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Walleye fishing tips come from experience

The late afternoon sun had dropped behind the hillside as I pulled the boat into the calm water created by the lock mouth of the river dam.

I pitched a short cast to the edge of the lock’s wall. The quarter-ounce jig never made it completely to the bottom. By the time I'd engaged the reel, the jig was in the mouth of a chunky 17-inch walleye. Before the action slowed and we left the spot, my partner Dave Keith and I boated another dozen nice walleyes.

Though around 40 years have passed, it was in a similar setting that Dave and I caught our first river walleyes. Inspired by an In-Fisherman magazine article that described how walleyes gather up in slack water areas below dams, we’d braved a cold winter day and motored upriver toward an Allegheny River dam. We didn’t have any prior experience to back it up, but the calm water in the lock chamber seemed a likely place to collect walleyes. And it was.

The success of that inaugural outing ignited a passion for pursuing river walleyes – late fall through the following early spring -- that persists to this day. A lot of fish have slid over the gunnel of the boat, and a fair share have been in the shadow of a lock and dam.

Navigation dams on the region’s three major rivers – the Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio – all feature lock chambers in which vessels can pass from one side of the dam to the other. Though they can differ in size based on the physical characteristics of a particular dam, the area within and downriver of the lock is typically fairly calm. Walleyes running upriver come to a barrier – in the case the dam – and gravitate to this mild current area.

Over the years, my partners and I have taken river walleyes from the downriver lock mouth at all eight of the Allegheny’s navigation dams, as well as ones on the Mon and Ohio. Here are some considerations when fishing in and around locks.

While the fish can be back inside the lock chamber, oftentimes they are slightly outside of it. This is especially true when the river is at a normal or lower flow.

· Typically, the depth in these areas runs 15 to 20 feet. You can fish it by vertically jigging while slowly moving the boat through the area or by making short pitch casts to cover more water.

· Keep in mind that river traffic takes precedence over fishing. If boats are locking through, you must vacate the area. River traffic is minimal on the upper pools of the Allegheny, so this isn’t as much an issue there.

· The area upriver of the inside approach wall is restricted. Boats are not allowed within this area even if buoys are not present.

· It’s typical to find shallower shoals below some of the dams on the Allegheny, which are of the fixed crest design. As water plunges over the dam it scours debris from the bottom, which forms the shallower reef. Walleyes often use these structures.

· River walleyes have a way of being here today, then gone tomorrow. Though the water around lock chambers often holds fish, it’s not a slam dunk.

· Several of the Allegheny’s dams have small hydroelectric facilities on the opposite shore from the lock. These areas too can hold walleyes, depending on flows.

· Shore fishing opportunities exist at several of the region’s dams, both below the lock and at hydroelectric plant locations.

· Keep safety foremost in mind. When flows are up things can get quite bouncy around the lock chamber. Be cautious, willing to leave the spot if common sense dictates such a move.

Jeff Knapp is an outdoors columnist for the Butler Eagle

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