Fishing for Fastballs

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For a lot of Midwest anglers, walleyes plus April equals rivers.

And why not? These flowages, both large and small, serve as hosts for massive runs of spring walleyes compelled by nature to perform their annual spring spawning ritual.

But fishing rivers is like trying to hit a dancing knuckleball. Changes in water levels, current flow, water clarity and water temperature that are so frequent in April give the advantage to the pitcher.

There are also populations of fish in our lakes and reservoirs that take care of their procreation out in open water. And many of these locales bring together the best of both worlds where they intersect with smaller rivers and creeks.

Fishing lakes is more like sitting on a fastball. Conditions tend to be affected less dramatically by weather developments. You know what you're going to get, and it's up to you to put a good swing on it.

Identifying likely April walleye locations on lakes and reservoirs is largely a matter of structure and bottom content. Walleyes prefer to spawn over gravel or rock, although sand will do in bodies of water where there isn't much hard structure. Nature also tells these fish to deposit their eggs in places like reefs or rip-rap where moving water will help them hatch and disperse the fry before they can be wiped out by predators. Transitions from soft to hard bottom are also great target areas when other structure is lacking.

Choose a presentation that is most effective for the structure you're fishing.

For example, drifting or dragging jigs is a staple on the sand flats in locales like Mille Lacs and Winnibigoshish and on the reefs of the Great Lakes and Lake Winnebago. I try to keep my line at no greater than a 45-degree angle when drifting jigs, and I use the lightest jig I can based on wind and depth.

Choosing an aquadynamic head style will allow you to fish lighter. Fin-Tech has a wide selection of drift-friendly jigs designed to slide through the water with minimal resistence.

Tip your jigs with whatever species of baitfish is dominant in that body of water. In some lakes, it's shiners. In others, it might be fathead minnows. And try to create a tight profile by running the hook into the bait's mouth then out behind its head rather than simply hooking it through the lips.

Your bait will stay on the hook better, it will be harder for fish to rip it free without getting hooked, and strikes will be more obvious. Don't worry about the fact that the minnow or shiner won't live very long after impaling it in this manner. In fact, they often do live a long time and if they don't, that's OK, too, because the bait is still fresh and it's moving through the water.

If your target area is a soft-to-hard transition or a reef where debris is fouling your jigs, rigging might be a better option. Use an in-line slip sinker heavy enough to let you fish at a 30- to 45-degree angle followed by a plain bait hook and either a minnow, shiner or even a leech. Snells should be no less than

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