Ten Top Tricks for Walleyes
By Ted Pilgrim
from The Fishing Wire
Every walleye angler worth his or her salt has one. You know, that sneaky trick up the sleeve that always gets rods thumping with action. Cold fronts, Jet Ski conventions, breathless summer days, or August blizzards (it could happen); the conditions are almost beside the point. You want a plan of action that works for walleyes, especially when the going gets tough and you’re fresh out of fish-catching ideas. Consider . . .
1) Deadsticking a Minnow
Big frisky minnows like creek chubs or golden shiners appeal to walleyes on basic, animalistic levels. It’s why anglers often rig an extra rod or two for minnow duty, placing them in rod holders while they cast with more active presentations. A long, soft spinning combo, such as a 7’6″ St. Croix Legend Tournament Walleye rod, outfitted with a slip-sinker rig allows the minnow to struggle freely, while a #1 circle hook safely self-hooks fish, even if you’re not paying attention. Always exciting to suddenly realize one of your rods is folded over and pounding under the weight of a big ‘eye.
2) Working the Weeds
Particularly in stocked walleye waters, submerged vegetation provides these white-tailed predators with prime habitat: cover, oxygen and a ready-made supply of food. When it comes to walleye weeds, variety matters. Preferred plant species include large leaf pondweed (cabbage), elodea, chara, and coontail, with patchy, intermingled forests usually providing the most favorable environs.
Crankbaits and jigs can score within deep or sparse vegetation, while 3/8- to ¾-ounce jigs dressed with specialized soft plastics, such as BFishn Tackle’s 4-inch Moxi and Paddle Tail yield wonderful results, often throughout the summer. Cast and simply do a nice steady retrieve, and hang on for arm-wrenching strikes.
3) Make a Map
High tech has become a big part of the walleye game, and one of the neatest new developments allows angling adventurers to create their own custom contour maps on previously uncharted water. Imagine the advantages of possessing the only depth map in existence of your local river or favorite backwoods lake? Discovering that sweet little sunken island no one knew existed?DIY map making programs uncover potentially new hotspots on previously uncharted walleye waters. (Photo courtesy of Humminbird)
Humminbird offers Auto Chart Live, specialized mapping software that couples GPS waypoints with corresponding depth to instantly build never-before-seen contours on your chosen waterbody. Lowrance also offers Insight Genesis, a DIY map program requiring computer processing in addition to on-water reconnaissance.
4) Drop a Bomb
Previously deployed primarily by ice anglers, heavy jigging-style lures such as the Jigging Rapala and Custom Jigs & Spins’ RPM Minnow (new for fall 2016) have become new classic walleye lures, especially in open water. The anvil-like weight of these compact baitfish imitators allows them to be cast or jigged in deeper water, giving the angler complete contact and control. A simple snap, drop, pause presentation makes the lure dart, glide and stop on a dime—moves that have lately scored boatloads of big ‘eyes all season long, winter notwithstanding.
5) Fish . . . NowherePresentation propaganda aside, a nice frisky minnow remains the most reliable producer of big ‘eyes ever created. Frabill’s 6-gallon AquaLife Bait Station holds a heavy helping of large minnow. (Photo courtesy of Frabill)
Walleyes like structure, right? Not always. With apologies to Buck Perry, the truth is, walleyes go where the food goes. In many lakes and reservoirs, that means featureless open water. From late spring through summer, some of the biggest walleyes in many waters (not just the Great Lakes) suspend 10 to 25 feet down over much deeper water. Sonar and surface-feeding birds help unearth schools of pelagic bait—ciscoes, shad, smelt, alewives, and shiners. Baitfish clouds also point to the presence of predators. Trolling baitfish imitating cranks or casting with spoons can each produce a surprising quantity of outsize ‘eyes.
6) Find the ‘Cline
One of the most overlooked fish-finding factors is oxygen and an aquatic phenomenon known as the thermocline. This thin layer of water can be a walleye-holding goldmine. The thermocline is the region offering a precipitous change in dissolved oxygen levels. Below the thermocline, oxygen may be too scarce to sustain fish life. But above is an ample supply for healthy fish activity.
Easiest way to find the ‘cline is to drop an underwater camera armed with a depth and temperature probe, such as the Aqua-Vu 760cz. When the temp starts dropping fast—often going from the 70s to upper 50s within several feet— you’ve hit it. You can also ID the ‘cline with a well-tuned sonar, which may display the thermocline as a continuously line of “clutter.” Focus on or just above these depths, especially along structural intersections, and you’re likely to put on a walleye-catching clinic.
7) ‘Yak a Small River
Another delightfully overlooked option, small rivers can offer ideal walleye habitat that often see scant few hooks all summer. Constant current means walleyes are always actively feeding somewhere. And a fishing kayak, such as Old Town Predator XL, can be the perfect way to float a sizeable stretch, surveying some alluring flora and fauna and sampling some potentially amazing fishing.Kayaks, small rivers a walleyes present a fascinating fishing combination. (Photo courtesy of Old Town)
Grab a medium-action spinning rod and a small box of tackle; small minnowbaits and ¼- and 3/8-ounce jigheads alongside packs of your favorite softbait. Among masses of super twisters and a profusion of paddletails, BFishn’s 4-inch Ringworm has become a go-to option among seasoned river rats. Swim lures through shallow riffles above deep holes, or jig behind any type of current break—from downed logs to boulders to inside bends of small points.
8) Go “Video Fishing”An underwater camera with water temperature and depth readouts offers the best way to quickly find the thermocline, and in turn, walleyes. (Photo courtesy of Aqua-Vu)
Many modern depth finders allow anglers to observe their lures as they’re worked below the boat, and show fish reacting to and biting them, right on screen. Humminbird units offer a special “jigging mode” that auto-selects a specific ping pattern for easily observing vertical bait presentations. Other units can be tuned to operate with narrower cone angles to help display
small lures and fish below the boat. For vertical jigging suspended walleyes or fish in tight clusters in deep water, this sort of interactive fishing can become addictively fun, and is often an effective way to gauge fish activity and response to different lures.
9) Pitch a Cork
Folks tend to write bobber fishing off as simplistic, juvenile, and only effective for sunfish. Actually, a slip float rigged above a lively ribbon leech is among the deadliest of all walleye presentations. And it is simple, which is the other part of its charm. With the addition of a stop knot, you can deliver bait to any depth, or keep it hovering enticingly above snaggy rock or vegetation. In wind, slip-bobber fishing while anchored near a rocky point can yield remarkable results. And at night, a lighted cork has been known to produce many a walleye monster.
10) The Carp Cure
Some days, the walleyes just don’t want to bite. Other times, they seem as scarce as Sasquatch. No problem. There’s always something biting. Why not carp? Blimp-size carp thrive in many top walleye waters, as do channel catfish and bowfin—two more freshwater rogues with lots to love. These unconventional sportfish like to bite, pull like freight trains and can be caught with simple rigs and tackle; often the same stuff you use for walleyes. Many times, the opportunity for pure fishing fun is but a cast away—swimming right before your eyeballs.