Fishing The St. Lawrence River Spring Bonanza

Two anglers show off a pike caught while spring fishing the St. Lawrence River
Prime pike locations in the bays include weed edges and points as Capt. Al Benas shows.

Making the Most of Spring Fishing the St. Lawrence River

Like most waters, the fishing the St. Lawrence River has certain times of the year when it is at its best.  And one of those times is early spring, a period when first-rate fishing exists along the entire length of the river for northern pike, walleyes, yellow perch, and bullheads.

Northern Pike Fishing

An Angler shows off an pike caught while spring fishing the St. Lawrence River.
Casting jigs or minnow plugs is an effective way to catch pike in spring.


The St. Lawrence River has thousands of bays along the mainland and around islands. Locating northern pike in the spring means heading to those bays.  While the largest bays typically hold the most pike, small bays are worth checking out, too.  As a general rule, the best bays in early spring are south-facing ones and wind-protected ones while the best bays in late spring are north-facing, wind-blown, ones.  In other words, northern pike tend to seek warmer bays in early spring and cooler bays later on in the season (and so should pike anglers).


Prime pike locations in any bay include tributary mouths, weed edges, points, shoals, deep holes, break-walls, shorelines that break into deep water, and structural edges near the mouth of the bay.


Effective techniques include casting jigs or minnow plugs, suspending live minnows below a float, and trolling minnow plugs or spoons.  No matter what technique an angler utilizes, the best advice is to employ a slow presentation as pike are not overly aggressive in the cold water of early spring.  Once water temperatures creep into the sixties, though, pike will strike a faster and more erratic presentation.

Spring Walleye

Spawning Grounds

Once the season opens in May, locating walleyes means heading to spawning locations where schools of fish are concentrated.  Since walleyes spawn at the same sites year after year, such places are not well-guarded secrets in the angling community.  In fact, such spots typically have a rich tradition of attracting local anglers as well as visiting ones during the month of May.

Where to Look for Walleye Habitat

The prime holding areas for schools of St. Lawrence River walleyes in the spring are those tributaries where the fish spawn.  Key locations in these tributaries where walleyes tend to include rocky shorelines, prominent points, current breaks such as bridge pilings, boulder-strewn stretches, eddies, deeper holes, current edges, warm-water discharges, and necked-down areas such as marina entrances.  Can’t-miss spots adjacent to spawning tributaries include break-walls, bars at tributary mouths, and soft-bottomed flats that attract schools of baitfish and yellow perch.

Techniques For Spring Walleye Anglers

Casting jigs and trolling minnow plugs are the most popular spring techniques among many walleye anglers along the river.  No matter which technique an angler utilizes, though, the keys to hooking walleyes at this time of the year are a slow presentation and getting that presentation near the bottom.

Jig Fishing

Jigs offer versatility in types, sizes, colors, tippings, and presentations, but the real effectiveness of jigs is their ability to be fished slowly and near bottom.  A lift-and-drop action is the most effective way to work a jig, and 90 percent of the hits commonly occur when a walleye inhales the jig on its fall.  Keep in mind that crawler-tipped or leech-tipped jigs add the attractions of scent, taste, and texture.

Minnow Plugs

Like jigs, minnow plugs are effective bait that offer the versatility of size, action, color, depth, etc.  To troll a lure near bottom, anglers can select a plug with the appropriate lip-size and /or by adding an in-line weight.  River walleyes typically prefer long, slender plugs over short, stubby ones.  To ensure proper lure action when trolling, anglers should feel the plug’s vibration.

Yellow Perch Fishing

Spring Fishing the St. Lawrence River is possible via the shoreline.
Good perch fishing is accessible to shore anglers in spring.

After ice-out in April when water temperatures move into the forties, yellow perch migrate into the river’s shallow bays and tributaries to spawn.  From an angler’s perspective, this behavior translates to large numbers of fish concentrated in relatively small, near-shore areas, making yellow perch accessible to both shore and boat anglers for a period of two months or so of easy fishing.

Where to Catch Perch

When attempting to find yellow perch in a spawning bay, anglers should look for structural edges such as weed-lines, break-walls, humps, drop-offs, and sloping shorelines.  Deep-water flats in any bay also merit angler attention.  Good bets to locate fish in tributaries are quiet-water areas and structural edges at the tributary’s mouth for the best perch fishing.

Techniques for Perch Anglers

Although most anglers don’t have underwater cameras, those devices would certainly help in locating schools of yellow perch.  A more traditional method of finding fish is to drift through an area.  Once a yellow perch is caught, drop the anchor and work that school until the action slows.  Perch are roamers, and they may stay in a particular spot for a matter of minutes or for days at a time. Anglers should not always expect to catch fish where they were feeding yesterday or even an hour ago. Certainly such spots merit checking out, but if the action is slow, stay on the move to locate an active school.


With ice-out in April, nearly every marshy bay and tributary along the river sees a run of bullheads, and many anglers are lured to the water’s edge by these fish because of their abundance, catch-ability, fighting ability, and tastiness.  In addition, only hte most basic gear is needed to get bullheads to bite.  In fact, the simplicity of bullhead fishing captures the essence of the sport of angling.

Timing is Key

Timing is the primary key to successful catches so fishers should contact the local bait shop for updated reports or do some scouting by visiting potential bullhead spots to check out the action.

Even though bullhead typically begin biting at sunset, anglers should arrive at their destination early to allow for selecting a good spot, as well as the opportunity to catch some perch, crappies, or other panfish that often inhabit the same waters as bullheads at this time of the year.  It’s also advisable to head to the water particularly early on overcast or windy days as bullheads tend to feed throughout the day under low-light conditions.

Original Article By Captain Mike Seymour

About The Author

Captain Mike Seymour is a licensed Coast Guard Captain and NYS guide who guided extensively on the St. Lawrence River, Black Lake, and western Alaska. He is a member and former president of the New York State Outdoor Writers’ Association and is an active writer for several publications. In addition to fishing on the St. Lawrence River, he is actively fishing Lake Ontario, the Adirondacks, and the other waters of the state. Contact him at

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