|By Joel Nelson, Northland Fishing Tackle|
from The Fishing Wire
Walleye-anglers are a traditional bunch in-general. New techniques and technologies are directly compared to known commodities, and rightly so. There’s no use making things more difficult than they need to be, yet sometimes along the way what’s learned is in and of itself valuable. I find that to be especially true in the case of side-imaging electronics for walleye fishing.
So often, structural anglers are used to locating a spot of interest via high definition contours, then picking those locations apart with traditional down-sonar in an effort to locate fish, catch them, and store location (GPS) information in order to return to that spot someday down the road. Lest we forget, at one time this technology was also new, though its adoption was rapid among the ranks of professionals and casual anglers alike. Still, I’ve heard it mentioned in even upper echelons of walleye nerdery that side-imaging is only for “bass-guys.”
A staple among tournament bass anglers these days is side-imaging runs that map both structural elements, and individual fish to target. At last year’s Bassmaster Angler-of-the-Year tournament on Mille Lacs, dozens of complete strangers to the fishery pulled 60lb. bags of smallmouth bass during the 3-day competition, most of them leaning heavily on using their side-imaging to locate large boulders and individual bass off them. This very application, while being a classic use of the technology, is not a reason to classify it as a “bass-only” benefit.
Shallow water walleyes can be found throughout the warm-water months during big wind events, even in clear water. That same clarity provides a solid reason to consider side-imaging on your next electronics purchase, as walleyes rarely tolerate overhead boat traffic in clear-water shallows. The imaging becomes your eyes up shallow, allowing you to stay back off of the fish, and put a multitude of presentations to them without pushing them around and killing the bite. Shallow fish are typically feeding, so these are the fish you’re looking to target anyway.
While side-imaging proves very valuable for any species relating to shallow structural elements, the same also holds over the depths. It’s a common misconception that side-imaging isn’t useful at the same depths we’re typically targeting walleyes. On a recent trip to Grand Rapids, MN, I used my Lowrance Carbon-12 to image an underwater point I’ve fished often, both during open-water and through the ice. While I knew there was an 8-foot rock-pile along the shallow lip of it, I didn’t give credit to that rockpile and how it affected walleye movements out and away from it. All of our bites came off the pile some distance in 14-18FOW, as fish staged there before dark awaiting the low-light evening assault on those shallow rocks. Not surprisingly, immediately out from the pile was a hard-bottom, rock-free shelf. It was noticeably different from the surrounding break, and drew the majority of those fish. Once I knew what I was looking for, I could find it on the down-sonar, but it literally jumped out at me on the side-imaging.
An even deeper application can be found on the famed mud flats of Mille Lacs, where savy anglers for many years have known that not all parts of all flats are mud. There is a surprising amount of rock and gravel in certain locations, though most are in small out of the way places along the edge of the flats. With a good chop, and the resultant screen display of your sonar showing a “wavy” bottom, it’s difficult to detect the tell-tale signs of rough or un-even rock bottom. These locations, being different from surrounding substrate for at times, miles, almost always have fish on them or nearby.
Perhaps the best way to introduce yourself to the technology is to image an area you already know, preferably if you know it holds fish. So often as walleye anglers we stumble onto a mere piece of the puzzle. We catch fish on one side of a reef for a short period of time in late afternoon, without realizing that we only intercepted fish in a 30 minute window making their way out of the depths and up to structure to feed. Even if we know fish are likely to be up top and actively eating, we know not what locations have the largest boulders, the most pronounced feeding shelves, or what areas are too weed-choked to effectively fish in low-light. All of those answers can be gleaned from a quick pass or two around the structure of interest.
Take this technology for a spin on a few locations you’ve fished for years, and be amazed at the depth and level of information it offers you. Consider it the best real-time map that’s offered today, and get used to seeing and interpreting what information in the plan direction really means to your fishing, rather than just the profile depth direction we’re so used to seeing in the sonar of old.
See more like this at www.northlandtackle.com.
|How deep can you catch a walleye and release it?|
By Northland Pro Joel Nelson
from The Fishing Wire
Walleyes spend the better part of their summer season in deep water. Provided there’s enough oxygen at depth, they happily enjoy cooler water temperatures and the bevy of bugs and other bait that congregate on deep structure. Older fish in certain lakes, learn to key in on larger bait stock.
That could mean ciscoes and whitefish, or suckers and even bullheads or rough fish depending on where you’re fishing. That still puts them deep, maybe coming up occasionally to feed before sinking back down.Depth however is a relative term, depending on the lake you’re fishing. On Minnesota’s Upper Red Lake, 10 feet of water and deeper is considered quite deep.
The same is true in the prairie pothole region where there’s plenty of great little walleye holes that never make even 20 feet. Then again, there’s great walleye lakes like Vermillion, where walleyes can be found in excess of 50 feet of water. Of course, your favorite walleye lake may be at either end, or anywhere in between.
While the depth of walleyes may be relative to the system in which they live, their ability to survive summer capture at those various depths is not. Most fish caught in 30+ feet of water will likely die as the result if water temps are at their peak.
Brandon Eder, Assistant Area Fisheries Supervisor for the MN DNR’s Waterville Office confirmed this in a recent conversation while adding, “No matter how slowly you reel in fish from that depth, there’s still likely going to be some trauma.
” Throughout the walleye-belt then, there’s plenty of catch and release fishing that might as well be catch and kill. Not that there’s anything wrong with eating a walleye either. I love ‘em, and prepare them a bunch of different ways. However, there are plenty of lakes that mandate release of walleyes a certain size, and anglers should know some ins and outs of how depth can affect the release of walleyes during the summer.
Eder suggests, “Be prepared to keep your first 6 fish regardless of size (depending on the regs) and then quit or go shallow.
”There’s a pile of factors that influence walleye mortality, with depth of capture being only one of them. Hooking method, or how deeply into its mouth a walleye eats the bait is a big influence, as is the use of live bait vs. artificial baits, but those are often related. Water temperature is another factor, and warmer temps see fish that simply don’t release as well and survive. It’s why catch and release walleye tournaments aren’t held as often in the deep summer, and why you should consider eating the fish you catch when water temps are the hottest of the year.
Extended or prolonged handling of a fish outside of the water is yet another factor that affects mortality.
Many of those factors an angler can directly influence, especially in the summer as you can’t control the water temp. Without switching away from live-bait, circle hooks vs “J”-hooks, and pinching down all barbs, what’s a catch and release angler to do? The answer is to change the depth at which you’re fishing, and to know what depths are likely lethal, and which are not.
Barotrauma is a big word with a relatively simple meaning, especially as it pertains to walleyes caught at depth. It affects all living things, but with walleyes swimming rapidly from deep water, it refers to physical injuries caused by water pressure. Quick ascent means a swelling air bladder, which can push their stomachs out, bulge their eyes, and ultimately cause deadly injury. Releasing those fish at the surface, in extremely warm water may make the angler feel good as they swim away, but may not lead to survival.
One solution to the problem of fish barotrauma has been “fizzing” – the act of releasing that pressure with an accurately placed hypodermic needle into the swim bladder of the fish. Of course, “accurately” is the key, as stabbing a fish with a needle indiscriminately, can further exacerbate the problem.
Eder says, “I don’t like the idea of anglers running around poking walleye with needles. It’s hard to get the right spot in perfect conditions and even tougher in rain, wind, or after dark.”Another solution in the form of re-compression devices may pose some freshwater promise, as they have gained greater acceptance in coastal areas. These tools can simply be an inverted barbless hook secured to a line with a weight that takes the fish to bottom and releases it with a sharp snap of the line, or a jaw clamp that releases similarly. The general idea of both being that the fish quickly gets back down to a depth that allows air bladder pressures to recede, and ultimately supports its survival.
For rockfish specifically, studies have shown 80%+ survival rates. While I’m not aware of any similar research on walleyes, the decompression devices show greater efficacy overall.
Of course, you could always just limit your fishing north of 30 feet, or make sure that you are legally able to take and eat fish of any size for the lake that you’re fishing. If a limit is what you’re after in those depths, stop fishing once you’ve hit it. Eder also mentions, “If you are on fish over 20″ you should leave so you don’t kill more than your 1 over 20″.”
All of which means that if you’re putting the hurt on big fish deep, consider switching tactics, locations, and potentially lakes. Focus early and late when fish are more active shallow. Break out some slip-bobbers and camp out on a rock pile, or drag some spinners or rigs along a weedline.
There’s lots of ways to get your ‘eyes, but this summer when temperatures climb, do your best to respect the resource by going easy on those deep fish.
|By Mark Romanack for Yakima Baits|
from The Fish
In recent times crankbaits have ruled the roost on the Great Lakes and other bodies of water popular with walleye fishermen. Population explosions fueled by unprecedented high water levels and several successful spawning year classes have countless fisheries literally crawling with catchable fish.
Natural reproduction can be a fleeting gift, but fortunately for those who enjoy targeting walleye, the fish Gods have shined brightly on these fisheries. To say recent fishing success for walleye has been excellent is an understatement. Limit catches have been the norm, and anglers who have historically targeted walleye using traditional methods like nightcrawler harnesses are putting away the “meat” in favor of trolling with less labor intensive crankbaits.
Crankbaits have always been a popular and productive choice for walleye. In the past, most anglers have depended heavily on traditional minnow style crankbaits early and also late in the year when the water temperature is cool to cold. It’s clear to see that crankbaits fished in combination with planer boards have become the fast track to limit catches.
CRANKBAITS OF A DIFFERENT FLAVOR
Most anglers would agree that a handful of popular minnow diving crankbaits dominate on the walleye scene. Slowly anglers are discovering there are other noteworthy baits worth exploring.In the Western Basin of Lake Erie where white perch and white bass often get in the way of catching walleye, charter captains have quietly turned to a different class of crankbait to save the day.
“When I was in high school and my college years, I worked as a first mate for several charters working out of the Western Basin,” says Jake Romanack, co-host of Fishing 411 TV. “As soon as the water temperature warmed up to about 60 degrees abundant populations of white bass and white perch feed so aggressively it becomes challenging to keep these non-target species off the lines long enough to catch walleyes. A typical Lake Erie walleye charter runs 12 to 15 lines and it wasn’t uncommon for every line to be dragging a white perch or silver bass!”
“You haven’t experienced frustration until you’ve worked the back of a charter boat in 85 degree heat, setting lines as fast as humanly possible only to catch a handful of walleye mixed into bucket loads of non-target fish,” explains Romanack. “Increasing trolling speed and switching to high action crankbaits was the solution to this annual problem.”
The only practical way to avoid silver bass and white perch is to troll fast enough to mitigate how many of these undesirable fish are caught while trolling for walleye. “Only a handful of crankbaits are up to the challenge when it comes to high speed trolling,” adds Romanack. “The problem is that charter captains stack so many lines per side of the boat, a bait has to run perfectly true in the water or adjoining lures will wander and foul each other.”
A NEW CLASS OF WOBBLER
These days a new class of high action wobblers are finding success on Erie and many other fisheries coast to coast. The Yakima Bait Company Mag Lip was designed by Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame angler Buzz Ramsey as a wobbling plug aimed at the salmon, steelhead and trout markets. The Mag Lip is a banana-shaped lure that features a built-in “skip beat” action.
“It only took a few years and the Mag Lip was dominating plug sales among steelhead, salmon and trout fishermen on the West Coast,” says Buzz Ramsey. “Word about the Mag Lip and how many fish it catches quickly spread to the Great Lakes. The demand for more sizes and colors of Mag Lip soon reached a fever pace.”
Currently Mag Lip is available in seven different sizes and over four dozen different factory standard colors. Many retailers are also offering their own “custom color” options that continue to feed the growing demand.“It has taken a few years, but walleye anglers have finally discovered that Mag Lip is deadly effective when trolling at high speeds and in warm water conditions,” says Captain Eric Hirzel of Erie Gold Walleye Charters. “I first used the 3.5 size of Mag Lip on spring salmon trolling trips at Lake Michigan. I was so impressed with the Mag Lip, I started using the 3.5 and 3.0 sizes on my Lake Erie walleye charters.
”Mag Lip is the perfect niche lure for a number of reasons. Each lure is perfectly tuned and runs true right out of the package. Mag Lip features a wide wobble, loud rattle and aggressive action, but these baits can also tolerate trolling speeds up to 4.0 MPH without blowing out. The “skip beat” or hunting action of the Mag Lip generates explosive strikes and these baits come in a host of productive color options.
“Most of the factory colors on Mag Lip are admittedly trout and salmon colors,” says Jake Romanack of Fishing 411 TV. “Our staff has worked closely with Yakima Bait to introduce several new “walleye specific” colors that are going to be popular on Erie and Saginaw Bay. “Our crew has had had the opportunity to fish these new colors in the spring and summer of 2019 and they are lights out for walleye. Our favorites include Metallic Silver Clown, Metallic Silver FireTiger, Metallic Gold/Black Red Lip and Rosemary.
”Other factory standard colors that produce consistent results on walleye include Metallic Silver Rainbow Trout, Mad Man, Grinch, Double Trouble, Metallic Gold/Flame, Keeper, Metallic Perch and Metallic Gold Green Pirate.
“The first thing I noticed about Mag Lip is fish T-bone them,” says Captain Hirzel. “When walleye hit most crankbaits they tend to be hooked on the back hook. With the Mag Lip a majority of the fish are hooked on the front treble or they have the bait right down their throat.
”Buzz Ramsey says that it’s the unique hunting action of the Mag Lip that causes fish to react with explosive strikes. “Most crankbaits have a rhythmic and consistent action,” says Ramsey “Crankbaits with a hunting action tease fish into biting. Think of it like playing with a cat using a ball and string. Eventually the cat can’t stand it anymore and pounces. The same thing happens when fishing with Mag Lip.”Mag Lip has great action at a wide variety of speeds, but the skip beat action is more distinctive at faster trolling speeds.
“On Lake Erie we did best trolling 3.5 Mag Lip at between 2.2 and 3.0 MPH,” says Jake Romanack who recently filmed a TV episode focusing on the virtues of high action crankbaits. “Walleye pounded the Mag Lip and it was a struggle just to keep our legal number of lines in the water!”
THE FINAL WORD
The good news is that walleye populations on Lake Erie and countless other fisheries nationwide are at epic levels. The future looks bright for these fisheries despite heavy fishing pressure.
Crankbait trolling is obviously not the only way anglers can catch open water walleye, but it’s clear that no other fishing method is as consistently productive as board trolling with crankbaits.
It’s true that minnow/diver style crankbaits are the baits most walleye anglers have faith in, but these days high action plugs like the Yakima Bait Mag Lip are delivering impressive catches. For those who haven’t tried fishing high action plugs, in the late spring and throughout the summer when water temperatures are warm, it’s hard to beat these loud and proud crankbaits.
See them at www.yakimabait.com.
Tips on Catching River Run Walleyes in Spring With Northland Pro Chip Leer
|How to catch river-run spring walleyes|
Winter’s waning moments signal the start of an annual rite of spring, as schools of spawn-minded walleyes surge upstream in rivers across the continent. Don’t let the cool water temperatures fool you, the spring run can produce some of the year’s best fishing for walleyes and sag-bellied saugers.
Team Northland Pro Chip Leer of Fishing The WildSide knows the drill.“My favorite fisheries are good-sized rivers flowing into larger bodies of water, like the Detroit River on the western end of Lake Erie, or the Rainy River at Lake of the Woods along the Minnesota-Ontario border,” he says. “Walleyes from the main lake congregate around the river mouth in late winter, then swim upstream to spawning areas—thereby boosting the walleye population into the stratosphere.”
To find fish fast, Leer often begins his walleye quest at the river mouth and works up from there, prospecting prime lies like channel edges, eddies and all sorts of likely-looking seams and current breaks.“Virtually anything that breaks the current or otherwise offers walleyes an opportunity to rest or feed is worth a try,” he says. “Main-channel holes rank high on my hit list. Holes are magnets for fish moving up and down the river, and often ‘recharge’ throughout the day as fresh waves of walleyes roll in.”
A variety of tactics take spring walleyes, from three-way rigging to trolling crankbaits along the bottom. For Leer’s money, vertical jigging is hard to beat. “You can jig from an anchored position or while slipping down-current, using your trolling motor to keep the line vertical,” he says.
Leer’s go-to leadheads include Northland Fishing Tackle’s Slurp! Jig, UV Whistler Jig and round-head RZ Jig. “These jigs hold live bait and plastics in place, and allow me to get a solid hookset,” he explains. “That being said, the relatively new Swivel-Head Jig is an up-and-coming choice. I like the way the jig’s rotating hook gives live bait and plastics more action than traditional fixed hooks.”
Leer recommends tipping your jigs with a flavorful artificial trailer like Northland Fishing Tackle’s IMPULSE Paddle Minnow, Smelt Minnow or Ringworm. “Three- to 5-inch baits give walleyes a target in the low-visibility conditions common in spring rivers,” says Leer. “For added scent and taste, skull-hook a fathead or shiner minnow on top of the plastic bait.”
For best results, Leer advises keeping your jig strokes on the down low, especially early in the spring run. “Slow and methodical lift-drop moves tight to bottom trump crazy ripping maneuvers,” he says. “Some days, holding the jig still, within an inch or two of bottom, gets the most bites. As the water warms up and walleyes gravitate to shallow water near the bank, pitch your jig toward shore and experiment with different dragging, swimming and pendulum presentations,” he says.
U. of Wisconsin Study Says Hidden Over-harvest Causing Walleye Declines
|A new study by UW–Madison Center for Limnology graduate student Holly Embke shows that the state’s walleye fishery is being overharvested at a rate ten times higher than fishery managers anticipated.|
By Adam Hinterthuer, University of Wisconsin
from The Fishing Wire
A new study by UW–Madison Center for Limnology graduate student Holly Embke shows that the state’s walleye fishery is being overharvested at a rate ten times higher than fishery managers anticipated. Over the last few decades, walleye in Wisconsin have been on a downward trend. As lakes in the upper Midwest warm due to climate change, this cool-water species has found itself with less habitat in which to thrive. Add in factors like lakefront development and loss of shoreline habitat, and the iconic fishery isn’t what it used to be.
Despite this decline, the fish remains as popular as ever with anglers. Though they are catching fewer individual fish than before, the percentage of walleye that state and tribal resource managers allow to be harvested each year has stayed about the same.
Given the cultural and economic importance of this inland fishery, it’s time to reassess current regulations, says University of Wisconsin–Madison Center for Limnology graduate student, Holly Embke, lead author of a study published this week [Nov. 18, 2019] in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It finds that “40 percent of walleye populations are overharvested, which is ten times higher than the estimates fisheries managers currently use,” she says.
A big reason for this “hidden overharvest,” says Embke, is that, for the last 30 years, resource managers have focused on fish abundance and not fishery productivity when calculating harvest limits.In the late 1980s, after a U.S. District Court judge ruled that federal treaties gave Ojibwe tribes the right to hunt and fish in their former territories, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission were tasked with working together to set sustainable harvest limits on walleye for both recreational and tribal fisheries.
These fisheries today consist of more than 1 million recreational anglers who account for about 90 percent of the total annual harvest on the state’s 900 “walleye lakes.” The other 10 percent comes from the 450 tribal members who spear walleye on roughly 175 lakes each spring.Using the best available science at the time, the agencies developed a management plan based on fish abundance. They used adult walleye population estimates to set regulations that ensured a maximum harvest amount of 35 percent of the adult walleye in any given lake. The average exploitation rate for walleye stocks is closer to 15 percent, so the agencies assumed these regulations were sufficiently conservative to be sustainable.
These regulations “worked for a long time,” says co-author Steve Carpenter, director emeritus of the Center for Limnology, “and then they stopped working. Over the last couple of decades, there began to be walleye recruitment failures scattered around the state.”In these last few decades, annual walleye production in many of the state’s lakes has declined by 35 percent. On top of that decline, walleye stocks now take one and a half times longer to replenish themselves than they did in 1990.
State fisheries managers responded by changing angler regulations to protect large female walleye, boosting walleye populations by stocking hatchery-raised fish in struggling lakes, and managing individual lakes according to their productive capacity, says Greg Sass, fisheries research team lead in the DNR’s Office of Applied Science. But these efforts didn’t reverse the broader walleye decline.
So, Embke and her colleagues set out to better understand other factors fisheries managers might consider when setting harvest rules. By focusing on production, they hoped to get a clearer picture of how well populations withstand fishing pressure and continue to reproduce and grow.“We wanted to take a more nuanced approach and ask not only how many fish are in a lake but also consider how fast they’re growing, how big they are, and how many are produced every year,” she says.
One way to think of it, Embke says, is in terms of a bank account. “Abundance tells you the money in the bank while production tells you the interest rate,” she says.In other words, if you start taking more money out of your account than the interest rate contributes each year, your savings shrink. Do this several years in a row, and those annual withdrawals begin to have an outsized impact on what little money is left in the bank.
Using data that state and tribal researchers had already collected, Embke and her colleagues calculated how walleye biomass had changed over a 28-year period in 179 lakes. Measuring biomass is akin to throwing all of the walleye in a lake on a scale and recording the overall weight. Production is a reading of how much biomass grows each year, an indication of a population’s ability to replenish its losses.
By comparing walleye production to the total fishery harvest in these study lakes, they found that overharvest is ten times higher than the 4 percent estimates generated when fisheries managers consider abundance alone.What’s more, Embke says, the study found great variation in walleye production from lake to lake. Some lakes remain walleye strongholds and can handle current fishing pressures, while others can’t sustain even current average harvest rates of 15 to 20 percent, much less the 35 percent harvest benchmark. By considering production, fisheries managers may be better equipped to set limits for individual lakes.
These results, the researchers write, “highlight the urgent need for improved governance, assessment, and regulation of recreational fisheries in the face of rapid environmental change.”“Nature has changed,” says Carpenter. “The climate now is different from what it was in the 1980s and it’s not going back. That means habitat is decreasing and, on average, walleye stocks can’t take the harvest levels they have seen.
”The good news, he says, is that the data fisheries managers already collect can be plugged in to Embke’s method for estimating production and help chart a way forward. By better understanding the resilience of Wisconsin walleye populations and by acknowledging the role that anglers play in reducing stocks, the future of this iconic fishery just may have a fighting chance.
Summer Walleye Tips from Northland Walleye Pro Mick Frisch
from The Fishing Wire
June can be a great month to be on the water chasing walleyes. The rigors of the spawn are in the past meaning that hungry fish are usually biting, and the weather can be very cooperative now, too.
Classic walleye structure like major points jutting out from shoreline flats and main lake islands and humps often begin holding walleyes during this time. A great way to find these structure fish, particularly during daylight hours, is by cruising the drop-off edges of the structure looking for the presence of “marks” on your depth finder.
Daytime walleyes often like these edges, preferring to move shallower during low light, peak feeding periods. Another advantage of early summer is that these “edge” fish can often be tempted to biting during day fairly easily now too.
A key to this fishing starts with locating a good concentration of fish on the depth finder/GPS unit, marking the spot, and then to begin fishing. Being around plenty of fish is obviously important to upping the odds for fishing success. The new Raymarine Element sonar units I have been using recently do a great job of showing me fish, even those tight to the bottom, and are super easy to use as well.
When fish are located, various lure presentations will often trigger bites. Classic walleye tactics using jigs and slip-sinker live bait rigs baited with leeches, nightcrawlers, and minnows will often yield positive results.
For me, however, I like to up my odds for success by fishing a leech or crawler on a plain live bait snell pulled behind a heavy bottom bouncer like a two-ounce Rock-Runner Bouncer. This set-up allows me to quickly cover water searching for active biters and, particularly when fished fairly vertically, imparts a stuttering action to the bait that seems to trigger bites better than many other rigs and jigs.
The heavy gauge wire of the Rock-Runner bouncer is important to imparting the stuttering action I favor, and, for a bit of added attraction, I prefer a #4 Super-Glo Attractor Hook in either orange or pink to carry the leech or crawler. I’ve seen many days where that added speck of color on the hook made a big difference in upping our daily walleye catches.
When crawler rigging, it’s often helpful to tie in a second #4 hook to the snell as well. That second hook can be very helpful in hooking those short-biting walleyes.
This rigging not only does a great job of triggering bites but can be fished quicker (often effectively around .8 mph) than other presentations, meaning I can cover more water and put my baits in front of more fish during the fishing day than with other presentations.
A typical early summer fishing day with this rigging often involves checking several potential fish-holding spots and only when fishing when fish are “seen” on the locator. Several quick passes through an area often yields a few fish and then it’s on to the next spot.
Early summer and walleye fishing often go hand-in-hand for many anglers. Putting the tips just offered here to use is a good way to spend a summer day and will often lead to a fresh fish dinner too!
Mike Frisch hosts the popular Fishing the Midwest TV series. Visit Fishing the Midwest’s new website www.fishingthemidwest.com to learn more.
Biologists Track Sauger on Arkansas River
Randy Zellers, Assistant Chief of Communications, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission
from the Fishing Wire
RUSSELLVILLE — Researchers at Arkansas Tech University are working with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission to learn more about the habits of sauger swimming in the Arkansas River.
If you just had a curious look on your face after reading the word “sauger,” you’re probably not alone.
The sauger is a species of fish that is a cousin of the walleye, which is known for its fantastic flavor. While sauger and walleye have followings as large as crappie and bass angling up North and in the Midwest, they are pursued by a relatively small group of anglers in the southern states they inhabit. The Arkansas River holds the largest population of sauger in the state, but few anglers know much about the species.
“I occasionally get photos from anglers asking what the fish was that a person caught in the river while fishing for crappie and bass,” says Frank Leone, fisheries supervisor at the AGFC’s Russellville regional office. “Most of the time, people will ask if it’s a snakehead, and I have to explain to them that it’s not only a native fish, but a good one at that.”
The comparison may be a fair assessment to people who have seen neither but only heard descriptions of the invasive snakehead. Both have a mottled brown and bronze coloration and both have teeth, but that’s where the similarity stops. Sauger are much more streamlined than snakeheads, have peg-like teeth instead of the snakehead’s sharper triangular teeth.
Perhaps the reason for the lack of the species’ popularity comes from the relatively short window when anglers are truly able to pursue them. Each winter, sauger move upstream in the Arkansas River to find rocky, shallow areas to spawn. The many dams along the river that keep navigation open for commercial and recreational traffic hinder their progress, forcing most to congregate and spawn along the rocks just below each lock and dam. Grizzled old-school anglers have learned this pattern, and will walk to these riprap-covered areas to cast crappie jigs, minnows and other offerings when the current is right to collect some sauger for a midwinter fish fry. But outside of the spawning cycle, no one really knows what happens to these mysterious fish on the Arkansas River.
That’s where Arkansas Tech Graduate Student Peter Leonard comes in. He has been working under John Jackson, Ph.D, head of the Department of Biological Sciences and professor of Fisheries Science at Arkansas Tech University to track Arkansas River sauger throughout the seasons to learn more about the species. Leonard has worked with Leone on two studies concerning the species to help fill in the voids regarding the species’ use of habitat throughout the year and angling effort directed at sauger.
“The exploitation study was conducted using tags on fish collected during the spawning run of 2017,” Leonard said. “We caught sauger when they were concentrated, placed reward tags on the fish and released them. Anglers who caught the fish later could call the phone number on the tag and receive a cash prize for their catch.”
Leone says tag/recapture studies are used fairly often in fisheries work to determine how many fish anglers catch and keep from a population.
“If you have a certain amount of tags on fish, and anglers turn in a certain percentage, then you can use that to figure the rate of fish being caught,” Leone said. “While they are on the phone, we ask a few questions about where it was caught, if they kept the fish and if they were targeting that species, in particular, to give us a better picture of what’s going on out on the water.”
According to Leonard, 340 tagged fish were released below the dam that separates Lake Dardanelle and Pool 9 of the Arkansas River and below Ozark dam at the upper end of Lake Dardanelle early last spring.
“We have had very few tag returns so far, telling us that the exploitation rate for sauger last year was very low,” Leonard said.
Leone added that although the last two years saw high flows that could have disrupted angling effort, the results of the tag returns reinforce much of the anecdotal evidence he has had over the years that recreational fishing pressure has very little impact on sauger populations in the river.
“Flow rates are just something you have to deal with any time you study an aspect of a river fishery,” Leone said. “It’s part of the natural world, so you have to be prepared for events that are outside of your control.”
One interesting finding during the tag returns was the extreme distance from the release point in which some anglers found tagged fish.
“Most of our tag returns have come from below Barling dam above the next pool upstream from Dardanelle,” Leonard said. “In some cases the fish moved through two lock and dam systems to get to that destination.”
The second part of Leonard’s research reinforced some of those findings. In addition to fish with reward tags, researchers implanted special acoustic transmitters into sauger caught below Ozark dam and tracked the signals throughout the year to keep an eye on where the fish spent their time outside of the spawn.
“You rarely hear about people targeting sauger, but never hear about it any time other than winter,” Leone said. “So we wanted to learn where these fish went during the rest of the year to see if there were any habitats they relied on that we needed to keep in mind for conservation work.”
The telemetry equipment used in the research is very similar to sonar, but keys in on a specific frequency unique to each transmitter.
“We tracked individual fish as they moved around in the system,” Leonard said. “Most would stay within about 15 miles of where they were released, but a few travelled more than 100 miles upstream during the course of the year.”
Leone and Leonard agreed that, for the most part, sauger remained in the open river habitat, relying on current breaks in deeper, fast-moving sections when they are not concentrated for the spawn, which explains why few anglers find them outside of that window.
“Bass, crappie and other species most anglers are targeting will move to areas out of the current, so most of our anglers aren’t fishing where the sauger live long enough to have an appreciable catch rate.”
Leonard still has some data to compile for the study, and hopes to complete his thesis work on the project soon.
“We will go back and analyze the findings to determine fine-scale habitat types to recreate and protect once the study is complete and has been reviewed,” Leone said.
Walleye Trolling 101
Keith Jadlowski (left), Brett Smith and Jake Jadlowski show off a stringer of walleye at Lake McConaughy.
Trolling crankbaits for walleye gets a lot more effective with modern technology
caption id=”attachment_8712″ align=”alignleft” width=”300″] Trolling walleye[/caption]
Story and Photos by Jade Jadlowski
from The Fishing Wire
Like most of us, I’ve fished for all kinds of fish in a whole bunch of different places. But regardless of species and location, most of the fishing I’ve done has been centered around my rod, my lure and me. Whether I’m flipping jigs for largemouth bass or bottom bouncing for walleye, most of my success or my failure is mine alone. Like golf, there is no guarantee that two guys using the same ball and driver will hit a tee shot that lands in the middle of the fairway. Likewise, there is no guarantee that two guys in the same boat, using the same lure and tactics, will catch the same amount of fish. I truly enjoy this individual element of fishing.
But I’ve also learned that there is a lot of fun to be had while fishing as a part of a team, and trolling crankbaits for walleye is the ultimate team sport. It takes a team to manage the chaos of running multiple lines, attaching planer boards, changing out lures, fixing giant tangles, switching motors, controlling the boat, fighting the fish, netting the fish, getting the boat back on course and redeploying all the lines. Success is shared, and it requires the contribution of everyone on board. When trolling crankbaits for walleyes, it doesn’t matter if you reeled it in. It feels like every fish is your fish, and it’s a blast.
Unfortunately, failure is also shared. And my team did a lot of that before we got smart and upgraded our equipment and developed a system that was efficient enough to occasionally fill up the livewell. Our first attempts at trolling resulted from a slow bottom-bouncing bite as we tried to cover more water in order to locate fish. This was fun. We found that the bite could be fast and furious. However, as we increased the amount of time we spent trolling, we quickly learned that our system was not good. Hand rods resulted in varying rod tip locations that altered the depth of our lures. There was no way to know how much line we had out. And even if we did, we didn’t know how much line to let out to achieve a desired depth. And even if we did, we had no idea how much to let out to get a specific lure to run at the depth we wanted. In short, we didn’t know what we were doing and even when we did catch fish, we didn’t know how to repeat it.
All good lessons are learned by errors. As we messed it up, we got smarter. So to keep you from making these same mistakes, here are a handful of essentials for anyone interested in getting out their box of crankbaits and teaming up with some buddies.
In addition to being able to maintain and control your rod tip, these allow you to run more than one rod and they keep your hands free so that you can help a buddy get untangled or land a fish.
Rod holders maintain and control more than one rod when trolling while also allowing anglers a hands-free option. Photo by Jake Jadlowski.
Line Counters – Getting crankbaits to the target depth is a huge part of finding success while trolling. The depth that a given crankbait can run depends on the amount of line that you let out. The best way to consistently keep the lure in the target zone is to know exactly how much line has come off your spool. Swapping out a baitcasting reel for a line counting reel is a must.
Precision Trolling App – Line counters are awesome, but they don’t tell you the whole story. They simply tell you how much line has come off the spool. They don’t tell you how much line to let out to get a certain crankbait to run at the depth that you want. They don’t tell you how to adjust that number when you change to a different type of crankbait. And they don’t tell you how the particular brand of line, type of line, and pound test line on your spool alters the depth that a crankbait will run. But you can tap modern technology to keep track of all this. With the new Precision Trolling app you simply enter the line that you are using, the crankbait that you have tied on, and the depth that you want to achieve, and the app instantly tells you how much line to let out. Buy it in the App Store.
Quick Clips – Once you are armed with a line counter and the app, you’ve unlocked the mystery of your crankbait box. Tie on as many as you need to until the fish tell you want they want. Better yet, tie on a quick clip once and snap on cranks as fast as your heart desires.
Lastly, don’t forget your camera. In the event that you figure out the right depth, the right speed, and the right crankbait, you’re going to have a pretty cool photo opportunity. In fact, you may never want to tee it up by yourself again. ?
Before deploying or re-deploying your lines, make sure your crankbait is running true in order to prevent tangles and to ensure that your lure gets down into the strike zone.
Don’t be afraid to experiment with different crankbait types, sizes and colors. Eventually, the fish will tell you what they want.
Just because state fishing regulations may allow you to use more than one rod doesn’t mean you have to. Keep it simple until you figure out a system that works.
Crankbaits are manufactured to create irresistible action under the water. But don’t shy away from an occasional jerk of the rod tip to vary the action and give your lure some extra life.
Maintaining a trolling speed between 2 and 3 mph is a pretty good rule of thumb. But feel free to experiment with slight speed adjustments or abrupt changes in speed to entice strikes.
Just because a given crankbait is capable of reaching a maximum depth doesn’t mean the fish are at that maximum depth. Experiment with different depths within the water column to create strikes.
Walleye Fishing in Georgia
Wes Carlton with his state record 14 lb., 2 oz. walleye from Lake Rabun
Walleye is the most popular sport fish in the northern states and Canada, but it remains a relatively obscure species to most Georgia anglers. With expanding populations and an excellent reputation as table fare, walleyes are gaining the attention of increasing numbers of Georgia anglers. Walleye is a coolwater fish that is native to the Tennessee River and Coosa River Valley systems that flow through the heart of Fannin, Union, and Towns counties in northeast Georgia and in Dade, Walker and Catoosa counties in northwest Georgia. Rivers with Native American names like the Coosawattee, Conasauga, Etowah, Oostanaula, Toccoa, Nottely, and Hiwasee once contained native walleye populations.
Native walleye declined in the state many years ago for a variety of reasons including loss of spawning habitat and overfishing. To rebuild and expand their distribution across North Georgia, a walleye stocking program was initiated in the 1960s. These early stockings were largely unsuccessful in all but a few mountain lakes; therefore, the walleye stocking program ceased in 1968.
During the 1990s, declining numbers of walleye coupled with the rapid expansion of illegally introduced blueback herring sparked a renewed interest in reestablishing the walleye stocking program. In 2002, a fledgling walleye stocking program was reborn in Georgia. Today, eleven lakes receive annual stockings of walleye. These include lakes Seed, Rabun, Tugalo, Yonah and Hartwell in the Savannah River drainage, lakes Chatuge and Blue Ridge in the Tennessee Valley plus Lake Lanier, Carters Lake, and two lakes in the Rocky Mountain Public Fishing Area.
This guide was written to provide anglers with seasonal information on where, when and how to catch walleye in Georgia. GADNR staff is also available to answer more specific questions. Contact information for walleye lakes in Georgia is provided in the table below.
Lakes Burton, Seed, Rabun, Tugalo, Yonah, Hartwell, Chatuge and Lanier
706/947-1507, 706/947-1502 770/535-5498
Blue Ridge Lake, Carters Lake, and Rocky Mountain Public Fishing Area
Late-Winter / Early-Spring Fishing Tips
By late-winter, the natural instincts of adult walleyes draw the population to the spawning grounds for the annual ritual of laying and fertilizing eggs. Identifying potential spawning areas is critical to angling success from February to April. For most lakes in Georgia, the major walleye spawning areas are in the headwaters in very shallow water with rocky bottoms, like the picture below of a major spawning area in the headwaters of Lake Rabun. Pre-spawn walleye stage in deeper water near the spawning grounds for several weeks while they wait for the water to reach the critical temperature of 48oF to 50oF. No fancy gear or tackle are needed to catch these fish. Simply drifting nightcrawlers slowly along the bottom through these staging areas is the best way to catch prespawn walleye. Walleye are finicky feeders and may prefer small jigs tipped with minnows or a curly tailed grub or even a crankbait, such as a sinking Rapala or Shad Rap. Maintain a slow but steady retrieve as you work these lures across the river bottom. Be patient and stay focused for a light tap or steady tug on the line.
Male walleyes will be the first to reach the spawning grounds in late-February, and they will remain in the area through mid-April. At night, male walleyes will swim into very shallow water with rocky bottoms in hopes of finding a female ready to spawn. During the day, they will retreat to the shelter of nearby deeper water to avoid the bright sunshine. Female walleyes behave much differently than their male counterparts. Females will only move in and out of the spawning grounds for brief periods at night to broadcast their eggs onto the rocky bottoms where they will be fertilized by several males. When her heavy egg sac is emptied, she will leave the spawning grounds for the season. Because of the differences in spawning behavior between male and female walleyes, anglers can expect the bulk of their catch to be males that range in size from 2 to 4 lb. GADNR has been stocking walleye into north Georgia lakes since 2001. This is sufficient time to allow many females to reach trophy size. In fact, GADNR biologists have collected walleye over 12 pounds during the spawning season on some lakes. The state record was caught in February 2016 and weighed 14 lb 2 oz.
From March through early-April, walleyes are easiest to catch in the evening hours when they venture into the shallows of the spawning grounds. In fact, some anglers talk about the “golden hour” right before nightfall as the time when walleyes bite best. Shallow water walleyes are most easily caught using a 3/8 oz jig tipped with a live minnow, nightcrawler, or plastic grub. Shallow running minnow imitations are also effective during the nightly spawning run. Whatever your preference of baits or lures, the presentation is similar. Cast across the rocky structure and make a slow but steady retrieve. The bite is rarely aggressive but feels more like sudden resistance. A slight upward swing of the rod is all that is needed to set the hook. Walleyes in shallow water are easily spooked, so finesse and stealth are critical, even at night. The rocky, shoal areas below the dams at lakes Burton, Seed, Tugalo, and Yonah offer easy bank access for nighttime anglers. Boats are required to reach spawning fish on lakes Tugalo, Hartwell, Lanier, Carters, and Blue Ridge. Use caution when fishing below dams because water levels may rise suddenly. Check water release schedules before your trip.
Late-Spring / Summer Fishing Tips
After the spawning season, walleye return to the main lake to resume their daily ritual of finding food and searching for sheltered resting areas. Because walleye prefer cool water temperatures (65 to 72oF), small schools of walleye will congregate together in deeper water during the summer months where temperatures are more suitable. Walleye orient to structure, especially bottom structure, in their preferred depth zone, only leaving these hiding spots for opportune moments to feed on herring, shad, yellow perch, sunfish, and crayfish. The key to successful walleye fishing in the summer is to determine areas of the lake where walleyes are most likely to congregate. In the mountain lakes, likely congregation areas occur on points and the mouth of coves at target depths that range from 15 to 25-feet in early summer and progressively increase to 30 to 50-feet by summer’s end. During the summer, most walleye can be found on the lower half the lake.
The best presentation for walleye in the late-spring and summer months is a simple nightcrawler that is worked slowly along the bottom near structure. Slow trolling can also be effective under lowlight and nighttime conditions using a weighted bottom bouncer armed with an in-line spinner and tipped with a nightcrawler or lively blueback herring or even deep diving crankbaits in perch, fire tiger and shad color patterns. Long points, humps, and weed beds on the lower end of the lake are the best places to search for summertime walleyes. Structure fishing with finesse and diligence will ultimately be the keys to hooking into some walleyes during the warmer months.
Several reservoirs in north Georgia are summer standouts because of their relatively small size and ease of locating deepwater fish. Lakes with excellent summer walleye fishing include Lake Yonah, Lake Tugalo, and Lake Rabun. The search for summer walleye should begin on the lower one-third of the reservoir in the mouth of coves, on long points, or around any deepwater structure. There is one unusual twist to the traditional summertime, deepwater pattern on these lakes. After heavy rain events, walleyes will frequently move into the shallow headwaters to feed in the fast-flowing, turbid waters. These opportunities are unpredictable but worth taking advantage of when they occur because the walleyes that move into the shallows are generally big and hungry!
Fall Fishing Tips
When the tree leaves turn colors during the cool days of October, walleyes emerge from their deepwater refuge to search the shallows for unsuspecting prey. During the fall, walleye actively feed during low light conditions and throughout the night. The moon phase can also influence walleye fishing success, with the best night time fishing occurring under a full moon. Once again, search the points and adjacent flats on the lower one-third of the reservoir at dawn, dusk or at night for shallow water feeding activity.
Cool weather walleye feed on a wide variety of prey items, including blueback herring, shad, yellow perch, bluegill, minnows, and crayfish. During the fall months, walleye will typically bunch up around downed trees and other structures in 20 to 40-feet of water, especially in the outer bends of the river channel. Anglers should nibble around the edges of these structures with a small jig that is tipped with a minnow or nightcrawler. Trolling with live herring or deep-diving crankbaits is a secondary option at this time of year.
Winter Fishing Tips
From December through February, water temperatures on most north Georgia lakes dip into the mid to low 40s. Cold winter temperatures reduce a fish’s desire to feed. For those brave enough to endure the cold, live baits presented around bottom structure at depths from 30 to 60-feet, especially near the dam, can produce a few strikes. Although winter walleye may be bunched up, they are largely inactive. Patiently dangling a live herring or medium shiner or even a jigging spoon in front of their nose may be sufficient temptation to draw a strike. If one fish is caught or located, you can be sure that others are nearby. The key to successful winter fishing is to work your baits slowly around every nook and cranny of bottom structures.
In late winter, warm rains can concentrate walleye in tributary areas of the lake. Tributary runoff is often a few degrees warmer than the main lake and sometimes more turbid in color. These conditions are favorable to the baitfish that walleye prey upon. Follow the warming water to the bait and you will find the predators, including walleye.
The Live-Bait to Plastics Transition for Walleyes
By Tony Roach
from The Fishing Wire
Perhaps the single quickest abandoned pattern in a walleye angler’s arsenal is the shallow jig bite, and I plead “guilty” to the above charge. Anglers that have six boxes with nothing but jigs in them for opener, forget what part of the garage they’re now in collecting dust. Early in the season, shiners are purchased not by the dozen or the scoop, but by the gallon, as the simple act of just threading one on the correct-sized jig will instill confidence throughout the north-country and beyond. One week later, anglers flee the shallow shorelines, developing weedlines, and near-shore rockpiles for the hope of greener pastures out deep, and more familiar, longer-lasting summer patterns. Rigging, slip-bobbering, pulling crankbaits, anything but jigs seem to get the nod as temperatures rise and fishing heats up. Yet, there’s plenty reason to keep those jigs around, and even tip them with minnows in the weeks after opener. What’s more, is that there are a number of developing shallow bites right now that keep jigs in play, just maybe with some different meat threaded onto the business end.
I asked famed guide Tony Roach what was getting him bit, and his response was simple. “Everyone sees me up shallow in 4 -8 feet of water. They think I’m bass fishing, but I’m whaling on walleyes right now with a simple jig and plastic combination.” Truly, there are strong segments of the walleye population in most lakes that never leave the shallows for the entirety of the year. That’s news for technical fishermen that use electronics to pick apart deep water structure and dissect off-shore features during this time of year. As the lake system ramps up biologically, fish need food, cover, and oxygen, with the greatest limiter being food. Developing weeds, especially cabbage, are magnets when interspersed with rock or other hard bottom. These locations always hold some bait, and typically always hold some walleyes throughout the season.
My experience has seen some good shallow bites going right now too, with the best being a river run in 5 – 7 foot of water. Current is the great equalizer, as high skies, bright sun, and no wind still translates into a great day when fishing current seams, eddies, and riffles in rivers. The same conditions that absolutely kill other patterns, especially in clear water natural lakes, don’t seem to hassle the river fish that are taking advantage of current that sweeps unsuspecting invertebrates, bait, and terrestrials downstream and into their gullets. Long-lining and leadcore staples that typically produce good numbers of fish during this time of year were poor in comparison. The bite ebbs and flows, with low-light periods still shining brightest, but moving water is a great savior to an otherwise weary day of walleye fishing.
In both scenarios, the classic pitch and run technique utilizing jigs and shiners were tweaked if only slightly. “As the water warms up, there’s a transition to where plastics become just-as, if not more effective than shiners or other minnows,” mentions Tony. “It’s something I see every year. As people move to the mud or mid-lake structure to rig, I simply switch to jigs with a Northland Impulse Smelt or Paddle Minnow to get these fish to chase a bit more,” explains Roach about his shallow techniques. Honed on the big waters of Mille Lacs, Leech, and Winnie, Roach is a big fan of this pattern, “Plastics allow me to fish more quickly, cast further without losing bait, and keep on a hot bite without pausing to re-bait.” Those valuable bite windows can be small and precious, especially in unfavorable conditions, so staying with the heavy part of the bite and not missing out on fish becomes crucial to making a decent day into a great one. Visual cues put off by paddle-tails, ringworms, and even minnow shaped flukes go well beyond your average minnow, especially in the colors and hues available. Nowadays, our choices for colors to pique a fish’s curiosity are nearly limitless, and often we can mimic forage that doesn’t even resemble our offering just by switching colors. For example, an orange jig and grub combination looks nothing like a rusty crayfish, but don’t tell that to Lake of the Woods walleyes that were coughing up blaze-orange crustacean parts all over the live well last summer. Those fish happily engaged that offering crawled near bottom on many of the rock reefs and points that we fished.
Plastics design has come a long way since varieties from days gone by. Color and flash give way to vibration, flicker, and quiver all throughout the very lifelike baits on the market today. The end-result is an attraction based not just on visual cues, but key components in the way a bait pulsates that trigger fish’s predatory instincts. As walleye’s lateral lines pick up these distinct tremors in the water column, I’m convinced that the heavy thumpers truly call in fish from a distance to warrant a close investigation at the very least.
Fishing a jig is a rewarding way to get bit, and offers a few more weeks of great near-shore fishing for walleyes. Just remember that as a lake’s “metabolism” gears up for the best fishing of the year, the bite becomes both more effective AND efficient when pairing those jigs with plastics.