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Early Season Walleye

Early-season walleyes feed pretty shallow and casting to them from a distance prevents scaring them off with your boat.

Posted on May 7, 2019 by Rapala

To catch early-season walleyes, cast the Rapala® Rippin’ Rap®, an X-Rap® and the Shadow Rap® around shallow rock piles, sand flats and break lines, rather than trolling plugs or soaking live bait. That’s how Tony Roach will be catching ‘em on the Minnesota Fishing Opener, May 11.

“The nice thing about pitching a Rippin’ Rap or another bait you cast is you won’t spook those fish up in the shallow water – you’ll catch them,” says Roach, an in-demand fishing guide on Mille Lacs Lake.

Because early-season walleyes feed pretty shallow in Minnesota and across the Upper Midwest, casting to them from a distance — rather than trolling or vertical jigging on top of them — prevents scaring them off with your boat. It’s also more productive, fast-paced and fun, Roach says.

“It’s a great way to cover water quickly and its an aggressive style of fishing,” he explains. “This has been one of my favorite Opener tactics for a long time, because you can fish much faster than with live bait.”

Casting Rippin’ Rap lipless crankbaits and X-Rap and Shadow Rap jerkbaits for early-season walleyes works best when water temps are in the 50- to 55-degree range, Roach says. So conditions are shaping up nicely for the Minnesota Opener.

“It’s a pretty normal ice-out year – maybe just a little bit later,” he says. “Water temps should be very conducive for pitching Rippin’ Raps and jerkbaits. It’s going to be a fun Opener.”

While Roach will be targeting walleyes on the Opener, he notes that the Rippin’ Rap, X-Rap and Shadow Rap all elicit vicious strikes from both smallmouth bass and pike as well. “They’re great multi-species baits,” he says.

For several years, Roach fished all those baits in the early season on 10-pound-test braided line with a one-foot to two-foot leader of 10- to 12-pound-test fluorocarbon. But lately, he’s “fallen in love with” Sufix Advance Monofilament line – especially when fishing in ultra-clear water.

“If you haven’t fished mono for a while, try the new Advanced Mono,” Roach says. “There’s so many good qualities to that line – there’s no memory; there’s no coiling. It fishes more like a braid than a mono. There’s no stretch and you can feel everything with that line.”

New to the market last year, Sufix® Advance® Mono is a durable, low-stretch, abrasion-resistant line that makes no sacrifices that limit performance. There’s some serious science at work making it a breeze to boat fish with Sufix Advance mono, which combines HMPE molecules with Hyper Copolymer. The result is superior, long-lasting abrasion resistance that doesn’t make the line stiff and unmanageable.

Additional features of Sufix Advance include enhanced castability, reduced line memory, unrivaled knot strength and 50-percent lower stretch and UV absorption than standard monofilament. It’s available in two colors, clear and low-vis green, and nine strengths, 4-, 6-, 8-, 10-, 12-, 14-, 17-, 20- and 25-pound test.

Rippin’ Rap Tips

To get the most early-season bites with a Rippin’ Rap, make long casts to structure and then, during your retrieve, repeatedly rip the lure up off the bottom and then set it back down on a tight line.

“You rip it, then when you drop your rod tip down, you’re not fishing it on a slack line, you’re actually puppeteering that bait and feathering it down to the bottom,” Roach instructs. “That’s going to slow the drop of that bait. In this cold water, they’re either going to pick it up on the fall or pick it up off the bottom.”

Featuring flat, skinny sides and a deep-belly profile, Rippin’ Raps flutter on the drop and pop off the bottom with a hard-vibrating action accented by a loud, distinctive rattle system. Textured scales, gills with deep-set 3D holographic eyes and fast-piercing VMC black-nickel hooks seal the deal. Roach’s go-to open-water Rippin’ Rap sizes are No. 5 and 6.In the spring, when water clarity is as clear as it will be all year, Roach favors natural color patterns. When he’s fishing glacial lakes like Mille Lacs, his favorite color patterns on sunny days are Yellow Perch, Dark Brown Crawdad and Chrome Blue. On overcast days, he favors Purple Clown.

X-Rap and Shadow Rap

When targeting shallow, early-season walleyes, Roach jerks both the X-Rap and Shadow Rap. “They really smoke those jerkbaits this time of year,” he says. “So, this Opener will be really fun.”

The keys to fishing jerkbaits for shallow, early-season walleyes are long pauses and slack line, Roach instructs.

“You’ve really got to train yourself to slow that bait way, way down in between jerks,” he says. “Just make a couple of rips and then pop your rod tip forward – right back at the bait – to create as much slack in the line as possible. Because you want to throw that bait sideways and then just let it sit there.”

The versatility of an X-Rap allows an angler to impart a number of fish-catching actions in a single retrieve. It can be fished with an aggressive “slashbait” technique, or with a classic Rapala wobble.

Roach favors X-Raps in the No. 8 and No. 10 sizes this time of year, in the Perch and Olive Green color patterns.

X-Raps cast like a bullet, making for long, accurate casts. They feature prominent scales and a lateral line on the fuselage to capture and flash light like a beacon. Additional features include: textured translucent body, internal holographic foil, 3D holographic eyes, flash-foil teaser tails and premium VMC black-nickel hooks.

While most jerkbaits follow a forward trajectory with each twitch of the rod tip, Shadow Raps will also dart side to side and, with a sharp jerk, spin around almost 180 degrees.

“What’s cool about Shadow Raps is they really throw themselves sideways, and then they’ll pause in the water column,” Roach says.

Shadow Raps combine a horizontal struggle with a vertical fade, perfectly mimicking a dying minnow’s movements. They are designed to target bass and other gamefish in two to four feet of water. To catch fish in four to eight feet, there’s a deeper-running model, the Shadow Rap® Deep.

Both Shadow Rap models come armed with three No. 6 VMC black-nickel, round-bend hooks and are available in 24 color patterns. Each measures 4 3/8 inches and weighs 7/16 of an ounce.

Roach has long fished Rapala jerkbaits on braid with a fluoro leader, but lately has been throwing them too on 10-pound-test Sufix® Advance® Mono.

“What’s cool about mono when you’re fishing a jerkbait is you get that rubber-band effect – really bouncing that bait,” he says. “So, I go back and forth between Advance Mono and braid-to-fluoro, letting the fish tell me what they want.”

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