There are plenty of ways to catch walleye in spring and summer. Most anglers have favourites, along with refinements they use to catch more and bigger fish. Then there are tactics known to load the boat, but have either fallen out of fashion or aren’t considered to be walleye presentations. Those are the tips I asked several walleye pros and industry insiders to share; here’s what they offered.
1. Soak a big one
Lake of the Woods guide Dave Bennett has more tricks up his sleeve to put walleye in the net than you can imagine. But, when the chips are down and he’s marking big fish on his electronics that won’t bite, he pulls out a drop-shot rig and soaks a 4- to 5-inch sucker minnow.
“There are a lot of times when live bait doesn’t make a difference, and then there are specific times when it makes a tremendous difference, right down to this bait versus that bait, and whether you will catch fish or not,” Bennett said. “You could drop a crawler or a leech down and catch fish, but the big sucker is what gets big bites.”
The rig Bennett hooks the big minnow just behind and to the side of the dorsal fin with an 1/0 Octopus hook. This is tied to a 10-foot, 8-pound fluorocarbon leader tethered to 10-pound braid. The drop-shot’s dropper length may range from 8 to 30 inches. It all depends on how far off bottom the walleye are according to his electronics. He uses a3 ⁄8 to 1⁄2ounce drop-shot weight in 12 to 25-plus feet of water, 1⁄8-ounce or lighter in the shallows.
How to fish it
Bennett vertically fishes the rig whenever he can hold over walleye without spooking them. When fish are relating to shallow break lines and easily spooked, he’ll keep the boat away from fish and pitch the rig to 6- to 10-foot depths.
“Whether you’re spot-locked, anchored in current, or whatever the situation, you’re going to drop this rig down on inactive fish and let it soak there and wait for the bite,” Bennett said. Bennett feeds a biting walleye line by lowering his rod tip to the water, helping the fish to get a mouthful.
Next, he reels so the tip loads under the fish’s weight and smoothly sweeps the rod.“I’m not using a circle hook, but it’s that type of hook-set,” he said. “You don’t want to snap hard.”
2. Trolling with efficiency
When asked to spill the beans on a hot trolling technique, Lake Erie guide Captain Paul Powis confessed he favours tried-and-true methods, like running spoons behind Dipsy Divers or pulling deep-running crankbaits on planer boards, because of the irrefutable fact that they are so efficient at catching walleye.
Powis emphasized, however, that detail-oriented trollers will catch more fish. Here are some tips from a man who weighs his Dipsys to ensure uniformity in his trolling spread. Colour-coded Powis uses different colours of 30-pound Power Probraid to organize his Dipsy Diver trolling spread. For example, yellow for the outer most Dipsy (seat #3), blue for the middle Dipsy (#2), and red for the inside Dipsy (#1). The samecolour combinations are used on the port and starboard sides.
Using different line helps him detect any variance in the angle of the braid, which is often a tell that an Erie walleye has bitten and is swimming with the bait. Shimano Tekota 500 line counter reels are also part of this program. Measuring line is as much about depth control and precisely setting baits in the strike zoneas it is about controlling line amounts foreach Dipsy. It helps prevent tangles when setting, trolling, and landing fish.
Different baits for different speeds
“Anglers need to be cognizant that certain baits don’t troll as well together,” Powis said. “There are certain spoons you can’t run with opposing crankbaits. Then there are deep-diving cranks you need to pull hard to get deep and others you don’t.”The solution? Test baits beside the boat to make sure the action works at your trolling speed.
Detecting bites with boards
Powis has several hacks for detecting strikes when running either inline or mast-style planer boards. For one, he only runs 7-foot, medium Shimano Talora rods. Running the identical rod for each board makes it easy to compare blank curves across the trolling spread. Any rod acting differently is a sign of a fish on or that the lure is not running properly.
Coloured line also makes it easy to direct clients to a specific rod that’s hooked up with a walleye: “Fish on port yellow. Grab it!” Then, the different colours help reel in the fish through the trolling spread without tangling into other lines. But, if lines accidentally do cross, untangling them is faster, thanks to their individual colours.
3. Inline weights that bite back
Walleye tournament angler and Bay of Quinte expert Rob Henry says running multiple baits per line helps him put big fish in the net. While trolling a 3-way rig trailering spoon, minnowbait, and/or worm harness combination is common on Quinte, what Henry’s letting out of the bag is another set-up. Specifically, trolling a Wackm Tackle Double Down Inline Trolling Weight/Lure and worm harness behind an inline planer board.This is his go-to presentation for suspending wall-eye in spring and summer.
“The Wackm weight looks like a little fish with colour, 3D eyes, and a flash tail, so it’s an attractant. But it also has a hook, so when walleye hit ,it bites back,” Henry said.“How many more fish do you catch on the weight versus the harness?” I asked.
“I catch enough walleye on it that I’m going toc ontinue running them over a standard weight,” Henry said with unflinching confidence.
Henry attaches a 2- to 3-ounce Wackm TackleDouble Down inline weight to a snap-swivel tie to 30-pound Sufix braid. From the weight, he runs 5 feet of 20-pound Sufix fluorocarbon and then a Wackm double blade worm harness.
“A double blade harness gives a different presentation than a single blade,” Henry said. “It’s been producing really well.”
The head of a plump night crawler is slipped over the front hook. The rear hook is left to dangle, allowing the worm to stretch out and dance. Double hook a crawler and Henry says it’ll bend and catch less fish.
Harnesses are trolled from 1.6 to 1.8 miles per hour. A two-ounce weight may run anywhere from 20 to 75 feet behind the planer board. Once he patterns walleye at a specific depth, the boat’s spread is adjusted accordingly.
How to fish it
While a lot of anglers use bottom bouncers to drag harnesses, Henry trolls this set-up over depths of 25 to 60 feet for suspending walleye.
“I’m over deep water, but I’m not targeting fish any deeper than 30 feet,” Henry said. “I’ll look for bait and a good screen with lots of bait around, not everything squished to bottom. I want to see some active fish up high. It can be hard to mark shallow, suspending fish [the boat spooks them]. Side-imaging helps when in 30 to 40 feet of water.”
Henry pre-ties 5-foot leaders with a snap swivel at each end to make fast work of rigging up.
Note: Anglers are reminded to review fish regulations and follow the legal number of hooks allowed per line (e.g.,four) when trolling multiple-bait set-ups.
4. Fish ‘eyes like bass
“In shallow warm lakes that southern Ontario offers, Kawarthas, Rideau system, et cetera, walleye act a little like bass after they spawn,” said Mike Miller, host of Angler & Hunter Television.
“Instead of dropping into deep water or breaklines, the walleye I chase are in shallow clumps of weed or even submerged timber….I creep with my Minn Kota on low and basically sight fish, by looking for stumps, logs, and isolated clumps of weeds.”
The pattern, according to Miller, requires windless, hot days. This facilitates seeing cover and warms the water in the 3 to 4 foot mud flats near rivermouths. Temps in the mid 60s ̊F (18 ̊C) are ideal.
For the last several years, Lunkerhunt’s David MacDonald and Mike Brayford have also been catching numbers of big, early-season walleye from shallow water. They target fish relating to humps on points in underwater creek channels and transition lanes in 3 to 5 feet where spawn-ing rivers, creeks and bays are close to, or enter, the main lake. “The presence of wood and open spots on or near clay or silt bottoms seemed to produce bigger bites,” MacDonald said.
Crank ‘em in
Miller and MacDonald do best casting shallow running crankbaits, like a Storm Arashi Silent Square Bill or a Lunkerhunt Kraken Flat Sided Square Bill.
“Shallow-running, flatside crankbaits with tight wobbles seem to be the ticket,” MacDonald said. “Reaction finishes have outperformed natural pattern the past few years.”
Miller also does well with bright patterns, like firetiger and black chartreuse. He also finds a slow, steady retrieve is key, along with steering the bait near cover. And, like largemouth, skinny water walleye will strike in response to squarebill crankin’, bumping wood, and ticking vegetation.
“As it gets closer to the boat, a lethargic walleye can often be spotted trailing the crank,” Miller said. “That’s when a pause or twitch will usually make them bite.”
5. A trustworthy traditional
Inline spinners are often overlooked by walleye anglers. But, as we know, walleye love flash and vibration. Here are a few ways to use them.
Shallow spinner tactics
Recently, while speaking with Mark Stiffel, the vice president of marketing for Brecks (Mister Twister,Williams, Mepps, Maxima, and other brands), he reminded me how easy and potent spinners are when targeting walleye.
Stiffel trolls spinners early in the season when post-spawn walleye flood warm, shallow, sandy bays and sand bars near spawning tributaries. Time it right and returning home with enough walleye for a meal is as easy as flatline trolling a #3 Mepps Black Fury, Aglia, or Comet tipped witha piece of worm on 6- to 8-pound mono.
“Just troll the spinner along, bouncing overs and in 5 to 8 feet and you’ll load up on walleye,” Stiffel said. This method also works in rivers. I’ve caught walleye on the Ottawa River slowly weaving an inline spinner along vegetation edges. No doubt the spinner’s steady vibrations and added worm scent helped in the dingy water.
“If you’re trolling inlines, spend the money and get a ball-bearing snap swivel,” Stiffel said. “There’sa huge difference in quality and when trolling you need a good swivel to prevent line twist.”
A friend of mine who night fishes walleye in shallow weeds also uses inlines. He’s tested a lot of baits, but says steadily reeling a Black Fury over vegetation tops is a consistent producer.
Cut through current
A heavy spinner is also a great tool for cutting through current, something not lost on Ivo Coia of Thundermist Lures. Using a 3⁄4-ounce #4 Stingeye Spinner he’s caught several Niagara River walleye tucked behind rock and boulder current breaks in 20 feet of water.
“Long casts and slower retrieves, keeping my rod tip pointed downwards while reeling in to ensure my Stingeye stays deep, was the technique,” Coia said. “The position of rod tip while reeling in is key. With the rod tip up, you are forcing your lure up off the bottom and out of the strike zone. By keeping your rod tip pointed down, you are staying down and staying in the strike zone.”
Consider these tactics the next time you’re up against uncooperative walleye. Hopefully, they’ll help you catch a few more fish this season.
Originally published in the May 2019 edition of Ontario OUT of DOORS magazine.