Contour trolling is something that I really enjoy. Contour trolling will allow you to present your bait right in front of the walleyes nose. In cold front conditions this is essential. What you're trying to do is stay on a particular depth, or contour, where it looks like the walleyes are holding.
Walleyes are a structure oriented fish, most of the time. You might find large schools on some Great Lakes that don't relate to specific structure, but by an large they seek out structure. These walleyes will be tight to the bottom, laying in the holes between rock and cuts in the bottom. They may be feeding, or waiting in ambush to find an easy meal that comes their way. When fishing structure, you have to be able to stay tight to the structure or your lure presentation will not be in the strike zone of the fish. Move just a boat length away and you will be out of luck.
The key to locating walleyes in the river in the spring and early summer starts with locating a series of obstacles and then allowing your bait or lure to present itself in a natural manner so the walleye can race from behind the obstruction to acquire the offering and then race back into the slack water area to digest his meal and await another.
In the spring of the year the turbidity of the water subsides and walleyes are more visually stimulated as they see food floating by the slack water areas. This is not to say that all walleyes see their food before they strike and in some cases they strike more out of vibration and smell than they do from visual identification.
Although the backtrolling technique is still ideal for vertical jigging and live-bait rigging in deep water, walleye professionals today favor trolling forward with a small "kicker," typically a 9.9 to 15 hp outboard. Why? It allows them to fish large bodies of water such as reservoirs more effectively at higher speeds that electric trolling motors can sustain. Trollers commonly use crankbaits, bottom bouncers or weighted three-way rigs with crankbaits, spinners or spoons.
To really slow down and follow the contours I use the Drift Control sea anchor tied off the bow or starboard side of the boat. This acts like a brake and if I have to keep the rpm's up a little on my kicker or big motor it still gives me control to make an inside curve or to allow the lure to track evenly behind the boat on the contour.
If I want to jig a productive area for walleyes the Drift Control sea anchor comes in handy here also. It gives me control over the stern of my boat so I can fish a given contour perpendicularly. By attaching the Drift Control to the stern cleat adjacent to the current it gives me a brake that slows down the drift of the back end of my boat and I can correct the angle with the bow mount trolling motor. Or I can also attach another one to the same side of boat in the bow giving me more drag and a slower presentation when I vertically jig this contour.
One reason that I like to use jigs while fishing for spring walleyes in a river system is the control an angler has. Vertically jigging for walleyes gets my blood pumping and believe me on those cool crisp spring days when it would be nice to be on shore burning a campfire. I need all of my blood pumping just to stay warm. With the proper head design and weight, jigs are the most versatile of all river techniques, from the shallowest flooded cover to the deepest, fastest current.
The majority of river fishing with jigs involves either slipping the current or drift fishing the current breaks. The presentation is a simple lift-drop-pause method of jigging, raising the jig some 3 to 6-inches as you slip downstream. The jigs that I prefer to use are Northland Fireball jigs because of the rounded head. The rounded head allows the jig to bump along the bottom and not get hung up in snags or brush. If you are as vertical as possible, the jig will stand up allowing the hook to be exposed away from the floor of the river. When you tip the jig with a flathead minnow the minnow stands up and looks like it is trying to pick up the jig. As the minnow struggles against the weight of the jig it sends off wounded signals and the natural scent attracts the walleyes and allows them to hang on just that much longer. If the walleyes seem to be just biting the tails off the minnows the Fireball offers an additional eye so you can easily attach a stinger hook. The stinger hook is a great addition in the cold waters of spring and summer.
Colors of the jigs should be bright in dingy water. Colors such as fluorescent orange, chartreuse and my all time favorite gold are great for fishing those spring walleyes. Anytime that you can bring attention to your bait it will help you up your odds for catching those spring walleyes.
Weights may range from 1/8 to 1/2 ounces, but you should stay with the weight that is the lightest that will allow you have contact with the bottom. River walleyes have a tendency not to suspend as much as the walleyes in the lake and you don't have to worry about missing a strike zone that is in the fish column. I will tip my jig with some plastic if I want to slow down the rate of fall, but current usually fights gravity faster and defeats the purpose of vertical jigging.
Slack water fish can also be found by pitching jigs of 1/16 to 1/8 ounce to shoreline or cover like flooded wood or boulders. The angler in this situation should use a lift drop retrieve to slip or quarter the jig downstream as it is retrieved back to the boat. This is a super tactic for fishing eddies, wing dams or shallow mid river shoals. Even in slack water areas I will use the Drift Control sea anchor to slow down my presentation and to stay with active feed walleyes. This same technique is also one that I use when I fish large bodies of water like Lake Erie. When you find the feeding fish and there is not a structural element to stay with you really want to throw a Drift Control sea anchor out and stay with those fish. Otherwise you could be blown off the spot and away from the active fish.
Being in control whether you are fishing a trolling a contour, slipping the current or wind or fishing slack water or big expansive waters is the key to catching more fish. I hope these techniques produce for you and hope to see you on the water soon.