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Season of change
by Ron Anlauf

The month of May can bring about big changes; changes in exactly where you might expect to find early season walleyes and just how active they’ll be. The controlling factor is the predominant weather and really is a wild card that can very greatly from year to year. Warm weather early on can give the open water season a jump start and push walleyes into early summer patterns much more quickly than normal. On the other hand persistent cold weather that never seems to let up can hold off normal seasonal changes and keep fish in a state of limbo, delaying what could have and maybe should have been. When it comes to the early season, warm is much more preferable to cold and is a biological matter. Fish are susceptible to their environment and water temperature directly effects their metabolism. Warming temps increase activity levels and can result in more fish that spend more time actively feeding, and is exactly the way you want to find them.

Ron Anlauf used this summer technique to nail this early season walleyeRon Anlauf used a summer technique to nail this early season walleye

Colder temps can stall out the normal progression, and restrict the amount of time that fish need to spend filling their bellies. They simply don’t need as much sustenance to survive in colder water. The unusually cold and downright miserable weather we experienced early in ‘04 put a real damper on things and held off the good action that normally occurs late in May until late June and even into early July. Unfortunately for many anglers they had already thrown in the towel, and completely missed the good action that finally arrived. Those that stuck it out found out that the good stuff occurred a month or more later than normal, but it did happen and was worth being there to take advantage of the situation. Understanding how fish are affected by their environment can go a long way towards putting together a successful game plan and should have a definite affect on what you do and where you do it. Colder conditions call for solid early season presentations including rigging and jigging in typical early season hangouts like gravel shoals, rocky bars, sand flats and even weed beds. The longer cold conditions persist the longer early season patterns should be expected to produce.

A late spring accompanied by consistent cold weather can mean light lining a jig over a shallow gravel bar, or dragging a live bait rig along a shallow weed line, and doing so much later than you might expect. Warming trends can quickly shut down good early season patterns and trigger the early summer variety, like pulling spinners on deeper structure. Working deeper break lines with a spinner and crawler is a terrific early summer presentation, and may be called up from the minors much sooner than expected. Off shore humps and deep shoreline points can load up with fish and a spinner drug right past their noses could be the hottest thing going, depending on the conditions. Water temperature holds the key to a consistent spinner bite early in the season, and according to Team Crestliner member Rick Olson of Mina South Dakota: “A good rule of thumb is fifty degrees. You can catch fish on spinners in colder water but there’s other presentations that are usually more effective.” Although gauges that read surface temps can give you an idea, they really can’t provide the information that’s required. For example; warm calm days can see surface temps soar into the lukewarm range but in no way indicates the temps at ‘eye level. The Marcum VS560 can be a big help with getting an accurate read as it’s an underwater camera that can produce both depth and temperature readings at camera level. Simply drop the camera overboard and let it sink to the level of the fish and watch the display for the current readings. Besides depth and temperature you may also see what you’re after, or find out that you’re in the wrong neighborhood. Spinners with multi-hook harnesses like Northland’s Rainbow series can be extremely effective early in the season, if we’ve had the proper warm-up. Thread on a big fat crawler and get going and see if there are any takers. Another option (if water temps aren’t quite there yet) is to use a single hook harness and a minnow. Olson will use leatherbacks if he can find them, or shiners when available. The technique combines the early season appeal of a minnow with the early summer attraction of a spinner. Speed can be absolutely critical when using spinner and live bait combinations, especially early in the season. Too slow and you’re bait will be dragging on the bottom, too fast and you may get ahead of a walleye’s activity level. Today’s G.P.S. units like the 172C from Garmin, can produce extremely accurate speed information and help you fine tune your trolling technique. Another rule of thumb in regards to speed is stay within a “safe” range of maybe one to one and a half mph. Getting a handle on what’s happening in a walleye’s world is the key to understanding “the why” and can shorten up the time spent between hookups. The thing is if you don’t take it all into consideration you might fall behind (or even get ahead) of ’ol marble eyes, and that’s no way to get your pole bent. See you on the water. Ron Anlauf


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