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Spring Time Walleye Fishing on the Columbia River

Understanding Spring-Time Walleye on the Columbia River

Columbia River Walleye caught on Crawler Harness

Walleye spawn in the spring, Columbia River is the place to be. Spring arrives in February in Washington state, Lake Erie and other midwestern waters it could be more April and May. Water temperatures play a critical role as walleye spawn between 44° and 48°. Let’s take a look at what makes Spring-time walleye fishing so exciting on the Columbia River.

Water Temperature – Critical to Spawning

As noted, water temperature plays a big role for our Columbia river walleye. In other parts of the country, it’s possible that spawning takes place in the 48° to 50° temps. I know from experience, our Northern fish start moving towards their spawning grounds in the lower 40° temperatures. I have heard from my northern walleye guide buddies that in extreme harsh conditions that walleye could absorb their eggs and not spawn. We don’t have that problem on the Columbia with spring run-off and warm sunny days. In any event, understanding this process is important information when choosing fish.

Spring Time Spawning Migration

Spawning is such an intriguing process that only happens once a year. I have studied what goes into the spawn with much disparity from their movement patterns within the rest of the year. Walleye actually migrate from wintering grounds to spawning grounds in the spring. This time of the year, movement patterns are so different, but to our liking, can be predictable. I have always wondered how far walleye will travel and what constitutes perfect spawning grounds. Through seminars, classes and research programs as well experience, we’ve noted some really interesting bits of information. Walleye research programs determined that walleye aren’t long-distance travelers as much anglers might think they are.

Jig fishing in highly concentrated walleye areas is productive Spring time

What we know about Spring Migration

I think it’s important to identify what we already know as walleye anglers. Columbia river walleye migrate into tributaries to spawn on rock and gravel constructed areas. Creeks and small streams are superb habitat for spawning grounds. Walleye coexist with other species such as bass, perch, crappie and other bait fish. As we noted earlier in the article, spawning walleye move less than anglers realize. Walleye research experts claim that their migration is no further than five miles from their actual spawning grounds. Other bits of important information, mature walleyes tend to return to the same spawning grounds year after year. That becomes an interesting factor! What’s really interesting is that our Columbia river walleye have dams to cross. It’s been noted to see intermingling walleye throughout the system where spawning sites are close to one another. In the end, walleye move back to their original spawning locations. This yearly happening is called repetitive spawning.

Columbia River Spring Patterns

Walleye biologist on the Columbia river have reinforced research that suggest spring spawning sites is an adult learned behavior. This action is influenced heavily by water flow, temperatures, size and shape, bottom contours which all make up the characteristics of prime spawning areas. Walleye will roam and become familiar with choosing the best habitat for their spawning beds. If you think about it, key is to locate and mark these spots on your graph and learn the walleye’s route from their wintering grounds. Our Columbia river walleye learn where to return after hatching in the Spring. Once they hatch, walleye fingerlings are at the mercy of many obstacles. The Columbia river has other predators such as crappie, perch, bass, and catfish. Wind and river currents also play a part in the fry getting dispersed. Don’t think of the walleye spawn as you would a salmon, which dies after spawn. Salmon fry remain in the river for more than a year, before returning to the ocean. Smells and tastes have been imprinted before they make their journey to the salt.

Isolate spawning grounds in the Spring

Developing a homing Instinct

The unique thing about a walleye is that they actually develop a homing instinct to a spawning area they chose as adults. Most walleye choose short migration between spring and winter-feeding areas and their spawning sites. There’s a reason why you find walleye in deeper channels during colder months than you would during springtime. More peculiar information is that scientists suggest that the destination of a first-time spawning walleye is by chance. Walleye’s that are spawning for the first time will travel with adult fish, following them to spawning sites. Once they find spawning sites, walleye will choose that site for their future spawning. Our fishing guides tend to find these areas that are most productive for catching trophy fish. We do promote catch and release for when we catch the “Big” Gals. Another interesting point is as spawning sites become popular with schooling walleye, adult ranking can factor in and push younger walleye to choose different spawning locations.

Fish like this are regularly caught in the spring. Pre-Spawn is an excellent time to fish

Older Wiser Walleye

Just like people, older walleye has more experience and smarts than younger fish. On Lake Erie and other parts of the country where spawning research is practiced, researchers found that tagged river spawning walleyes are greatest in years when river flows were at the lowest. What this suggests, larger female fish are more capable to remember details. We’ve also found through the years that larger walleyes move from spawning areas in a hurry. It’s common to catch smaller males which dominate around the spawning grounds in the spring. Males mature a year earlier than females which is why it makes it even harder to catch the larger female fish. Scientists also note that females vacate spawning areas in search of deeper water that hold bait fish. Some anglers believe that the larger walleye just quit feeding which isn’t the case.

Younger Walleye

The days that we catch numerous walleyes, typically consists of smaller male and female fish. Bait fish tend to hang in shallower water so that’s where you’ll find feeding walleye and the majority of anglers. We still catch larger fish in these spots, but we do know as walleye grow bigger, they switch to deeper-dwelling feed. Small walleye love to eat perch, shiners, smolt as they are much more abundant. The Columbia river is full of a variety of bait fish which makes it a walleye haven.

Nothing wrong with catching a few eater males

In Conclusion

You want to catch larger spring-time walleye, learn more about their travel routes and spawning grounds. Our walleye guides have over 60 years combined experience chasing Columbia river walleye. Tri Cities continues to produce state record fish. Below McNary Dam, anglers are pouring into intercept walleye headed to their spawning areas. Boardman and Irrigon continue to produce numbers and trophy fish. Down river, Crow Butte continues to kick out nice fish. We are finding big fish down around Rufus and the mouth of the Deschutes river. There’s tons of stumps and flats along with feeder creeks that make for awesome walleye habitat. Take some time and learn each area by marking graphs and isolating habitats. There’s nothing better than gaining experience by time on the water. Good luck in your quest to catching more spring-time walleye.

Mel Stottlemyre Jr – Professional Angler and Baseball Player. Born and raised in the Pacific Northwest and owner of Stott’s Fishing Adventures servicing the Columbia, Snake, Clearwater, and Grande Ronde River.