Fish – and walleye in particular – are from an evolutionary perspective, extremely lazy creatures. They live their lives trying to eat as much as possible, as efficiently as they can.
They have evolved to expend as little energy as is necessary as they go about their regular routines so they can save valuable calories for the lean times, which if you’re a walleye, are frequent and long.
We’ve all heard the expression make hay while the sun shines, well with walleye it’s more like make hay when the wind blows.
There is another old expression in fishing circles, “there’s a good walleye chop;” meaning of course that the wind is blowing, so the bite is on somewhere! No other species swimming in our region is so influenced by wind in terms of feeding. Particularly if you happened to be fishing a sand bar or shallow black mud bay, spring walleye will always be most aggressive in the area receiving the most amount of wind.
It is the basic predatory instinct of large fish to put forth the maximum effort to feed when conditions are optimal, but there are really multiple reasons why wind is such a key ingredient for a good day on the water, especially early in walleye season.
As waves roll, they disturb the baitfish living in the mud and sparse remnants of last year’s vegetation. The walleye has learned over millennia to take advantage of that chaos in the minnows’ world and quickly move to pick them off as they are separated from their previously protective structure.
In a big lake, schools of fish are more likely to be resident to certain spots or areas and literally turn on when the wind gives them the opportunity. In smaller systems, they will be more likely to cruise the entire lake in search of the best spot to feed on any given day.
Bigger is Better
To understand why walleye, and in fact all underwater predators to some extent, feed when and where the wind blows, look at life on the surface. When it is windy, bigger boats have an easier time navigating the waves than smaller boats. A 20-foot bowrider can manoeuvre in whitecaps much better than a canoe. Well, when things get rough a twopound walleye has a similar advantage over a 6-ounce perch and even more so over a four-inch minnow.
Wind can push schools of baitfish and other food sources into the mouths of shallow bays or up against any sort of structure and walleye seem to cue up to feed. The smaller prey make easy pickings when they are stuck helplessly swimming against strong lake currents.
Just remember, it is not uncommon for an even bigger fish, a large northern pike or muskie for example, to use their same advantage in rough conditions over the relatively smaller walleye. If bigger predators show up, the bite will likely cool off and you might as well go search elsewhere.
Dim the Lights
Walleye, as their name suggests, have unique vision in the fish world. Their eyes have evolved to include a light gathering membrane called the tapetum lucidum. This is what gives walleye vastly superior sight under low light conditions than the baitfish they are targeting. (It’s also what makes their eyes frequently look so glassy in photographs.)
Wave action on the surface breaks up the amount of light penetrating into the water column. Additionally, the associated turbidity, created by wave stirred sediments from the bottom, also further reduces the amount of light penetration. The resulting conditions mean the walleye is like the bad guy in a slasher film wearing night vision goggles while everyone else is running around bumping into each other in the dark. Come and get it!
Of course, not every day serves up perfect conditions. Being able to adapt to the weather is what separates true anglers from the nonintelligent pressure.
There are two systems in particular with little to no associated wind that can be almost impossible to overcome unless you consider how the fish are being affected: Nicer than normal weather, and sudden cold snaps.
Timing Warm Fronts
Think about times when we have bright, sunny, calm conditions for several days in a row. While fishing is initially very slow, as time progresses weather like this can result in an amazing walleye bite. Here’s one former guide’s explanation behind that situation.
On the first nice day of a warm front, when a walleye would have to work pretty hard to get a belly full of food, the majority of the population remains in a less aggressive mood.
They might open their mouths to inhale a suicidal minnow, but even that is debateable if they’ve just come off a big feed the day prior.
Day 2 and temperatures in the shallows are rising as are fish metabolisms. It’s still not really worth the effort unless something practically hits them in the nose.
Day 3 and most of the population is getting hungry. Conditions are still awful, from a walleye feeding perspective anyway, bright, sunny and calm. Great spring cottaging weather mind you.
At this stage, some fish will start making short sprints to chase down stray minnows, but the bite is still relatively slow.
Day 4, hang on to your hat. Now the majority of walleye are ready to go on a feeding bender. Small groups of fish will start cruising shallow flats hunting like wolves after whitetails, carving huge swaths in the schools of minnows heretofore basking in the unseasonably calm, warm spring waters.
If there is any slight break in the weather, a warm breeze say for example, these are the days that can become legendary … 50 walleye in an afternoon legendary. Great weather, piles of hungry fish, what else do you need in life to be happy?
Often on the heels of a prolonged warm spell, spring gives us a sudden cold snap that gets woodstoves burning again after their extended pause. It also takes those same fish that yesterday had been so greedily feeding and locks them down tighter than a Nun’s habit. Especially if the surface temperature of the spot you’re fishing has dropped five, 10 or more degrees Fahrenheit overnight, fire up the big motor, you gotta go hunting if you wanna find active fish.
You don’t often need to go too far, mind you. Especially in larger lakes, certain populations of walleye will spawn at slightly different times during the spring. Also, larger females will typically abandon spawning grounds sooner. These early bird fish begin transitioning to summer locations sooner than the majority of smaller males. When a cold front hits and your spot turns to ice overnight, start moving out to the nearest main lake structure available from your previous honey Continued: When the Mercury Drops, Go Deep When the temperature drops on the heels of a warm spell, try the nearest main lake structure. Walleye – Zone 18 Season: January 1 to March 1 and second Saturday in May to December 31 Catch Limits: Sportfishing 4 and Conservation 2 Slot Limit: Must be between 40-50 cm hole. Maybe it is a deeper shoal a few hundred feet in front of the bay you were in the day prior. Maybe it’s a small island surrounded by deep water just a bit beyond your now lifeless sand bar. Chances are the fish you find won’t be super aggressive, but they will be more active than their still shallow-dwelling cousins. As an added bonus, the average size of the fish you catch will likely be bigger since you’re more apt to catch larger, post-spawn females the deeper you fish.
Catching fish under whatever conditions spring throws at you can be a lot easier if you always keep in mind how the wind, weather and walleye all work together.