Fishing Small Rivers for Walleye

How To Catch Walleye In Small Rivers

Beth Rodgers of Wausau Wisconsin with Walleyes
Beth Rodgers of Wausau, Wisconsin with one of the trophy walleyes taken on the Wisconsin River at Wausau with Guide Phil Schwiek of Hooksetters Fishing & Hunting Guide Service. Photo courtesy Wausau/Central Wisconsin Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Central Wisconsin Convention & Visitors Bureau

You can catch small river walleyes in many places. Wherever walleyes live, there are small rivers that are home to these walleyes. These small rivers can be fished from shore, an angler can wade, or you can fish from a small boat. In the larger small rivers, you can go with a bigger boat. Simply said, this is action that absolutely anyone who wants to go fishing can take advantage of. Here's how you can get in on the action.

Things for Anglers to Keep in Mind

There are a few things an angler needs to keep in mind to be successful on small to mid-size rivers. First, remember that deep water will be only ten or twelve feet deep, and there will be lots of areas in the three to five-foot depths. Water clarity and light conditions will determine where the walleyes are. If the water is clear like it is right now on many Midwest rivers, the walleyes will be in the deeper water during the day, but they'll move shallow on cloudy days or at night.

After rains or when there is run-off from snow melt, they'll be shallow much more often, as the water clarity will be reduced.

When the water is clear, walleyes will be in the deeper water, but close to shallow water. They will also prefer areas that have slack water. They typically don't want to be fighting fast moving water.

If you're a wading angler, get into a spot, then stay there for a few minutes. Fan-cast the area completely before moving. This prevents spooking the fish. If the water is a little stained, and you're still, you'll be surprised how many walleyes will hit your bait almost right at your feet. It happens more often than you might expect, but you've got to be quiet.

You can catch 'em on jigs, hard baits, and slip-bobber rigs. Jigs are probably the most popular. A dragging retrieve will be good, but in many rivers, it's just not practical to drag a jig: You'll get snagged too much. Try a Slurp! Jig, eighth ounce, tipped with a three inch Power Grub. Swim it just above the bottom. If the current is low, a sixteenth-ounce jig tipped with a minnow will be good. Keep the bait swimming: If a walleye wants to eat it, it will. Work your jigs across the current, but work them so they're moving downstream like a wounded minnow or bug would be moving.​

A #5 Flicker Shad can be good also. You can cast this bait downstream and work it back upstream, but work it slowly, especially if the water is stained. Crank it down to the bottom, then use your rod tip to keep it down while you slowly retrieve it. Much of the time you'll want your rod tip right at the water's surface.

If the fish are in an eddy, and the water isn't swirling too fast, and if the action is slow, try a slip-bobber. Rig it so the minnow is just above the bottom.

Now is a great time to be on the river. This past winter has been a pretty mild one, but there are still lots of anglers eager to get on or in the water. If that small river near your home has some walleyes in it, now is the perfect time to catch some. Keep the smaller ones, put the big ones back. If you do, we'll be able to enjoy this fishing for lots of springs ahead.