickly and can be worked on a cast up to 7-8 feet deep. The smaller 5cm size is a little less aggressive and will hit about 6 feet on a long cast. Most people do not realize that the 6cm size dives similar to a #7, but it is weighted to suspend and in colder water, if you pause the retrieve, that feature can produce more fish.
If you get up even shallower, this is where the new Berkley Shallow Flicker Shad shines. The 5cm and 7cm sizes dive to about 3 and 5 feet respectively. Using a standard Flicker Shad in this situation would dig bottom. The larger 7 Shallow Flicker Shad has a proven action very similar to the “standard” 7 Flicker Shad. The 5 Shallow Flicker Shad has a subtle action and is great for walleyes in a finicky mood.
In all cases, align the retrieve speed with the water temperature. If the water is still chilly, crank a bit slower. As the water warms, move faster and crank faster. Use a steady retrieve unless the no-stretch Fireline indicates that a fish swiped at the bait (feels like the bait vibration pauses). In that case, pause and twitch a few times to get them to come back and strike again.
For larger flats and long tapering shorelines, walleyes can chase bait all the way up into a few feet of water, but also could be hanging in 6 or 12-foot depths. In these large areas trolling becomes the best option. Line counters spooled up with 10lb Fireline is our first choice for trolling, but even spinning rods (the same rods I cast with) with Fireline can be cast out quickly and adjusted so the lure stays in the strike zone. At the deeper end of the spectrum, you might even consider a lead core setup (18 pound Bass Pro Magibraid with a 15 foot leader of 10# Fireline) to get shallow running baits down close to the bottom.
Especially during the shad spawn or on windy days, walleyes will move into less than 4 feet of water. Trolling a 7cm flicker shad would only be 10 feet behind the boat! Here are a couple of options for a better presentation.
First, when up this shallow, consider trolling with your electric trolling motor. Our quiet Motorguide Xi5 is great for this because we can use the Heading Lock to point the engine the direction we want to troll and the motor will automatically keep us on course. Second, you will want to spread the lures away from the boat either with a long rod or preferably with planer boards.
We use the Off Shore Tackle OR12 Side Planer Boards for walleye because they track through waves and handle all of the standard crankbaits with ease. These boards are easy to see and the tattle flag system indicates if a lure has picked up debris or a smaller fish. Running a lure 10 feet behind a planer board is a common presentation and the shallow fish never notice the boat.
Each lure in the Berkley Flicker family comes in over 20 colors making the aisle of crankbaits at Bass Pro Shops a bit intimidating. When starting out buy a selection of sizes to cover the depths you will be fishing – be sure to get both 5cm and 7cm sizes so you have different actions to handle the different moods of the fish. For colors, start with lures that have contrast – colors like Chartreuse Pearl, Uncle Rico, and Fire Tiger. But never leave the store without some “Mouse” colored lures (Pearl White). Once you start to have success, pick similar patterns of baits but with different colors to really fine tune your lure collection.
By the way, standard springtime trolling speeds are as low as 1.2 mph – go faster as the water warms – up into the 1.8 mph range.
Active spring walleyes do not need a slow jig to bite. A crankbait moving through their space is often more effective at triggering a strike. Go shallow, cast or troll cranks and get The Next Bite.