Tips And Tricks For Fishing A Walleye River Spawn

Maumee River MapI spent my childhood on the Maumee River.  Living near Fort Meigs, it was a bike run to spend a day hiking, playing and fishing.  My friends and I even spent nights camping on the river.  Back then it was relatively safe.  I got to know the old timers that could remember when the river ran clear, knew where the big smallmouths were and understood the pulse of the river.  From leaving home to returning after a stint in the Air Force, I dreamed of having my first boat.  I got that boat in 1974.

For most of you, 1974 is old.  For all of you, growing up on a river system was an education few get to have.  I spent most of my adulthood soaking up information on the “pulse of the river” and how it teaches you when, where and how to fish.

The Basics Of Fishing The Maumee River

It could be any river but this is where I grew up.  I had been fishing for 15 years or so before I realized there is a dynamic flow to this river.  As with most river systems, the Maumee has some unique characteristics and its understanding these characteristics that gives you the edge.  We’ll talk fish later.

Weather, Water and Flow

The Maumee begins near the Ft. Wayne, IN area.  Water flow and depth is determined by weather which typically comes out of the west, northwest which means all year round water flow is determined by these systems and, more specifically, where they occur.  A heavy storm in Indiana meant more water would reach the Ft. Meigs area in days, not hours.  That’s critical in knowing when to fish as temperature, flow and depths will change.

Heavy rains in our area meant great fishing at the beginning of that storm, although I never fished during electrical storms.  That can be a small window of opportunity and you might get wet but the fishing can be spectacular.  If the storm was west of us, it could be up to 24 hours before the water would change.

Any fisherman worth his salt knows that when the weather changes, so does the fishing but in a river system, it’s a critical element.  Although fish may still be holding behind that bolder (structure), water flow and food sources may have changed feeding activity, good or bad.

Elevation Points on the Maumee River
On the Maumee River there are three areas to consider when fishing for Walleye no matter when you fish it and this refers to the elevations of the river.  From approximately 650ft ASL (above sea level) to 500ft ASL in the Perrysburg area, that understanding these “change locations” determines not when you fish but where.  Although Walleye move up to shallow, faster water to spawn, these are key locations to where they pool before and during pre-spawn and spawning.

Key Locations For Walleye On The Maumee River

#1 MAUMEE – PERRYSBURG

If you’re looking to avoid the crowd but still catch fish a boat is a must but beware of shallow structures that can rip a motor of your transom.

The orange dotted line is the final drop in elevation and water begins to pool at the tip of Ewing Island.  The encapsulated area is a sunken rise in the bottom causing deeper channels on either side.  Prior to the orange break, fish the red areas off the Island.  Concentrate on the southern edge of that sunken structure in blue.

Practically all of the fish that enter a river to spawn will deposit their eggs as far upstream as possible. Anything that impedes that upstream progress-and offers suitable spawning grounds close by-will naturally concentrate walleyes in large numbers prior to and during the spawn. Typically, smaller male fish will be the first to arrive at such locations, though the larger females can show up at any time. But again, not all the walleyes in a river system will migrate at the same pace. Downstream of prime spawning areas, the fish can be here today and gone tomorrow, but more will be passing through as the spawn approaches. If small males are the only fish showing up near the spawning grounds, keep moving downstream.

#2 SIDE CUT – BUTTONWOOD

Spring runoff causes safety issues and many a fishermen have lost their lives crossing the line of safety.  Always approach fast water with caution whether wading or in a boat.

Again, thousands of fishermen line the shores but the guy with the boat can win the day.  In Side Cut, the water just breaks after Blue Grass Island and positioned just south of the mid river structure offers yet another deep water channel.  Water flow is the enemy here and anchoring is treacherous so be careful.

#3 WATERVILLE BRIDGE

Another break occurs right at the east tip of Island and before the bridge.  Access is not easy as you go west on the river so always be courteous.  The water is faster here as the elevation is dropping more dramatically and this continues through the Buttonwood area.  Water between the Waterville Bridge and the Side Cut area is rarely fishable unless levels are way down.  (However, during low levels and summer, this is a great area for Smallmouth Bass)  By the time the levels do drop to wading safety, the run is typically over.  Red areas are suggested with orange dotted being the breaks.

BEYOND WATERVILLE TO GRAND RAPIDS

The fishing stops at the dam as the Walleye can go no further.  Although the dam can offer a pooling area, and Walleye are caught here, most Walleye spawn in and around the Waterville sections of the river going upstream.  They prefer the shallower, faster water.  The section between Grand Rapids and Waterville drops slower in elevation so water flow slows down until the first break at Missionary Island.  Also, access to this stretch is near impossible due to private property until you get to the dam.

Tricks When Fishing The Maumee River

Safety First On The Maumee River

After over 40 years of living and fishing this river, pay attention to:

•    Weather fronts
•    Water depth
•    The right equipment when wading
•    The right equipment when boating

You know the issues and details, so don’t take chances.

Bait And Presentation For Walleye On The Maumee River

Drop Shot MethodI eventually found out that a method called a drop-shot works the best but slightly modified.  A drop-shot puts your weight at the bottom of your line and this is what drags the bottom of the river.  From that weight, you can vary the lure type about 6” up.  The line with from the drop-shot to the lure is in the 6lb range so snags break easily and you save the lure.  From the lure to the reel is 12-17lb test.  (preference is 12lb)

When Will The Walleye Run Start

Jacks are usually the first to arrive and this typically starts when water temperatures reach 40 degrees.  If there’s ice still flowing, don’t waste your time.  If you’re close to the river, take the temperature every other day until you see it breech 38 degrees.  If water levels are safe, hit your favorite hole once a day.

Females show up shortly after but that varies.  However, they are not feeding when the spawn starts.  In the Maumee, once they move up past the Maumee-Perrysburg bridge, they only have one goal and you’re more likely to snag one that catch one (remember, it’s illegal to snag Walleye during this period)

After the spawn it’s a different story but you really don’t know when that will occur.  The first up are the first out and so on.

Tackle For Walleye On The Maumee River

The current and bottom of the river is your enemy but knowing what bait and tackle to use and how to use them keeps you calm.  On the Maumee, snags are your nightmare and after millions of casts on this river, the bottom is loaded with lead dollflys.  The river bottom is mostly shale with boulders strewn all over.  You’re going to get held up on these eventually. To avoid losing yours:

Use the lowest test line possible.

20+ lb test line is a no-no.  Use 12-17 as your chances of breaking a snag are better.  Don’t use braided either and the newer invisible options are of no value here either.

Never cast as far upstream as you would like.
How to Cast The River
I’ve seen fisherman “reach” as far as they can upstream to keep the bait in the water as long as possible.  This is a fallacy as I’ve caught more fish on the downturn of the bait and the retrieve back to my rod tip.  Cast straight out from your body for the sweet zone.  This keeps your bait on the “downside” of the current allowing you to pull it out if snagged.  Casting upstream, before your bait gets perpendicular to your body, will push your bait tighter into that snag.

Always use the smallest dollfly as possible.

Why throw a 1oz bait when a ¼ will do the job?  It’s just easier to keep it moving and it’s easier to pull out of snags.  AND, fish on is more likely.

Keep that bait moving.

Once on the bottom, bounce it often to avoid those snags and to give your bait action.  Common sense says freshwater sport fish are not interested in dead meals.

The tried and true method on the Maumee is lead headed jigs with a soft tail.  Experience has shown me that the lighter colors work the best in muddy and cloudy water, a darker color when things clear up.  Rarely do they clear up, however.

The Tricks

If you’re a jig fisherman, use the rubber curly tail at the onset of the run.  About a week or so into the run, move to the drop-shot rig with live bait (minnow) anywhere from 4” to 12” above the weight.  With live bait, don’t be in a hurry to “reel it in” at the end of the cast.  Keep your bait in the water for as long as you can.

Stick With The Honey Holes

Stop wandering all other the river.  Find that hole or channel and hit it hard during the run.  There is no better spot and watching someone on the other side catch a fish doesn’t mean that’s where the Walleye have relocated.  They are all over the river but congregated in channels and holes.