Become a Better Walleye Angler
KEENE, N.H. — Gabe Gries, Region 4 Fisheries Biologist II and Warmwater Project Leader for the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, has set his sights on becoming a better walleye fisherman and offers the following advice for New Hampshire anglers on pursuing this worthy gamefish.
Gries started working on his walleye strategy last year, buying a few walleye crankbaits and putting some time in on the Connecticut River when he could. He caught a few walleye last summer (and tons of smallmouth bass), but he is determined to reach the point where he can consistently catch walleye in spring, summer and fall.
“I spent a good part of this winter researching different walleye techniques, buying what tackle I could, and talking to walleye anglers,” said Gries. “Walleye can be a fickle fish, and combining that fact with the ever-changing Connecticut River presents a puzzle that could take a lifetime to figure out. Above all, what you need most is patience.”
Gries plans to start shore fishing just below the major dams this spring as early as river flows allow. “I’ll use mainly live bait (crawlers and shiners), in combination with a number of different jigs. Standup jigs tipped with a shiner or a 3-inch grub always produce well, as do many of your typical bass lures (crankbaits, Shad Raps, rattle traps, etc.).” Be sure to check the river flows and try to fish during moderate spring flows, he advises. As fish start to bite below the dams, also concentrate on the mouths of rivers and streams that flow into the Connecticut River. Walleye will often gather in these areas both during the pre-spawn and the spawning period.
After walleye spawn, they can be difficult to find for up to several weeks, but this is also a time when you can catch large numbers of spawned-out females, according to Gries. He recommends concentrating on areas that are 10-20 feet deep and adjacent to deeper water, using jigs tipped with live bait. Again, patience is the watchword.
From early summer to early fall, Gries will pursue walleye using his boat. He’ll start by trolling crankbaits such as Reef Runners and Shad Raps and also using a crawler harness combined with bottom bouncers to keep the night crawler near the bottom. Because walleye feed most efficiently at low light levels, fishing for them is most effective on overcast days and at dusk and dawn.
Gries will troll upstream, alternating among water depths until he finds fish. “Troll slowly for the most part, but also increase your speed at times, and let the fish tell you what speed they want the lures/bait trolled at,” he says. Alternate lures, lure colors and sizes, and bead color, blade size and color on your crawler harness until you find the ones the fish want on that particular day. If there is a good wind, you don’t have to troll and instead can just drift jigs or live bait. Focus on river mouths, drop-offs, bridge pilings and rock faces.
“Start fishing with smaller lures, then work your way up to larger-size lures as the summer progresses, in order to mimic the size of baitfish in the river as they grow,” says Gries. He plans to try using a “side planer board” this year, a device that allows you to get your bait/lure away from the boat as you troll, so that the motor doesn’t spook the walleye. When rainfall causes the water level in the river to rise, Gries recommends using jigs tipped with 3-4-inch plastic grubs or worms and casting to shallow water that contains structure such as weeds or downed trees.
Walleye tactics change a bit for the fall months. “Although I will still troll during fall, I mainly concentrate on vertically jigging Thumper and Whistler jigs tipped with plastic baits in sand flats, deep holes and drop-offs once water temp drops below 55 F,” Gries says. “When trolling in the fall months, I move as slowly as possible and use my largest lures.” Gries plans to fish at least until Thanksgiving, and beyond if the weather permits!
If you want to talk walleye fishing, contact Gabe Gries at (603) 352-9669 or gabe [dot] gries [at] wildlife [dot] nh [dot] gov.
Current New Hampshire walleye regulations on the Connecticut River include a daily limit of four fish, of which only one can be larger than 18 inches; no fish between 16 and 18 inches may be harvested. These regulations were imposed to increase walleye size, after previous walleye creel surveys had documented an overabundance of shorter walleyes in the Connecticut River.
Continued efforts by the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department to effectively manage walleye populations in the Connecticut River include a 2008 spring angler survey below the Bellows Falls and Vernon Dams. Please visit
http://www.wildlife.state.nh.us/Fishing/fisheries_management/walleye_survey.html for details on this study.