Walleyes bite for lunkers on Allegheny River
While few anglers think of fishing the Allegheny River at this time of year, the walleye fishing enthusiasts are jumping at the chance to target the large pre-spawn fish.
Just ask Todd Wiedl of Natrona Heights, Harrison, who Monday hooked into a 10-pound walleye that measured 28 inches on the Allegheny River at Freeport. Wiedl was using a jig tipped with a minnow to catch the trophy fish.
Last year, Wiedl registered the fourth largest walleye taken in 2004 — a 12-pound, 31-inch monster that also came from the Freeport area of the river.
After having it officially weighed and measured at Allegheny Bait & Tackle in Tarentum, Wiedl released the walleye into the river to give other anglers a chance to catch it.
Allegheny County waterways conservation officer Martha Mackey said fishing activity on the Allegheny River has been pretty slow lately.
“I’ve hardly seen anyone out fishing over the past few weeks, but I’m sure it will start picking up soon,” Mackey said.
Local professional walleye angler Keith Eshbaugh agrees with Mackey.
“The fishing has been slow lately, but it should be picking up real good in the next few days as the pre-spawn walleyes start moving and feeding heavily on the river,” Eshbaugh said.
“The pre-spawn walleye will feed heavily, but as soon as they start spawning next month, they’ll hardly feed at all,” Eshbaugh said. “They’ve got other things on their mind then.”
The walleye fishing season is in effect until March 14 and closed during the spawning period, then re-opens on May 7.
Walleye must be at least 15 inches to legally be kept for a meal, with a daily limit of six fish.
Sauger, a close “cousin” to the walleye also are popular fish, but usually smaller in size, with a 12-inch minimum and the same six-fish daily limit.
Eshbaugh explained that the walleye begin to spawn when the river water temperatures reach the 45- to 50-degree mark.
“You have to let the fish tell you what they want to eat by trying different things,” Eshbaugh said.
Jigs tipped with minnows are a popular bait choice that is usually very productive at this time of year.
“If you are fishing from shore at one of the dams along the river, I suggest using two rods. Put a large 4- to 6-inch creek chub on one line and cast it out, and let it sit until a fish takes it. On the other rod, cast out and jig a two or three-inch minnow on a jig head,” Eshbaugh said.
Eshbaugh explained that leeches and nightcrawlers are better summer baits than in the late-winter or early spring months.
“Sometimes I have found that the Berkley PowerBaits, particularly the PowerGrubs, often work better than live baits,” said Eshbaugh. “But again, you have to keep trying different things to see what’s working best on any given day.”
Eshbaugh also noted that Allegheny River walleye often go after slow, subtle movement crank-bait lures such as a floating Rapala or a Rattlin Rogue.
Top fishing locations
Walleye will be heading to the deeper pool areas of the Allegheny River where the current is moving the water.
The just below the lock and dam areas always are early-season walleye hotspots, but other areas along the river where creek enter the flow, and there is a deep pool adjacent to the confluence of the two waterways are excellent sites to target pre-spawn walleye.
“Naturally, I should recommend Lock 3 at Highland Park, but everyone knows it’s a good walleye spot,” said Eshbaugh. “But pick any lock along the river, and it will produce walleye at this time of year.”
“The deeper pools along the river where streams enter the Allegheny are often overlooked walleye hotspots simply because most guys focus on the deeper pools below the dams.”
Eshbaugh also explained that if the river conditions are safe, and you are fishing from a boat, look for drop-offs into deep water, and ledges that the walleye use to travel to and from the dam areas.
“You might pick up a few walleye here and there on the way down river, then turn and pick up a few more on the way back up,” Eshbaugh said. “The walleye are scattered along those areas, but they can be caught — and they’re usually pretty big too, since the active brooders are the large female fish.”