When Walleye Won’t Bite — Make ‘Em!

Use these tactics to piece together the combination that’ll get inactive walleye to strike.

It’s happens to most anglers. We find walleye but they reject lures like snobby gourmets at a roadside chip stand. However, even when fish are fickle, they can often be coerced to chew. The challenge is finding the specific presentation to enchant a strike when fish are fasting. Adopting a problem-solving approach and systematically experimenting with different tactics will put choosy walleye in landing nets on lakes, rivers and reservoirs. The following’s a trouble-shooting guide for triggering picky pickerel.

Speed Demons

Bait’s pace is a significant triggering factor for walleye. Much like the fictitious fussy eater, Goldilocks, walleye often only eat lures presented at a speed that’s not too fast, and not too slow, but “just right.” Equally as important is how different speeds can cause a lure to emit varying vibrations and actions, which are other important elements to evoking aggression. Using a GPS to track varying trolling speeds for multiple passes over the same structure will help hone-in on the specific tempo fish desire. A difference of 0.2 mp/h can make the difference when walleye are selective.

Playing with pace also applies to casting. Many hard-core anglers use baitcasters with a low gear ratio (such as 5.1:1) to crawl crankbaits along, as ultra-slow presentation is frequently critical for teasing hits from inactive fish. High-gear reels simply can’t deliver a sluggish enough pace no matter how lazily the handle turns.

Velocity is critical with vertical presentations too. The commotion caused by aggressively ripping a bait off bottom and letting it free-fall may, at times, evoke more attacks than slow, muted lifts — other days it’s the opposite. Experiment with jigging pace for both lifts and falls. Generally though, avoid rapidly dropping heavy baits over inactive fish as it can spook them.

Trajectory Changes

Altering a bait’s path over walleye habitat is another way to turn-on fasting fish. Cast or troll baits up, down and across structures at different angles to determine fish preferences. As an example, trolling crankbaits upstream, as opposed to down current, catches the majority of walleye in rivers, but with fussy fish simply going against the flow is rarely enough. Tweaking the angle that a lure moves along current seams and around structures is essential to getting hits. Also, pay attention to the angle of the sun and pull baits through a structure’s shady side. Use a GPS unit to store a successful trolling path, and repeat the tactic while retracing the route to catch more fish.

Going Vertical

When trouble-shooting fussy walleye, a fundamental step is switching from horizontal to vertical presentations. Straight-down tactics are better when fish have a narrow strike zone and won’t chase a lure. Fish hiding in current breaks in rivers or holding tight to stair-step drop offs in bright conditions are two common examples when walleye may be willing to lash out, but won’t chase. For this reason vertical jigging best as it allows the precise placement of a lure in front of a fish’s snout to tease out bites. I like to try spoons, bladebaits or jigging minnows when I first start fishing vertically and will experiment with different jigging speeds and sequences. If these tactics don’t work, then it’s safe to assume walleye are inactive and it’s time for the finesse tactics.

Down in Size

An effective trick when trouble-shooting walleye is using smaller than average baits. Downsizing can be successful for a variety of reasons. An itty-bitty bait exudes defencelessness, portraying an easy snack when fish aren’t actively foraging. Equally plausible is that there are certain times of the year when a walleye’s diet is comprised of rather diminutive forage.

A classic example is during mayfly hatches. As nymphs emerge from bottom and swim to the surface to complete their lifecycle their numbers can be overwhelming. Walleye will gorge on the abundant buggy buffet. Competing with the cornucopia of food is difficult, and near impossible if the bait’s not brown, black, or green and under two-inches long. Bucktail jigs, leech tipped jigs, and tiny minnow-baits are popular baits when fish are focused on mayflies.

Bottom Contact

When fish are really finicky it’s tough to beat the Real McCoy. Fresh, wiggling worms, leeches and minnows deliver scent and realism that artificial baits can’t. These baits work well on jigs, beneath slip floats, or trailed behind spinner rigs on bottom bouncers.

Another trick for inactive belly-to-floor walleye is dragging jigs or walking-sinker rigs tipped with livebait. This is particularly effective on soft-bottom areas. Crawling the bait and adding frequent pauses is good, but maintaining bottom contact is the critical element to convincing walleye to slurp up the snack.

The Importance of Colour

Pay attention to colour when refining presentations as lure hue can be a deal-breaker for fussy fish. In clear water, natural patterns often out-produce loud paint jobs. Learn the local forage and duplicate these tones in offerings. Orange and green mimic perch, silver-sided crankbaits copy pelagic baitfish, while brown, green and black jigs imitate nymphs, leeches and other invertebrates. Hot colours have a place when fishing in stained water, with glow-painted baits being deadly at night.

Triggering Details

These tricks help tempt bites when fish are off. Add a feather-dressed treble to jigging spoons and the rear treble of hard-baits to tease lookers into striking. Instead of a clinch or Palomar, tie a loop knot to enhance a bait’s range of motion. Attach long fluorocarbon or monofilament leaders to superline, especially when fishing clear water. Keep baits clean and away from foul-smelling products, like gas or sunscreen, and use fish-attractant. Keep hooks razor-sharp to make sure you land fish after enticing them to bite.

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