Spring river fishing is seen as a glamorous opportunity to windmill mind-numbing numbers of walleyes and saugers into the boat. While this can be the case when the stars align, sometimes fate deals you a much different hand.

Take the saga of anglers on the Illinois River, for example. Roughly two weeks ago, the storied waterway was producing fish at a frantic pace.

“It was on fire!” reported local river rat Joe Perez, of Spring Valley. “The fishing was fabulous and we were catching them everywhere. Old-timers were saying it was like the good old days all over again.”

Then Mother Nature intervened.

Rain raised the river, dirtied the water and made the fish all but disappear. “It was brutal,” said Perez. “The water got dirty, came up, and everything changed.”

Although it might have been tempting to stay off the river for awhile, Perez was fishing an upcoming Masters Walleye Circuit tournament with Troy Tregoning, also of Spring Valley. Set for March 18-19, the contest offered thousands in cash and prizes to make dealing with the tough bite worth their while.

So Perez and Tregoning sallied forth in search of spring salvation.

Now, the Illinois River around Spring Valley offers classic fishing locations common to many other rivers around Lindy Land. One of them is the main channel, and over the years, more than one MWC has been won in these dark depths.

But Perez and Tregoning took a different tack. They targeted less than 5 feet of water, where Perez says they found just the right combination of current and baitfish. 

The water temperature was 52 degrees, water clarity was less than two inches, and the fish were in prespawn mode, Perez reports. Jigs tipped with minnows or soft plastics were hard to beat, although floating rigs on three-way setups also produced fish.

With all presentations, Perez and Tregoning said casting or pitching the bait out and then slowly crawling it across the rocky bottom was key to success. “We didn’t get a lot of bites, but we made them count,” said Tregoning.

Indeed. The pair caught a 5-fish limit weighing 13 pounds, 1 ounce on Day 1 of the two-day event to land in second place, and then vaulted into first on Day 2 with two fish weighing 6 pounds, 11 ounces for a 19-pound, 12-ounce total.

Their efforts earned them more than $15,000 in cash and prizes, along with serious bragging rights up and down the river. And their shallow-water tactics are worth remembering the next time you’re facing a tough spring bite.