LITTLE ROCK (AGFC) – February fades into March, and walleye get into action in many Arkansas fishing waters.
This is a season with excitement for some anglers, and there is room for more. Walleye are fun to catch, but the game has its differences from other, more familiar types of fishing – bass, for instance.
There are some similarities, however. A fisherman going after walleye may already have some suitable lures in the bass fishing tackle box.
When water gets above 45 degrees, walleye begin to move from deep to shallow water in preparation for spawning. They move upstream into shoals, shallow-water areas. Many walleye fishermen, and also fisheries biologists, say walleye move upstream in stages, with the males traveling first. Some anglers regard 47 degrees as the key reading for water temperature. They keep in mind that male walleye are usually smaller than females.
To fish for walleye, it helps to learn something about their life and their preferences.
The walleye is a fish of gravel bottoms, says Mike Armstrong, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission's assistant director and a veteran fisheries biologist.
"They like clean water with gravel bottoms in both the rivers and the lakes. If the water is generally turbid (discolored or muddy), you won't find walleyes on a consistent basis."
Early March walleye waters include the tributaries of Greers Ferry Lake, Lake Ouachita, Norfork Lake and Bull Shoals Lake. Several rivers in northeastern Arkansas have walleye – the Spring River, Current River and Eleven Point River. All are streams of mostly gravel bottoms. The nearby Black River, though, has primarily a mud bottom and does not have many walleye. Saline River in central Arkansas is good for walleye.
For bait, walleye fishermen usually think minnows. They use something resembling a minnow for artificial lures, and they may use live minnows, sometimes in combination with a lure or a jighead. Anglers tend to use the larger trotline minnows rather than smaller crappie minnows for walleye fishing. Night crawlers and small bream also are used as walleye bait.
In the shallow water of shoals and feeder streams, live minnows can be worked with or without bobbers. Some walleye seekers use a swivel with a short line leading to a bottom-bumping weight and another short line to the hook with the minnow. This lets the minnow float off the bottom.
Lures like a Rebel Jointed Minnow are usually cast upstream on shoals then retrieved back to the boat. They also can be angled across the shallow water area, then retrieved. Most walleye fishermen do not cast downstream from above the shoals.
Walleye do not slam into a lure or a bait like a largemouth bass does. Instead, the fisherman usually feels a tug or detects a weight when the line is tightened. When hooked, the walleye tends to head to deeper water. Some anglers set the hook hard when they get a walleye bite. Others just raise the rod tip sharply. Mouths of walleye are not tender like those of crappie.
The daily limit for walleye in Arkansas is six, but there are exceptions. On Beaver Lake, Table Rock Lake, Bull Shoals Lake and Norfork Lake, it's four a day with a minimum length limit of 18 inches. On Greers Ferry Lake, there is a protected slot limit of 20-28 inches and only one walleye longer than 28 inches can be kept per day.