There is so much written about fishing walleye on the lakes and reservoirs that many anglers have forgotten that walleye are actually a river fish species and are very at home living in the current of thousands of North American river systems.
One of the first things you will need to do to catch river walleye is spool a minimum of two fishing rods and they will need to be spooled with heavier line than you would normally use for walleye fishing. Anglers targeting walleye on lakes and reservoirs often use the lightest line they can get away with. The most common are 6, 8, and 10-pound line regardless of the brand name. However, when fishing the river systems, anglers will not only be fighting the walleye, they will also be fighting the current, and river walleye know how to use the current to their advantage.
The authors three favorite reels for river walleye are the Bass Pro Shops Johnny Morris Carbonlite, spinning reel with a 5.1:1 gear ratio, the Johnny Morris Titanium 8 baitcaster fishing reel with a 6.2:1 gear ratio, and the Ambassadeur line counter fishing reel.
1. Rigging Your Rods for River Walleye
When I’m river fishing walleye, I have three rods rigged. The rods are medium-heavy action rods. Two are spooled with 12-pound braided line and one is spooled with 14-pound braided line. Braided line is more resistant when it comes in contact with underwater structure and it often does when fighting a walleye in the current. I also find the sensitivity of braided line better suited in detecting the difference between a subtle walleye bite or the current bumping my lure off the structure. Also, I find myself having to adjust the drag on my fishing reel more often as I try to match the current conditions and the strength and size of the fish I’m fighting within the current. If the drag is set too tight you can break the line. I’m sure this has happened to all of us at one time regardless of where we were fishing. However, more common when fishing braided line in medium to fast current is ripping the hooks out of the fish’s mouth.
My three favorite reels are the Bass Pro Shops Johnny Morris Carbonlite, spinning reel with a 5.1:1 gear ratio, the Johnny Morris Titanium 8 baitcaster fishing reel with a 6.2:1 gear ratio, and the Abu Garcia Ambassadeur line counter fishing reel.
2. Where the Walleye Hangout in Rivers
When fishing river current, I like to let the current do the majority of the work. River walleye are accoustomed to seeing their food speed by them in the current. Walleye, like most river fish, will rest in the current breaks provided by the underwater structure, inside corners, or even cutouts along the riverbank. All these areas are prime walleye hangouts and should be fished when looking for walleye in a river system. Walleye will rest in these areas and ambush baitfish and other aquatic species including insects as the current washes it by the fish's hidden location.
3. Great River Walleye Fishing Lures
My favorite lures are hard plastics, like the STORM's Hot-n-Tot series of lures or something similar to them. I position my boat with the current pushing against my lure so the lure stays in a natural swimming motion within the current and the current forces the lure to give off a continuous vibration through the water column attracting walleye from the surrounding area and further down river. This works extremely well in stained water as walleye may not be able to see the bait for long distances, but they will feel the vibration through the current and begin searching for an easy meal.
|The STORM Hot-n-Tot series of lures are great river walleye search lures.|
Watch Video: Crankbait for Walleye
Fighting Walleye in the River Current
Once a walleye hits the treble hooks of a hard plastic fishing bait, the current literally sets the treble hooks for you. All I have to do is lift my rod up and begin fighting the fish. However, patients must be shown when fighting walleye in the current regardless of the lure presented, as you are not only fighting the fish, the current is working against you during the entire fight. As mentioned above, I take my time and adjust my drag accordingly to the fish and the current conditions. Trying to horse a walleye in against the current will often rip the hooks out of the fish’s mouth.
The structure in a river system is just as important to walleye as it is in the lakes and reservoirs. They use structure to get a rest from the current and to ambush food. I’ve been in 18-feet of water and within a boat length, it was as shallow as two feet. However, walleye were holding at the steep underwater structure most of the day. Walleye would consistently take our offering as we trolled over the steep structure banging our lures off the face of the structure as it climbed from the depths. I believed that baitfish were getting pushed into the rocky structure by the current and dazing or wandering the baitfish and walleye were holding in the area feeding on the disoriented baitfish. However, don’t overlook the current brakes. Baitfish will also go into the calm water to get a rest from the current and walleye will move into feed on them.
|Using a line counter reel such as the Abu Garcia Ambassadeur line counter fishing reel when trolling to aid in knowing exactly how much line is out is key accurately targeting river walleye.|
Trolling the River for Walleye
When I’m fishing a river and searching for walleye, I will often troll a hard plastic lure. As I troll, I will continuously move in and out of the water's current as I move up the river. When trolling a river, 90-percent of my hookups have come when I’m trolling up river or against the current. I let out lots of line to distance myself from my lure and when possible, I troll with my electric trolling motor or my kicker motor. I’ve also found that trolling against the current reduces lure snags and hangups. Once I catch a walleye, I will mark it on my fishfinder and take a landmark and troll past the area a few times. However, when you take a landmark or mark a weigh point, take note of how much line you had out at the time of the hookup. Remember, the fish was caught where your lure was, not where your boat was at the time of the hookup. I like to use a reel counter reel such as the Abu Garcia Ambassadeur line counter fishing reel when trolling to aid me in knowing exactly how much line I have out which makes my multiple passes more accurate resulting in more hookups. Over the years I’ve found that more than one hungry walleye lives in the same area and it pays to return and repeat the same pattern several times.
If you’re looking for some great walleye fishing give river walleye a try. It’s amazing fishing and it’s not uncommon to catch other fish species making it a multiple species river adventure.