Around March 1 each year, the fishing itch starts to get unbearable here in northeast Ohio.
The promise of spring, open water and silts of walleye and crappie attract anglers throughout the winter. The visions of fishing by budding willows with gentle waves rustling a gentle rhythm against an aluminum hull take me back to a long time ago, when the first fishing trip of the season was really a big deal.
It still is, in fact, maybe even more now that I have more than 50 first trips of the season behind me.
The weather in early March can still be a little dicey for even the hardiest anglers this year. But as sure as the sun rises in the east, we can count on walleye rigs breaking over the next few weeks.
Warm rains will fall and walleyes will move to shallow waters to prowl for food and look for spawning grounds.
Over the years, many of my walleye outings in March have been on foot. I left the boat at home and traveled light to my favorite spots in Mosquito and Berlin.
My favorite tactic was to crawl a jig fitted with a minnow over the rock fill of the dams and causeways of the two reservoirs so popular with anglers in the spring. The breakwaters at Mosquito State Park and the Ohio 88 boat launch also produced spring eyes.
The weather was cool, but the fishing was warm, especially in the evening and the first hour or two after sunset. In the dim light, the walleye seemed to throw caution to the wind and meandered down to waters so shallow that anglers often noticed them rolling and splashing right next to the rocks they were standing on.
Anglers with a little more adventure in their souls leave the inshore fishing to others and wade through the Mosquito sandbars. They cast golden jigs and thin jerkbaits to tease fish in three to four feet of water at locations all around the perimeter of the Trumbull County Reservoir.
I admit I felt a particular thrill when the first walleye of the year bit. It was a great reward after staking out a productive spot on the shore and strapping on the right size jig to slide lightly over the snappy rocks and avoid getting stuck in the crevices. I usually lip hooked a lively 2 inch on an eighth ounce ball head jig. It’s a classic combo still popular today.
The bite was subtle at times, as the walleyes rarely crushed my jig. A telltale tap, a bit of heaviness on the trade side, or a simple tightening of the line were clues to setting the hook. When it all worked out, I brought up some brave walleyes and quickly re-rigged to get my bait out in front of the others feeding in the water in front of me.
I loved these early spring walleyes and many of them ended up in the pan at home. Few things can top fresh walleye on the plate.
Many are eager to catch the first fish of the year. The arrival of March means the time to scratch that itch is near. Just make sure you have plenty of jigs for all those eye-catching rocks.
Jack Wollitz’s book “The Ordinary Fisherman” delves into the experiences that combine to make fishing a passion for so many. He loves emails from readers. Send a note to [email protected]