Pre-season primer welcome taste of spring

You know winter is more than half over when thoughts turn to fishing.
Perhaps that’s why renowned pro walleye angler Gary Roach’s seminars were so enthusiastically received at Pinewood Sports and Marine here last Wednesday.
Roach—a.k.a. “Mr. Walleye”—gave two lectures in the showroom, which were attended by roughly 200 people eager to hear about the latest fishing products as well as pick up some tips from a man who’s been fishing the pro walleye circuit for 33 years.
Roach was born in Crosby, Mn. and now lives nearby in Mission Lake. Over the years, he’s won about half-a-million dollars on the pro circuit, so his words carried some weight with the audience.
Much of what he said was not news to experienced anglers, but his folksy style put everyone at ease as he shared some of his insights and advice with local hopefuls.
“Come on in. There’s lots of room and the fish are biting,” he said.
The afternoon seminar focused on lake fishing and how anglers should adjust their methods depending on the time of year. Roach, who also sponsors a line of lures, took his audience through a whole season of fishing, explaining how anglers need to adapt in order to be successful.
The first order of business was having the right equipment.
Roach is a great believer in electronics—depth gauges, fish finders, and GPS. He also believes you get what you pay for.
“It makes no sense to pay $30,000 for a boat and then scrimp on a $200 sonar unit,” he remarked. “Get a good one, with a minimum of 1,500 watts of power.”
After describing the boat, motor, and other equipment he uses, Roach got down to the business of catching walleye. And like so many other things in life, there’s no substitute for knowledge and experience.
“There are a lot of good magazines, and videos and TV programs, available today,” he said. “Read and watch all you can, and, of course, you have to put in the time on the water.
“The more you do it, the better you’ll be.”
He noted not all fishing has to be done from a boat, however. Roach said he’s learned a lot from people who only fish from shore and then applies that knowledge to his own on-water techniques.
“Like most gamefish, walleye will often follow schools of bait fish and if that takes them close to shore, that’s where you should be,” he reasoned.
Having located the fish, how does one get them into the boat? That, says Roach, depends on a number of things, including the time of year.
In the spring when the water is cold, for instance, the fish are less active and that calls for a more subtle approach. He recommends small jigs (one-eighth to one-quarter ounce) and Berkley Powerbaits.
He also suggested rigging a stinger hook to deal with those tentative short strikes.
Live minnows are always a good bet, as are leeches, and don’t be afraid to experiment with jig colours. Roach also likes rattlers to attract distant fish.
But the important thing at that time of year is to keep it slow and easy. Walleye are not particularly aggressive early in the season so you have to finesse them.
“Sometimes they don’t want to chase it,” Roach said. “So you have to give the fish a chance to grab it.”
That means smaller lures and jigs, and a slower presentation. Shorter leaders and gentler movements are the order of the day, whether you’re using a bottom bouncer, a jig and minnow, or a crank bait.
Roach, who is sponsored by Berkley, recommends monofilament line like Trilene XT under these conditions, since it slows the action of the minnow or leech as well as takes some of the movement out of crankbaits.
Later, in summer and fall, he prefers Fireline because it gives the lure more action and is extremely sensitive to light pick-ups.
Roach also likes long-lipped crankbaits because they run deeper at slower speeds. Again, start small in the spring and go to bigger baits and higher speeds as the season progresses.
Another early-season tip Roach passed on concerned water temperature.
“Early in the spring, look for warmer water—at the mouths of creeks and rivers,” he remarked.
For that, an accurate temperature gauge is a must. Again, Roach is talking about electronics and the necessity of knowing exactly where the fish are. In the spring, that could be anywhere in the depth column.
“They’re deep, shallow, or somewhere in between,” he joked. “Early in the spring, you can find them in four-five feet of water, but the chances are, they’re following the bait fish.”
Another good indicator is the wind. Bait fish will tend to congregate on the downwind side of the lake so the walleye shouldn’t be far away.
Later in the year, you can find them lurking near weed beds, where they like to take advantage of the shade and the slightly higher oxygen levels there.
Roach’s final tip concerned catch-and-release. Since walleye also can be found in deep water, he stressed the importance of bringing them up slowly so they are not injured by the rapid change in pressure.
He has become quite adept at “fizzing” walleye—using a hypodermic needle to deflate the swim bladder so the fish can return to the depths more easily. That, too, is a skill that requires considerable practice.
For the less-experienced, his advice is to handle the fish as little as possible and to release it as quickly as possible. If you can remove the hook without taking the fish out of the water, so much the better.
But the underlying theme to which he returned time and again was practice. Fishing is a hands-on sport—and there’s no substitute for experience.
“Experiment. Have fun with it,” Roach advised.