Shallows and Z-Man key to catching walleye

The walleye season opened this past weekend across the Sunset Country Region and anglers were greeted with some nicer weather than we usually experience over the May long weekend. It was dry, warm and the wind was angler-friendly. A lot of my May-long memories consist of fishing in sideways rain and sitting around hot fires in the evening. Growing up though, we always got out on the lake for the walleye opener, it’s a tradition for many across the region.  

Some years, on a late ice out like we had this spring, the walleye fishing can be tough for opening weekend, because the fish are either still spawning or just wrapping up that process. Immediately after spawning, I feel like walleyes are lazy for a week or so as they recover from this activity that they spend months preparing for. We lucked out this year in that the warm weather we’ve experienced over the past couple of weeks has sped up the spawning process, which helped the fishing be great over the weekend.  

I had some guide trips booked over the weekend and we had some fun in the boat. Our time was spent fishing shallow in four to ten feet of water with soft plastic swimbaits on jig heads. We caught a bunch of smallmouths, walleyes and pike, the fishing was as good as it gets. While the main target was walleye, it’s fun getting bites and not knowing what’s on the end of your line. 

Early in the season, most of the fish in our lakes can be found in shallow water, as they enjoy the warmest water they can find. Probably more than any time during the season, a little bit of wind is your friend as it will blow the warmer surface water into bays and coves, putting all of these fish in predictable locations. We found over the weekend that the sandy coves with a few boulders mixed in, getting some wind blowing into them, were all full of fish. 

Over the coming weeks on most waters across the region, shiners will start to congregate in these same coves, bringing more walleyes shallow. Many of us have grown up having it in our heads that we have to fish in 20 plus feet of water with a jig and minnow to catch walleyes during the open water season but one thing that I’ve learned over the years is way more walleye remain in shallow water, under ten feet, for most of the spring and summer.  

My favourite bait for catching walleyes during the spring is a Z-Man MinnowZ swimbait, rigged on a ¼ ounce jig head. The Z-Man plastic is made from a material called Elaztech, which is extremely tough and stretchy, so you can literally catch dozens of fish on one bait. I’ll usually only lose baits when I snag bottom or a pike bites off my line. These baits take some practice to rig up nice and straight on the jig head, which is important to give them the best possible action. The other mandatory thing that I do to this bait setup is put a dab of super glue on the collar of the jig to hold the bait to the jig head. Do this and the plastic will never get pulled down the shank of the jig on a short strike. 

Cast these baits near the bank and slowly swim them back to the boat, keeping the baits a foot or two above the bottom. Once you get a few bites, you’ll gain more confidence in these fish catching machines. As I mentioned earlier, smallmouths and pike will eat these baits as well.  

Give the soft plastics a shot this summer, put them in front of some fish and you’ll be surprised at the results.