10 guide tips to catching Trophy Columbia River Walleye
10 guide tips to Catching Trophy Columbia River Walleye
Want to catch trophy walleye in the spring, our guides have some Columbia River walleye secrets. As duck and goose hunting comes to a closure, the race to the Columbia begins. The targeted species is the Columbia river walleye and that can mean some tricky business. As snow melts and water starts to rise, lethargic fish start to change their mood. Springtime is the most unique time of the year, and we have 10 secrets for putting more walleye in your net.
Go Heavy & Use Large Profiles
This time of the year, walleyes are notorious for creating soft striking bites. Therefore, we’ve seen many times where they actually spit the bait out. We’ve come to realize that fishing small profiled baits that are light in stature create more havoc on the conditions. However, springtime brings rising water levels and faster currents, so heavier jigs and larger profiled baits are best. If we’re using jigs, ¾ to 1 oz. is the preferred size. We also bump our grubs up to a 5 inch, tipped with a worm. For river conditions, make sure you fish vertically to avoid snags and quicker hook-sets. Work your bait slow, keeping short strokes and in the strike zone. Getting too aggressive can lead to a bad presentation.
Keep a Slow Mind-Set
Remember, walleye have just spent an entire winter in deep cold water, mainly hibernating. As water temperatures start to rise, fish become more active. Keep your trolling speeds on the slower side and work methodically. If you’re using crank-baits, start your trolling speeds around 1 mph. If you find area’s that have both faster and slower currents, zig zag in and out. Make turns with your boat and pay attention to lures on each side. When fishing bottom walkers and harness rigs, start with a little heavier weight. In other words, keep your troll slow and a more direct angle to the bottom. For the Columbia, we like starting with a 3 oz. bottom walker and adjusting from there. Just remember, the fish are still a little lethargic and keeping baits in the zone for a bit longer isn’t a bad thing.
Follow Columbia River Contours
Technology has come a long way and provided walleye anglers with a better advantage. Fancy trolling motors that are hands free and GPS equipped simply make fishing more precise. Using a Garmin GPS means you can plot a course for the motor to follow and simply command your routes. This should translate into keeping your bait in the strike zone and creating more catching opportunities. Want another columbia river walleye secret, use your fish finder to locate walleye and record spots with your GPS. I like to follow a consistent path that keeps me around the same depth for some distance. Hopefully you’ve done your homework and studied structure, flats and drop offs. Find the river breaks and pound the zone!
Use Bait that mimmic’s Bait
As noted above, we like large profiled baits for early spring walleye fishing. The Pacific Northwest has no shortage on minnows and other bait that live in our river systems. Walleye lures can be deadly that mimic our minnows, especially in the Spring. The action, flash and vibration in colder water is second to none. In stained water, use a little larger profile and apply some scent. Jigs tipped with night crawlers and worm harness rigs work great on finicky walleye. Pro-Cure bait & Scents has their Trophy Walleye formula that works wonderfully. Experiment and don’t be afraid to try new things. Some days, we have to change to lower profile set ups and others, it doesn’t seem to matter. Let me know if you ever think you have these fish figured out!
Make Some Noise
If you live in the Pacific Northwest, dealing with dirty or off colored water is a given. We fish the Tri Cites area of the Columbia River where the Snake River dumps in. There’s usually a discrete line between the muddy looking water and the natural green color of the Columbia. Remember, murky water condenses the walleye’s strike zone and walleye sometimes require an alert mechanism. This is the perfect time to pull out of your tackle box, rattling lures. Often times, louder rattles are best and some days, you can’t get enough. Change out your baits till you find what they want and even try adding some rattle beads to the main line. This tip really works on your stealthy crankbaits that are more geared for silent presentations.
Bulk Up Your Profile
Do you want to catch big spring walleye’s? Try beefing up your presentation. I’ve bass fished all over the country and with some of the best in the world. Talk about progressive fishing and experimenting. Old school bass anglers use to add grubs and bait to their presentation for added scent. I believe we can take some of those same principles and apply it to our Columbia river walleye. Try adding an extra small grub to your plastic jig as if it was a live minnow. Experiment with large paddle tails and swim baits combinations for dirty water. Tipping Jigs and Blade baits with night crawlers is a must! Berkley Gulp and Power bait minnows add a nice twist to your crawler harness rig. We really like the Gulp Alive Minnows which obviously mimics a live bait. Just for your information, using live bait on the Columbia river is forbidden.
Spring-time fishing requires adjusting to the elements. This time of the year is definitely unique and requires thinking outside the box. One thing for sure, scent can be the most important factor for attracting walleyes. We are fishing slow and covering a lot less water. There are tons of scent options to choose from and we all have our favorite. Companies like Pro-Cure, Mikes, Berkley Walleye Juice, Dr. Juice all have great products. For plastic grubs and swim baits, look for models that have impregnated scent. When using crankbaits, apply a liquid gel or paste that doesn’t rinse off easily. On worms, we’ll use either gels or oils in crawler flavors. B.A.N.G aerosol spray has an awesome product that leaves no long-term stickiness on your lures. It’s great on both your plugs and night crawlers.
Location, Location, Location
This tip might be the most important bit of information we can offer you. Spending time with few fish can be a big mistake. Spring walleye cruise around, but mainly meander more towards the inside of current breaks. The cooler water of spring run-off should clue in anglers to slow down. Methodically cover your water but more important, find fish. This is where electronics come into play. Cover plenty of water at cruising speeds to find fish. Once located, place GPS marks on your graph. Hopefully, you’ll mark enough spots in a generalized area that produce fish. Fish will spread out once they are hammered on. Find a new spot and return back to re-locate the school. I always remind novice walleye anglers that finding walleye is the hardest task, not catching them. You have to find fish in order to catch fish.
Early Morning: Fish Shallow
If there’s any time that walleye are vulnerable, it’s in the shallows. Want to find walleye, locate bait fish. Early mornings are best along the shallow shore-lines. Walleye spent winter time hibernating in deeper water with slow current. They really don’t feed much and conserve what energy they have. However, springtime is a different story. Warming temperatures send walleye out on the prey. I always head to the rivers bank at first light and pull out my favorite crankbaits. I’ll troll up-river and keep my speed around 1.5 mph. I’ll start out with a conservative approach before I use my zig zag trolling system. This approach is more of an aggressive style that catches aggressive feeding fish. Experiment with lure choices and color options. My 2 favorites are the Bandits and Flicker Minnows.
Afternoon Delight: Fish Deep
Walleye are not fans of bright lights and have sensitive eyes. Columbia River walleye tip, when the sun is high, move towards deeper water and slow down. There are many days when we catch most of our walleye in deeper water, 30-40 ft. I’ll start by trolling down-hill worm harness rigs at a slow speed, generally .8 mph to 1.2 mph. Once I locate fish, I’ll then determine whether they’re resting or suspended fish. Suspended fish will chase at times and require using stick baits or floating plugs. Fish suspended over structure can be targeted with jigs or blade baits. The walleye will let you know what they want and sometimes, it all works. Best bit of advice I can give a novice walleye angler, stay open minded and learn it all. River maps and GPS graphs showing flats, structure, ledges, creeks, underwater riverbeds and rock formations, are areas that walleye roam.
Our guides have been chasing Columbia River walleye for over 30 years. We’ve been fortunate enough to fish the famous Lake Erie, considered the walleye capital of the world. I have learned tips and techniques from some of the best walleye anglers in the mid-west regions. The mid-west walleye angler is far ahead of the learning curve when it comes time for applications. They’ve been exposed to the fishery far more than our Pacific northwest angler. We feel very good in saying that our guide service is also ahead of the curve. We hope this article helps develop the skills to catch walleye on the Columbia river, year round.