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!