Bass fishermen have known for years that weedlines and weed line transitions concentrate and hold fish but mention weeds to a walleye fishermen and many of them will shy away from fishing in and around the weeds opting for easier, more familiar presentations like pulling live bait rigs or spinners away from the salad. To catch walleyes among the weeds you need to know the types of weeds and the habitat in which they grow. Often you can rule out lily pads and cattails as they tend to grow over mucky bottoms and will tend to be marginal spots for walleyes with the exception of early spring and late fall. Early spring the water will warm in the dark bottom bays first and baitfish and forgs will be available as forage sources and hungry walleyes will take advantage of this making feeding forays into the shallows under the cover of darkness. This pattern is most pronounced in the fall when frogs begin to migrate to these areas to spend the winter.
One of the best areas to poke around for weed walleyes is near pencil reeds and the adjacent sand flats and weedlines that surround them. Pencil reeds tend to grow on a sand and gravel bottom in 3-6' of water and are a good option to fish near from opener into early June. In some lakes like Winnebago in Wisc., and Cass lakes Pike bay fishing the edges with slip bobbers and leeches or minnows can be outstanding. Once walleyes have spawned and begin to disperse over the sand flats they will start to concentrate along the first break and weedline where there is available forage. Often this puts us in the 6-8' range where sand/mud transitions form and you see a solid weedline or a drop off into deeper water. The sand flats will hold pods of walleyes that will be scattered about looking for perch, shiners and bluegills to feed on. Traditional jig and minnow, plastics can be worked but I prefer to fancast with crankbaits employing techniques that I outlined in previous blog entries.
Working out to the weedline surrounding the sand flats near the adjacent reeds you can employ a variety of techniques. On larger flats you can troll stick baits or employ live bait rigs to contact scattered fish but I like to slowly cruise the edges of the weedlines with my trolling motor and fancast crankbaits parallel to the weedline and out onto the sand flats picking off a fish here and there. Slow rolling shad raps early with water temps in the 45-55 degree range and later as water temps move into the mid sixties lipless rattle baits and spinner baits begin to excel. I prefer to use the crankbaits over live bait to discourage pesky panfish and concentrate on the larger predators. You may be pleasantly surprised at the variety of fish you catch including pike, bass, muskies and even some larger panfish when employing this technique in addition to the walleyes that you are targeting.
Sand flats are often covered with chara which is a stringy brittle weed that has a slightly skunky smell when you remove it from your hooks. It is a good indicator of a sandy bottom and does not grow over mud. Weeds that make up weedlines tend to include milfoil, coontail and potoemagon(cabbage) which tend to grow where sand and muck congregate at the edges of sabd flats and can be found from 3-8' in most lakes. Depth of the weedline formation is an indicator of bottom content and weeds growing into the 3' range generally indicate a muddy bottom where weedlines forming in the 6-8' depth indicate a sand to mud transition and are a good place to start your search for weedline walleyes. Next week I will go into more detail on tactics for working into the weeds to contact fish and some other details to look for that tend to be more high percentage spots for walleyes. Tightlines!
One tactic this time of year that tends to excel in larger rivers and lakes is trolling leadcore line for walleyes. Basic tackle is a large capacity level wind reel and a 7-9' medium action trolling rod. I recommend a trolling rod as the taper is made to troll nonstretch lines like leadcore or superbraids. A line counter reel can be very helpful to replicate your presentation when targeting suspended fish but leadcore line is colored every 30' and you can get by with letting out line by how many colors you have out as well. Leadcore line is a dacron sheath around a fine lead filament and the additional weight of the filament is what causes the line to sink. A basic rule to follow is 5 feet of depth for each color you have in the water when travelling at 2 mph. In most lakes and rivers, 4-6 colors of leadcore will suffice with 6 getting you to the 30' plus range depndeing on your presentation and trolling speed. Leadcore is speed dependent so slowing down will get you slightly deeper and speeding up will raise your presentation slightly due to the water resistance against the line. This scenario is also true in rivers where current may cause the need to let out additional line to get your baits in the strike zone. For most presentations 27# leadcore is sufficient to cross over between walleyes and salmon fishing and there is really a negligible difference between 18# and 36# leadcore as far as sink rate. A mono leader of 10# line between the leadcore and the bait to be presented is the next addition to the arsenal. To attach the leader you will need to push the dacron sheath down to exspose 6-8" of the lead filament, cut the filament off and tie the mono leader to the dacron sheath. A double uni knot or a nail knot work nicely and I have even seen guys use back to back clinch knots. Leader lengths can vary from 10-50' depending on the lures used. The important thing to note is if you are going to troll diving crankbaits like slamo hornets or shad raps you will need to know the dive depth for that particular lure with the amount of mono leader that you have on as the baits will dive an additional few feet deeper then what the leadcore is achieving. So for instance, I have three colors of leadcore out and a 50' leader with a #5 shad rap. I know the leadcore will get me down 15' and that a #5 shad rap will reach an additional 8' on 50' of 10# mono for a total depth of 23'. When working with spinner rigs or stick baits your rigs will generally run just 2-3 feet deeper then the leadcore and it may take a bit of experimenting to get your baits right in the zone that you want to attack. This tactic can be particularly deadly on lakes with thermoclines and where suspended forage like whitefish or tullibees are present and allows you to target fish suspended out over the basin or sitting just above the thermocline that you would not normally be able to reach with just standard diving baits. Tightlines and good luck on the water!
Last week I spoke briefly about some things to look for when targeting weed walleyes and getting to know the types of weeds to better understand the clues and tips they can give you as to what the bottom substrate would be like. This week I will talk about specific tactics to use to pull fish out of the weeds. First of all live bait rigs like lindy rigs and spinners can be fished along the edges of prominent weedlines that have distinct and defined edges. Trolling is an option with longer weedlines as is casting and slowly moving these baits to the boat from a fixed position. The main problem with working both shallow and deeper weed edges at this time of year is that the perch and panfish will absolutely drive you nuts pecking at your bait until it is gone. Gulp imitations are slightly better but again the panfish will tend to hen peck at your offering and trying to discern a subtle take from a walleye versus that of prolific panfish will begin to wear on you. I like these tactics better at dawn and dusk or just after dark to maximize my chances at eyes with less distractions from the panfish. The second drawback, is that most weedlines are not so clearly defined that you can troll long distances without contacting and fouling with spotty clumps of weeds growing out a distance from the actual weedline itself.
Jigs and minnows? Another good choice but again the panfish are apt to take a jig and minnow and in the heat of summer minnows can be tough to keep alive. Gulp again is a good option for pitching edges and pockets. What then are the best options for midday or late afternoon? I like to pitch paddle tails, pulse R's and curly tailed grubs or 4" finesse worms and ring worms on weed weasel or oddball 1/16th-1/4 oz jigs into the weeds. This technique does not call for stout bass gear and heavy line but a high vis mono or 10-15# braid works well for me. I pair this with a 6'6" or 7' rods in a medium or medium light action with a fast action tip. I position the boat over the shallow sand if I am fishing shallow or over the edge of the breakline if fishing deep and pitch the jigs from 3 to 6 feet into the weedline and let the jig fall to the bottom while counting it down and watching my line for any sharp taps or sudden stops. The reason I mentally count the lure down is that at times once the jig clears the canopy and gets into the open stalks below many times walleyes will swim up and snatch the jig before it reaches bottom. In the case of a premature stop, I give a gentle but firm wrist flick to either dislodge the jig from the weeds and let it continue its decent or set the hook on a fish and work it out of the weed edge. Once the lure hits bottom a standup head like an oddball jig will hold the offering enticingly upright. I will let the jig rest from 1-5 seconds before giving a gentle but firm wrist flick to hop the bait forward 6-12" and repeat until I am clear of the weeds and then I will use a slow retrieve straight back to the boat or I may hop it a few feet out onto the sand or down the break on the way back to the boat. I like a weed weasel jig when I have a sparse weed like cabbage where I can hop and swim the jig through the stalks. The forward facing eyelet helps the jig to slither over and around weeds rather effectively.
This is two of the tactics I like to use when looking for weedline walleyes. This is a fairly slow paced technique, much like live bait rigging but it allows you to work the edges and into the weeds where fish are waiting to ambush prey as it happens by. This technique works both deep and shallow but the key is not throwing your jig to far into the weeds that you lose all feel of your bait. Most often the walleyes will be hanging within 10' of the edge in the shade just waiting for an easy meal to happen by and often these fish will elicit savage strikes leaving no doubt if you got bit or not. Next time you find yourself on a weedline think about probing into the weeds rather then just working the edges. You may be surprised at some of the fish you end up with on the end of your line! Tightlines!
Last entry I talked about using cadence changes to trigger fish and using the sweep method to trigger neutral fish. Today, I will talk about another similar method which is burning baits across flats and ripping. As summer water temps continue to rise many walleyes will begin to transition from post spawn staging areas on shallow weed edges to the deeper edge of the weedline near the first break into the basin. In many lakes this will put you into the 12 to 15' range. This is prime habitat for a ripping retrieve. Typically I will fish this edge with rattling raps or ripping raps using a 7' medium action spinning rod with the reel spooled up with 20# braid. If there is a large population of pike or muskies I will beef up to 50# braid on a 7' medium heavy rod with a bait caster. The heavier setup decreases the odds of bite offs. Natural shad or bluegill is a good starting point for lure color in many lakes but sometimes the firetiger and perch colored baits will out perform the lighter colors.
The ripping method is fairly simple, make long casts parallel to the weed edges and out into the basin, let the bait fall to the bottom on slack line and once it reaches bottom begin a series of sharper sweeps pulling the bait ahead 3-4' at a time and letting it plummet to the bottom before ripping it up and ahead another 3-4'. One of the keys to this method is watching the line for any sharp taps or watching for the bait to stop falling prematurely before reaching bottom. When either of these things occur sweep the rod up and set the hook. It becomes fairly easy to tell a strike as they tend to be reaction strikes and the fish really pound the bait. This method is aggressive and will trigger neutral and negative fish into reaction bites when they would typically not pay any attention to a bait presented with a normal straight retrieve. Incidentally, this is fast becoming a favorite way to fish jigging raps during open water where #7 and #9 size jigging raps have come to find a niche.
Burning baits for walleyes seems a bit counter intuitive because many walleye techniques are slow finesse presentations like bottom bouncers and spinners or drifting live bait rigs but when the water temps come up so does a fishes metabolism and they are feeding regular and often. Burning is great technique along shallower weedlines and sand flats during the summer using lipless rattle baits and spinner baits for walleyes and this is the simplest presentation yet. Simply make a long cast, count the bait down and reel it quickly back to the boat. This method will allow you to cover alot of water and trigger active fish found along the inside weedlines and the shallow sand flats adjascent to them. The key is getting the bait moving just fast enough that it occassionally ticks bottom. Once bottom contact is made raise the rod tip slightly and increase the speed of your retrieve slowly lowering the rod as the bait moves closer to the boat to keep it in the strike zone. This type of retrieve will cause reaction strikes from bottom hugging fish well into July. I like to work 5/16th and 1/2 oz baits using this technique and you will want a reel with a high retrieve rate for this to be effective like a shimano symetre 3000 or Garcia C4. Good luck and tightlines!
In earlier sections I spoke about weed walleye tactics and some of the things to look for and crankbait tactics for early season fishing. As the water temps continue to climb into the upper seventies and low eighties the fish will seek the cover of the weeds and the relative cool deeper water by sliding slightly deeper and moving to offshore humps and deeper breaklines where they bottom out into the basin. This time of year I switch my search to these areas and will cruise the breaks with my electronics looking for pods of fish on the break, near humps and at the bottom of the breaklines where they meet the basin. If you found fish on the shallow edge on the sand flats early in the year these areas are a great place to start your search along the deeper edge of the weedlines and out into the basin. I find myself fishing in the 14-25' range during the heat of summer. One tactic that allows you to cover water is to troll bottom bouncers and spinner rigs. I prefer to use gulp crawlers and leeches to keep the pesky panfish from stealing my bait or trolling deep diving wide wobbling baits like salmo hornets and wally divers to get at the deeper fish. It seems like the fish respond better to a wider wobbling bait trolled at 1.5-2 mph then a tighter wobbling bait like a shad rap this time of year. I use an Okuma line counter reel on a 8'6" medium action Gander mountain trolling rod spooled with 20# power pro tied directly to my crankbaits. On the waters I fish the water clarity is low and the fish aren't line shy but a floro leader can be added when fishing clearer water. The 8' rod has a soft tip so when a fish hits the hooks won't pull free. Trolling the deep edges of the weeds will allow me to find scattered fish and the decision to run cranks or spinners for me is dictated by the aggressiveness of the fish. If I start with cranks and come up empty on areas that appear to be holding fish I will switch tactics and slow down a bit to see if I can get the fish to bite. As we ease into August the shallow weeds start to die back as well as some of the deeper weeds which makes trolling large flats less frustrating as you won't foul your baits as often. The deep water tactics will hold untill the water cools in September. The lakes I fish perch, bluegill and shiners are the predominant forage base and the walleyes will follow these fish when feeding. On larger deeper lakes with tullibies and whitefish you can start trolling the open basin areas with cranks or spinner rigs on leadcore in the 25-50' range targeting the suspended walleyes that are out foraging on these tasty whitefish. Basin trolling with leadcore is fairly simple and will be covered in my next entry. Tightlines!
Well a couple weeks into the season and the water temps are coming up into the 65 degree range in my neck of the woods. It has been a great season so far with a lot of fish boated. Starting on the opener and the proceeding weeks I worked shallow sand flat areas in 5-7' using crankibaits. The water temps were in the low 50's. This scenario begs for live bait rigs and jigs and minnows and these baits do have a time and a place but for me there is nothing better then casting for open water eyes!
I like to throw #5 shad raps early season and slow roll them back to the boat while fancasting the shallow flats. The key to cold water cranking is to slow way down and then slow down some more to keep that bait wiggling but in the face of the fish just long enough that they can decide it is a meal. In my area, and many of the metro lakes, the key forage options for walleyes are young bluegills and perch. I like to target areas that have nearby rock and gravel, deep water and also a defined emerging weedline when early season cranking, subsequently these are also areas where you will find gills staging to spawn.
For early season think spawning habitat. Rock and gravel are premium but walleye will spawn over sand if suitable spawning habitat is unavailable. Walleyes will even stage and make mock spawning runs in lakes that have less then suitable habitat to spawn, moving to sand flats and even up into the shallow water rip rap areas. These areas will tend to congregate fish but in many metro lakes where there is not enough suitable spawning shoals, the eyes will find the nearest sandflats and do their business.
Emerging weedlines: This is a pivot point but also a piece of structure that will congregate bait and give walleyes ambush cover. Typically this is also where a sudden bottom change occurs where sediment and light penetration are suitable for the first developing weeds to emerge. This emerging structure in combination with a bottom content change tends to be very distinct later on in the season but early season you can find these areas while cruising the flats and looking for the weed growth on your electronics. One key to finding a good sand flat area is to watch where the developing weedline starts. If the weedline starts in less then say 5', you are probably looking at a mud and silt bottom and the adjacent weedline will tend to hold bass and pike but few if any walleyes. Why fish the emerging weedline instead of live bait rigging at the base of the first break into the basin? Well, in early season the fish will migrate from spawning habit to the first available structure that holds bait and this often equates to the emerging weedline.
Cold water temps in the 45-55 degree range, you will want to run baits with a tighter action or a slow side to side roll like shad raps and thunder sticks. Casting these baits work them back to the boat at a slow crawl and even throw in a pause now and then. The pause often triggers following fish to strike when the bait stops right in front of them, they just cannot resist. If trolling when the water temps are in this range work from .8 mph to 1.2 occasionally pumping the rod forward and dropping it back. Again, this can cause a follower to become a biter. When the water temps increase into the upper 50's and low 60's this is a time to start increasing your retrieve speed as the fish are becoming more active and will readily smack a faster moving bait. As the temps move into the mid to upper sixties it is game on and you can start running and gunning with lipless rattle baits retrieved just fast enough to occasionally tick bottom. These are ideal search baits and will take everything from bluegills to muskies. I like the rattlin raps in #5 and #7 for most applications but will beef up to a #8 if I am really burning them looking for reaction strikes. I like to work these baits on braided line with a bait caster and often will use them over the top of emerging weeds. If I feel a weed on the bait, often you can rip it once or twice and return to a normal retrieve weed free.
In my last entry I talked about changing up the retrieves and adding pauses to trigger neutral fish in cooler water. Today I am going to talk about speeding up the cadence to trigger bites. As previously mentioned, many of us fall into the same retrieve we have always used when working crank baits because we are creatures of habit and will try to use patterns that have worked for us in the past. Water temps at the surface are in the mid seventies at this time and this is a great time to begin using pulling and snapping retrieves and ramping up the speed to trigger reaction strikes from fish.
This technique involves using lipless rattle baits, jigging raps and rippin raps and even spoons, and this can be a killer way to work spinner baits for walleyes! A pulling retrieve involves casting the bait out and letting it fall to the bottom with the rod pointed at roughly 2 o clock. When the lure touches down you make a slow sweeping pull to the 11 o clock position moving the bait up in a darting forward action. lower the rod tip back to 2 o clock and let the bait fall close to the bottom and repeat the 2-11 o clock drag keeping the lure bounding along but not quite touching bottom. Often as the lure begins to speed up, or just as you start to sweep the rod you will feel the fish hit. Think of this pulling retrieve like a gentle hopping of the lure from within inches of the bottom to roughly 2-3' above the bottom on the sweep. It takes a bit of practice to keep the lure riding just above the bottom as it hip hops along. I like to work this type of retrieve with either a 7' medium action rod and a high speed reel spooled with braided line so I can stay in contact with the lure and sweep up slack line quickly. Most often I use a 7' spinning rod paired with a shimano symetre reel spooled up with 15-20# braid or when working heavier baits a 7' rod with an Abu Garcia C4 reel spooled with 50# braid. I like to tie direct to the lure with the braid most of the time which gives me better feel of what the lure is doing and if it has fouled with weeds or debris. You can add a flourocarbon leader in clearer bodies of water for a bit stealthier approach. Since this is a quicker cadence and retrieve fish often are reacting to the fleeing bait and it does not give them time to inspect the lure or shy away from the line. I like to use this technique on large sand flats near standing weedlines and have had success using this method on large flats 20' deep. Try a pulling retrieve with some lipless rattle baits, jigging raps or spoons and spinners the next time you are out, you may well be surprised by the number of fish you catch! Next week I will talk about a ripping retrieve for crankbaits. Tightlines!