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Afoot in the Flow for Summer River Walleyes
written by Jeff Knapp

Take advantage of lightly pressured flowing water walleye -- all available on foot!
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Summer River Walleye
Shore-bound anglers can enjoy successful walleye fishing by keying in on several specific patterns on rivers and large streams.

No gas? No boat? No problem! Escalating fuel prices or the lack of a walleye rig shouldn't limit your opportunities for catching summertime 'eyes. Swap petro for boot leather to take advantage of lightly pressured flowing water walleye options -- all available on foot.

Bar-Hopping

Rock/gravel/sand bars, typically formed where a feeder creek joins a medium- to large-size river, draw walleyes year 'round. Feeder creeks attract baitfish throughout the seasons -- even in the 70-plus-degree waters of summer -- and the rockbars found below serve as a watery highway for walleyes taking aim on the readily available food.

River and weather conditions play a significant role in how productive a rockbar will be. Higher flows push walleyes out of mid-river areas, resulting in greater numbers of fish in below-the-rockbar eddies. Bluebird weather generally means a late day feeding rush. Stained water conditions or a cloudy/lightly rainy day may offset this to a degree, but the smart money is cast on the last hour "witching-hour" bite, which sometimes continues into the darkness.

In most instances, rock bars are sickle-shaped, with the end of the formation curving downriver. A vertical current line is formed in conjunction with the tip of the bar, the demarcation between the river's main current and the protected waters tucked in behind. This line provides visual evidence of the corridor walleyes use as they move from deep to shallow to eat.

Rockbars can be fished either from the exposed portion of the spot, or by wading out onto it, depending on the flow. Using the current line as a point of reference, with a 6 1/2 -foot medium-action spinning outfit, cast a hair jig tipped with a three-inch Gulp! Alive! Minnow downriver along the seam. A basic round jig and soft-plastic grub is also effective. Be alert for the tell-tale tick on the initial fall; then begin a nine-to-eleven o'clock sweep/drop jigging retrieve. If you get a bite when the rod tip is low, simply snap the hook home. When the rod tip is up, drop it, reel down, and then set the hook.

As walleyes move up, there almost always is a "sweet spot" -- that little pocket where the biters are hanging. Change casting positions, and also fancast at various angles along the seam, until you discover that spot.

Up the Creek

Not all walleyes return to smaller reservoirs, flowages and lakes following the spawn. Low-gradient creeks and small rivers feeding such places often harbor resident walleye populations, provided decent habitat (deep pools, cover, etc.) and food is present. Since walleye numbers in these smaller flowing waters are modest, fishing pressure is often non-existent.

Low, clear water can make for tough creek fishing. But when flows are normal, or up a bit, load up the chest pack with baits and water and prepare to cover some ground.

Expect to find walleyes using the best available habitat, which will include deeper water (typically at least five feet deep), shoreline laydowns and also an assortment of rock. Like their bigger water brethren, creek walleyes will often move to the upper and lower ends of the hole to feed at primetime.

This being a fish-here, fish-there situation, consider covering enough creek section to put you on at least three quality holes. Rely on a humble assortment of crankbaits to work the various depth/current situations. For the deepest areas within a hole, a Hot 'n Tot, Shad Rap or Wally Diver is the standard pick. Shallower spots, usually the head and tail of the pool, are covered with a stickbait like a Husky Jerk. Use a #3 Fast-Lock Snap to efficiently switch baits.

Though creek situations differ somewhat, normally casts should be made perpendicular to the bank. Focus in on spots with the best cover, especially during non-peak times. The more active 'eyes will vacate deeper cover as darkness approaches, and are game for a Husky Jerk presented with a steady retrieve.

Low-lying walleye creeks can hold some gnarly cover. A 6 1/2 foot medium-heavy spinning outfit spooled with a tough line like 10- to 12-pound test fluorocarbon or copolymer can wrestle an 'eye from the downed shoreline tree where you pitched a Wally Diver.

Expect to get a bit dirty. By summer, creek-side undergrowth will be full. You might have to slide down a mud bank to get in proper casting position, or traverse the creek a few times during the course of the day to get the best approach. Prior to making a cast, consider how you are going to land a good-sized walleye. The use of a packable landing net makes sense if you expect to land some fish in awkward situations. (Hey, this isn't the easiest fishing; that's why so few people do it!)

Fast Water 'Eyes

Medium- and larger-size free-flowing walleye rivers are a blend of riffles, pools and runs. When water temperatures reach the 70s, riffle areas with the right stuff are definite go-to summertime spots.

Summer River Walleye
Stickbaits, both hard and soft (as shown), excel in plucking river walleyes out of the tail-out section of larger pools.

The most productive riffles are the deeper ones, where depths of at least two feet or so are present. If the riffle spills into a deep, fast run, and then a deeper hole below, it's ideal. Expect to find such riffles in funnel areas where the river pinches in.

Flashy reaction lures work best in this situation, one where walleyes are accustomed to quickly responding when a meal whizzes by. I've had good success with ChatterBait lures in fast water, particularly the trout/panfish-sized version. Traditional inline spinners, such as the Vibrax Classic or Rooster Tail, in size 2 or 3 are another good option.

Approaching the riffle from downstream, using a 7-foot medium light spinning outfit, make casts in a quartering upstream direction. Hold the rod in a 10 o'clock position, aiming the tip at the lure, so you can direct it around obstacles. Use a steady retrieve -- nothing fancy -- with enough speed to keep from hanging up. The lure will swing with the current as you bring it in, the metal blade biting the water to give it action. Walleyes will often follow a lure in this setting, so be alert for a last second strike. Continue working your way up the riffle until the water has been covered.

Likely due to the turbulent, broken water, this pattern can produce during bright, sunny conditions.

Tailout Tactics

Low, clear conditions are perfect for fishing the tail end of a major river pool, that transition area where the hole shallows up prior to dumping into a riffle.

Zero in on tailouts during prime conditions, early and late in the day, and during those cloudy, classic "walleye days."

Walleyes move to tailouts to feed on minnows and crayfish found there. In tailouts lacking weed cover, rely on two basic offerings: stickbaits/jerkbaits for when the fish are on minnows, and jigs for fish focused on crayfish.

A 6 1/2-foot medium action spinning combo is a good compromise for both presentations. Superline with a fluorocarbon leader assists in long casts, a plus when working a wider river.

Suspending hard minnow baits efficiently cover the water by way of casts made across the current. Again, a steady retrieve tends to trigger the most strikes and results in solid hookups. Hold the rod tip around 10 o'clock to provide a good angle for the rod to load when a walleye strikes. Wait until the weight of the fish is felt before making a sweeping hookset.

For a bottom presentation, offer 'em up a four-inch soft plastic tube on a light insert tube head jig. Typically an 1/8 or 3/16 jig is adequate. Cast in a quartering downstream direction, allowing the tube to swing in the current as it settles down to the bottom. Then begin jigging it back, using 9 to 11 o-clock sweeps. Most strikes occur as the bait settles back down to the bottom on a semi-tight line. In the warm summertime water, bites typically are felt as solid "thunks," the signal to drop the rod tip, quickly wind in, and snap the jig home.

GETTING THE DROP ON PIER WALLEYES

Walleye rivers of all sorts feature piers, vertical structures where walleyes collect during the summer months.

Bridge piers, which often funnel the river's current, are the most common. Typically depressions are formed at the base of bridge piers during high water events; woody snags also wrap around the structures.

It's common on larger, navigable rivers for sections of riverbank -- particularly near industrial sites -- to be stabilized by way of corrugated steel walls. In some instances shore anglers can gain access to such spots.

Add to this the many fishing piers that exist in combination with hydro-electric stations on river dams.

In regard to settings, piers vary greatly. A common factor, though, is that they can all be fished effectively with a drop shot rig. Drop shots work in pier situations because walleyes often hover off the bottom, keying on the minnows that are eating the plankton clinging to the pier's side.

West Alexandria, Pa. walleye pro Keith Eshbaugh was responsible for introducing me to drop-shots for river 'eyes, a summertime tactic he uses on the three major rivers of western Pennsylvania.

In situations where the shore angler can stand on the actual pier -- such as a fishing pier or loading dock -- the drop shot provides a great vertical presentation. Use a Palomar knot to tie in a #4 Gamakatsu Drop Shot Hook, allowing a tag of at least a foot. Clip a tungsten drop shot weight to the end. The dense metal telegraphs the bottom composition. Sinker weight varies with depths and current, but usually runs from 1/8 to 3/8 of an ounce. Likewise, it pays to play with the hook to sinker distance. Nose-hook a three- or four-inch Gulp! Alive! Minnow to the drop shot hook.

With a 7-foot medium-light spinning combo, pitch the rig upriver of your location. When the rig hits bottom, signified by the line slackening, reel in the slack, holding the rod at a 10 o'clock angle. Point the rod tip at the line as it drifts with the current. Expect hits to be the classic walleye thunk-n-hold.

I've watched some interesting landing jobs from piers. Experienced folks bring a basket-style net, such as the Frabill Collapsible Pop Net, that's lowered to the water's edge with a rope or light chain.

Wading anglers too can work shallow river bridge piers. The same principles apply. Just extend the distance from hook to sinker, as the angle of the presentation will make it more of a horizontal one.

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