Slack Water Walleyes
By Ross Grothe
I flipped my jig in a little eddy that was caused by the tip of
the wingdam. As the jig carried the fathead minnow to the bottom
I felt a familiar tick on the line. I set the hook immediately and
the pull on the other end of the line told me that I probably had a walleye.
With a little fight from the fish and some from the current I landed a
nice 18” walleye.
This fall grab some jigs, slip on the coat, and head for
the nearest river. Look for slack water and you will find some good
fall walleyes. It is my understanding that the Winnipeg river is
a great place to look for some monster slack water walleyes right now.
The fall is a great time to get to a river near you and catch
some walleyes as they start to move up towards the head of the pools or
start staging along the various breaks as they head towards the dams.
River walleyes bite all year, if you know where to look and how to fish
A river walleye unlike lake walleyes have to fight current all
of their lives. Therefore, the walleyes in the rivers have adapted
to be in areas that offer current breaks so they don’t have to fight the
current all of the time. These current breaks are anything that diverts
the current and allows slack water. The slack water areas are found
below the dams where an eddy is formed by the water being drawn over the
dam and rushing downstream causes a slack water area on each side of the
dam. Other obstructions cause slack water might be below wingdams,
behind rocks, a depression in the floor of the river, a stump or fallen
tree, or man made obstacles such as bridge abutments.
The key to locating walleyes in the river in the fall and early
winter starts with locating a series of obstacles and then allowing your
bait or lure to present itself in a natural manner so the walleye can race
from behind the obstruction to acquire the offering and then race back
into the slack water area to digest his meal and await another.
In the fall of the year the turbidity of the water subsides and
walleyes are more visually stimulated as they see food floating by the
slack water areas. This is not to say that all walleyes see their
food before they strike and in some cases they strike more out of vibration
and smell than they do from visual identification.
One reason that I like to use jigs while fishing for fall walleyes
in a river system is the control an angler has. Vertically jigging
for walleyes gets my blood pumping and believe me on those cool crisp fall
days when it would be nice to be on shore burning a campfire. You
need all of your blood pumping just to stay warm.
With the proper head design and weight, jigs are the most versatile
of all river techniques, from the shallowest flooded cover to the deepest,
fastest current. The majority of river fishing with jigs involves
either slipping the current or drift fishing the current breaks.
The presentation is a simple lift-drop-pause method of jigging, raising
the jig some 3 to 6 “ as you slip downstream. The jigs that I prefer
to use are Northland Fireball jigs because of the rounded head. The
rounded head allows the jig to bump along the bottom and not get hung up
in snags or brush. If you are as vertical as possible the jig will
stand up allowing the hook to be exposed away from the floor of the river.
When you tip the jig with a fathead minnow the minnow stands up and looks
like it is trying to pick up the jig. As the minnow struggles against
the weight of the jig it sends out wounded signals and the natural scent
attracts the walleyes and allows them to hang on just that much longer.
If the walleyes seem to be just biting the tails off the minnows the Fireball
offers an additional eye so you can easily attach a stinger hook.
The stinger hook is a great addition in cold waters of fall and spring.
Colors of the jigs should be bright in dingy water. Colors
such as fluorescent orange, chartreuse and my all time favorite gold are
great for fishing those fall walleyes. Anytime that you can bring
attention to your bait it will help you up your odds for catching those
Weights may range from 1/8 to 1/2 ounces, but usually stay with
the weight that is the lightest so you have contact with the bottom.
River walleyes have a tendency not to suspend as much as the walleyes in
the lake and you don’t have to worry about missing a strike zone that is
in the fish column. I will tip my jig with some plastic if I want
to slow down the rate of fall, but current usually fights gravity faster
and defeats the purpose of vertical jigging.
Slack water fish can also be found by pitching jigs of 1/16 to
1/8 ounce to shoreline or cover like flooded wood or boulders. The
angler in this situation should use a lift drop retrieve to slip or quarter
the jig downstream as it is retrieved back to the boat. This is a
super tactic for fishing eddies, wing dams or shallow mid river shoals.
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