(Photo: My Partner Ken Schmidt with a 31” hen-courtesy of Trevor Johnson)
Whelp, it’s 11:00 p.m. and I am leaving for Fort Peck in the morning. Oh, and if you’re wondering…HECK YES I’M EXCITED!! You are probably also confused as to why I am still up…I will admit I waited to the last minute to do my laundry for the trip So While my rags are drying I will shoot you a quick blurb on Fort Pecks Big Dry Arm in May-
I can already tell your imagining the lotion ad on television where Shaquille O’ Neil is rubbing his arms down with Gold bond…you got me all wrong. I’m talking about Montana’s famous Fort Peck reservoir and its eastern side called the Big Dry Arm. I can’t even in my wildest writing begin to describe the magic this body of water holds…especially in May!! The one thing I will say is if a 30” walleye (or two or three) is on your bucket list I would make darn sure you do your best to make the drive to Fort Peck.
Walleye travel from the deep main lake basins up the Big Dry Arm to spawn each spring. After the walleye do “their thing” in April they sulk around for few weeks recovering from the rigors of spawning. Once starting to feel like themselves again they slowly start the migration back toward the main lake…with BIG ATTITUDES and APPETITES!! There is not a better place in this world to catch numbers of quality fish than the Big Dry Arm in May!! Last year, in a single morning I landed two walleye over 30” and another 28” on my rod alone…not to mention my partners fish!! And this is the time for jig fishermen to get ‘Jiggy with it’ …literally!! And if you’re new to jigging, I can’t imagine a better place to start your cadence!!
Sounds too easy right?? Fort Pecks Big Dry Arm in May can be as unforgiving as it can be generous…prepare for the worst here. May is notorious for huge fluctuations in weather meaning BIG WATER!! I have seen Fort Peck go from glass calm to “oh s*%$!!” in about 2.5 seconds!! Although this sounds imitating you just need to play it smart and not take out a small boat or make big runs if the weather is questionable. I do have some good news on this subject though…you won’t need much boat gas this time of year. Usually in the month of May walleye are predominantly found between Rock Creek and Nelson Creek which is only about a ten or twelve mile stretch of lake. The big bonus here is that the fish are much more concentrated making them easier to locate and target.
With the high water the last few years Fort Peck has generated a utopia spawning ground for its numerous baitfish species ESPECIALLY the yellow perch!! A larger reservoir pool also results in more available habitat and provides benefits such as nutrient release from flooded shoreline vegetation. In my opinion, the walleyes feeding dynamics on Fort Peck are changing significantly…what once was a principal deep water pelagic cisco bite is transitioning to a shallow water yellow perch and spot-tail shiner bite. For us jig fisherman, this is a good thing…a very good thing. The only downside with the high water is the shorelines are loaded with submerged trees and debris making a frustrating and expensive day of fishing. Once again you’re in luck; Fort Pecks water levels have declined drastically in the last six months meaning the lake will be free of submerged debris. Two big key points here:
1.) Fish will see your jig from extended distances so you will get more strikes!!
2.) You will spend more time fishing rather than swearing at the submerged cottonwood tree that just stole your Glass Minnow!!
Nothing reminds me more of the Big Dry Arm than the song of our beautiful state bird. The meadowlark resonates the May air from the breathtaking sunrises of eastern Montana to the last jig ups of the evening. In fact, where I live in the Helena valley we have an abundance of meadowlarks in our neighborhood. I open my window every morning to listen to their sweet serenade while I have my coffee. If even for a moment before I start up the jig engine for the day, I close my eyes and do a little “Jiggin’ the Dream” on Fort Pecks Big Dry Arm.
Please remember folks…this is one of the world’s best walleye fisheries!! To preserve and maintain this awesome body of water for generations to come we all must adopt a catch and release tactic. Years ago, the In-Fisherman coined the term “selective harvest” which has proven to be the most important expression in advocating for future of fishing. I myself believe that harvesting a couple fish is a very important part of the “Hunt, Camp, Fish” experience. I can still recall a Memorial Day weekend about ten years ago at Forchette Bay on Fort Peck catching upwards of seventy smallmouths including a near state record. But the most vivid memory of that entire trip was the hot fried fish over the cast iron skillet back at camp that night with my dad. Larger fish need to go back to help sustain the fishery and create memories for anglers to come. The primary spawning walleye is 20-28” so it is of PARAMOUNT importance these fish be retuned back to fight again. Here is some food for thought…a 25” walleye is pushing seven years old on average. If you keep five 25” walleye you are taking THIRTY FIVE YEARS of walleye in Mother Nature’s eyes. Please do the right thing!
(A Yellow Perch Glass Minnow equipped with a 3” Berkley GULP minnow!! The Big Dry Arm special!!-courtesy of Trevor Johnson)
Walleye seek refuge in shallow water after the spawn seeking forage. My highest recommended method for success is to create a buffer zone between your boat and the shore…about twenty yards or so. Pitch your Glass Minnows right up to the shore and jig them back to the boat along the bottom. Post spawn walleye can be very aggressive so don’t be afraid to jig it like you mean it!! I like to add a series of “pops” when I’m jigging it along the bottom. What you’re trying to mimic is a crippled juvenile Yellow Perch swimming. This makes an EASY and DELICIOUS meal for big walleyes!! Most of the BIG walleye we catch this time of year are hanging in less than 10 feet of water.
CHEERS TO “JIGGIN’ THE DREAM” IN 2013, BABY!!
(by Trevor Johnson – Kit’s Tackle – www.kitstackle.com)