Hugging The Contours For More Spring Walleyes

by Mark Melotik

HuntStand Pro Contributor MORE FROM Mark

Walleyes love to use water contours for feeding and traveling. The ScoutLook Fishing app now offers detailed water contour data. See the cool connection?

Contours1 600Locating walleyes is by far the biggest factor in catching them, no matter where you’re fishing. But where do you begin to look? Depending on the time of year, the specific fishery, and about one hundred other factors that go into this equation, it can be overwhelming deciding where to start. So let’s keep it simple, based on a few of the basics we already know, and throw in a very useful tool: The “Water Contour” feature found in your always handy smartphone, in your free ScoutLook Fishing app.

Early season walleyes are fish on the move. They’re either moving up river or near some rip-rap, or in moving water preparing for the spawn. During this transition from ice to open water you can find them both shallow and deep, and certainly in deep-water breaks near shallow rocky shores.

When these fish are making a move they will usually follow some type of contour—whether it be a river or creek channel or even the smallest of change in the bottom contours. If you’re a hunter you know exactly what I’m talking about here. When you are watching deer, turkeys and other wildlife, have you ever noticed that they will tend to move along a treeline, fenceline, or edge of a field? Well, this is exactly what the walleyes are doing as they move from one location to another. They are a predator fish that is always “on the hunt” for an easy snack. Moving along a breakline or any elevation change enables them to hide from their prey, and strike quickly when enticed.

ContourBreak 600Here’s a great example of a walleye-attracting break off a shallow flat. This is an excellent spot for walleyes to hang out, as they wait for the right moment to move up and feed.
With today’s high-tech mapping technology we can identify almost any area that falls into some of the basic seasonal patterns we can expect when fishing our local fishery, or even, before entering uncharted waters for the very first time. I’m constantly using my ScoutLook Fishing app to do just this. The app’s relatively new “Water Contour” feature details the bottom structure of more than 9,000 lakes and major rivers nationwide, and works great for taking a “quick look” into an area when you’re not in your boat, or near your highly advanced electronics. This feature is simple to use for anglers of all skill levels, and can come in real handy for shore fishermen wishing to get their baits and lures near the best-possible breaklines found within shore-casting distance. Reading a water contour map is just like reading any other topographical map: the closer the lines, the sharper the changes in contour/water depth. And this is about all you need to know to understand this helpful mapping feature.

In addition to hiding from prey and acting as an underwater “highway,” “hugging a contour” also allows walleyes to rest out of current-swept waters, and remain hidden from possible predators and certain light situations. However, just like deer and turkeys, walleyes will “come out to play” from time to time, and that usually means “feeding time.” During the spawning phase many of the females will hole up in deeper water, adjacent to shallow spawning areas, while the males may hang out in the shallow and deep water all day waiting for the females to make their move. This is a great time to vertical-jig with minnows or plastics on the breakline, in hopes of hooking up with a big one.

Pitching a jig-and-plastic up shallow—such as a Berkley Ripple Shad or Berkley 3-inch Gulp Minnow—is also excellent this time of year, as you can cover a lot of water quickly, and locate those actively feeding fish.

As soon as the spawning phase is over, walleyes are on the move to find some food to replenish all the calories they have exhausted over the past several weeks. Once again, you should look for these fish to transition along the river or creek channel into shallow-water coves or windblown points that may be holding baitfish. These areas are usually holding a little warmer water, which attracts much of the early season baitfish—which of course the hungry walleyes are targeting.

When targeting these types of areas look for changes in the contours between the deep breaklines and the shallow flats. An area may have just one little ledge at seven feet, and then jump suddenly up to 5 feet, with some rocks or timber along it. This is an excellent spot for a walleye to hang out, waiting for the moment it is ready to feed; with deep water nearby it can easily slide back down if need be, whether the cause is too much fishing pressure or too much overhead sun. Here again, is a great opportunity to “scout” your fishing area a day or two ahead of time with help from the water contour information in your ScoutLook Fishing app. Walleyes will use the smallest of contour changes to plan their attack if that’s all that is available, so don’t overlook the “little” areas on your maps, if there is nothing much else around. For the most part, once you locate one walleye, you can mimic that same pattern most anywhere on the lake and find others.

Contours Four 600Look for the larger late spring/early summer walleyes to be hanging out near subtle breaks and other structure on shallow flats; now is also the time to check out extreme shallow water areas for aggressive, hungry fish.
Also acting as a sort of “contour change” of sorts, are abrupt changes in bottom makeup. Examples include sand to gravel, gravel to mud, mud to weeds, and so on. Just like contour changes, walleyes will use these bottom changes as a “transition path,” much like deer utilize field edges.

Once the fish have moved into the shallow flats for the spring and early summer months, as they feed on the area’s insects and small baitfish, the bite usually becomes a little more predictable. However, if you’re looking to hook into a big fish, you will want to locate those subtle contour changes near some structure, if available. The big fish don’t hang out with the little fish, just as 5th graders don’t hang out with 1st graders, except on rare occasions.

Big fish are big for a reason; they eat when they want to and don’t waste energy chasing little prey, unless the forage base isn’t large enough to support the fishery. In these cases, the competition for food will take precedence, and many of the “basic fishing practices” can get tossed out the window.

Don’t overlook the extreme shallows at this time of year—or during any time of year, for that matter. And when I say “extreme” I mean fishing in just one to two feet of water. Many times I will toss my jig up on the bank and work it back to the boat, with many of the bites coming within the first few feet the jig enters the water.

ContoursTwo 600Sometimes even the most subtle contour changes will concentrate shallow-water walleyes, including sunken logs and washouts caused by regular boat traffic. It’s usually wise to start your search by targeting obvious contour changes using your ScoutLook Fishing app, but sometimes simple obversation using your polarized glasses, and some experimentation, can pay off big.
Contour changes can be tricky to locate in a large shallow flat area, even with help from a detailed water-contour map, but almost any change at all could be holding fish. It could be as little as a log laying on the bottom, or even some “washed-out” area from repeated, regular boat traffic. Of course, if you can locate shallow flats near river channels, or around islands, these can be dynamite hot spots.

Walleyes will move a lot in a given day or week, based on several circumstances, but as long you know the routes they may use during a particular time of year—and how to identify prime contour changes with your ScoutLook Fishing app—you should be able to increase your odds of hooking up this year.



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