It comes every year close behind after Mardi Gras, although few calendars list it. We’re talking about prime walleye fishing in Arkansas.
A rough rule of thumb is the walleye get going the last week or 10 days in February through the first three or four weeks of March. A more reliable indicator, though, is to check water temperatures. When the 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.
And what are these fish called walleye? Where did they come from?
One, walleye are superb food on the dinner table and are members of the perch family.
Close cousins are the sauger, found in a few Arkansas rivers. Two, walleye are native to Arkansas.
A comment made in jest is that so many retirees move from the Upper Midwest to northern Arkansas because of walleye in the waters there. In many northern areas, walleye are the No. 1 sport fish.
To fish for walleye, it helps to learn something about their life and their preferences.
The walleye is a fish of gravel bottoms, said Mike Armstrong, 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," he said. "If the water is generally turbid (discolored or muddy), you won’t find walleyes on a consistent basis."
Several rivers in northeast Arkansas have walleye — the Spring River, Current River, Eleven Point River. All are streams of mostly gravel bottoms. The nearby Black River has primarily a mud bottom, and does not have many walleye.
Many walleye fishermen and fisheries biologists say walleye move upstream in stages, with the male fish 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.
The female walleye can run to large sizes, and the world record for walleye, a 22-pound, 11-ounce fish, was caught in Arkansas on Greers Ferry Lake in 1982 by Al Nelson of Quitman.
Much more common are male walleye of two to five pounds and females a little larger than that range.
For bait, walleye fishermen usually think minnow. They use something resembling a minnow for artificial lures, and they may use live minnows, sometimes in combination with a lure or a jig-head.
Anglers tend to use the larger trotline minnows rather than smaller crappie minnows for walleye fishing. Nightcrawlers and small bream are also 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 minor float up 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, he 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 and Table Rock Lake it is four a day, with a minimum length limit of 18 inches. On Bull Shoals Lake and Lake Norfork it is four a day of any length.
On Greers Ferry Lake, only one walleye more than 28 inches long can be kept per day. That’s a big walleye — 28 inches long.
Joe Mosby is the retired news editor of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and Arkansas’ best known outdoor writer. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.