Early Spring River Walleyes and Musky

9 months ago No Comments Andrew Ragas

I love some moderate global warming, and having year-round open gamefish seasons down south in northern Illinois. This is a bonus my northern waters of Wisconsin will probably never experience. The past month quality small river fish have come to hand.

Since late February I’ve been fishing the local rivers sparingly; maybe once every two weeks if lucky, and obviously when weather has been nice and air temps warm. Some of the targeted species have been active while some others haven’t. Perhaps they’ve migrated to elsewhere, or are in midst of spawning, One could only wonder.

This year’s action began on Saturday, February 18th when global warming quickly started the spring walleye run for us in N. Illinois. Last month we had nearly a full week period of 60 degrees or warmer, and water temperatures had already climbed into the mid 40’s. It woke up the fish and lured them out from their wintering holes.

On that date, wade partner, John Barnes, and I experienced some epic bites from an area river that included musky, northern pike, some walleyes, and this gigantopithecus specimen of an northern Illinois river walleye.

I’m not too crazy with walleyes unless it’s combat wading with them in rivers, late fall and again early spring, daytime or after dark. I’m addicted to this style of fishing. Our low density walleye population, and shad based rivers rear some elusive giants that few anglers ever get to experience. Friends and I have caught a lot over the years, but on Saturday night (2/18) we handled one of those more rare, special ones.

Barnes and I visited one of our favorite walleye pools, casting jig and big thumper plastics as well as small crankbaits. From 5-6pm action was pretty good. At 5:40 pm, John received call from his girlfriend, requesting his presence and demands to return home. After hanging up, disgruntled John, who didn’t want to leave, forcefully exclaimed “I ain’t going till I get my last ten casts in!”

A few quick casts later, Barnes hooked into a giant right at his footsteps, fight lasting no more than 5 seconds. As soon as I scooped the portly pre-spawn female into the wade net, John’s Rebel Minnow completely popped off. Upon seeing the giant white belly full of eggs and handing the fish off to him, I knew this was a special specimen. John was ecstatic and shaken. Having not documented a local river walleye of this magnitude in several years, I was more thrilled and excited to help land it.

What a monster….

Couple high-fives, loud hollers, and quick documentation, this river queen returned to her throne to fulfill spawning obligations and to grow larger for next time. Likewise, the newly legendary John Barnes happily returned home to his girlfriend afterwards, like a changed man.

(FYI – this specimen measuring between 27-28 inches is the second largest IL river walleye I’ve ever handled – Dan Sims’s November 12, 2008 catch, 28″ and estimated 10 lbs. still remains at the top of big local river walleyes.)

About a week later, I tangled with a big, portly pre-spawn female walleye of my own that struck an F11 Floating Rapala. As you may notice, nighttime is when the big fish go on the feed.

Since the late February walleye barrage, the walleye action has slowed. Cold weather has brought on inconsistencies and water temperatures have remained in the low 40 degree range. I personally have not observed any signs of walleye spawning yet, nor any increased concentration of male fish, but the period should begin any day now, probably as soon as a warming trend graces us again.

Bass still haven’t come out to play, neither have the crappies. The northern pike have been few, but muskies have been around. An average wade has resulted in 1-2 sightings and willing biters per quick wade.

Late winter and early spring, who cares how big any of these fish are. We’re on the board for 2017.

Categories Illinois Fishing News and Media River Fishing Reports

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