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New Eyes on Old Hot Fishing Spots
The world is getting smaller. We travel around the world at dizzying speeds to places that our parents never dreamt of. Yes — the world is so tiny now days, but the same can be said about the old fishing hole.
That lake I grew up has shrunk a remarkable amount in recent years. A leaky row boat with a worm and straight hook dangling under a bobber was all it took for my brother and me to catch a stringer full of fat and sassy slab sided walleye. Today it is covered in water-skiers, jet skis and more fishing boats than I ever thought possible. Fishing pressure has crowded our lakes more than ever and it seems we never have any secret spot to ourselves anymore.
The community holes are easy to find and success can be had in the pack by the diligent or lucky angler. But what about getting away from the pack and finding your own secret honey hole? Is there such a place left on today’s high-pressured lakes? Yes, there is and it isn’t very far from your community spot. Read on I’m going to tell you how to find it.
Community spots are not always the best spot on a lake on any given day. When you take a year’s worth of averaging, community holes are a consistent spot to have a good chance to catch a fish — but not every day is a great day. Think about your favourite walleye spots for a minute. I’ll bet the fishing gets best around the end of May and goes strong until the Dog Days of Summer kick in. Things slow down but even then you have mornings and evenings of brilliance with the fish practically jumping in the boat. That is what community spots are known for, primetime fishing. Too often people become acclimatized to fishing the calendar. They don’t fish outside of the times when the local hotspot doesn’t produce. If they go during primetime and have a bad day they write it off to the fish not biting that day.
Believe it or not that primetime kind of fishing success exists all year long somewhere on the lake. It is a simple fact that fish have to eat every day. Walleye, like all freshwater fish, are cold blooded, which means their metabolic rate is controlled by water temperature. The higher the water temp the faster the metabolic rate and the quicker the walleye uses up the food from its last meal. Walleye in four degree water need to eat once maybe twice a day as compared to walleye in 20 degree water needing to eat four or five times a day. So the answer is obvious — find the food and find the walleye… with one exception.
The one time of the year that food isn’t the driving force in walleyes life is the spring spawning run. Thoughts of eating and food are largely suspended as the fish gather on the spawning shoals or stage in preparation to run up spawning tributaries. Today, most spawning grounds are protected through fishing closures to give the fish a chance to reproduce. Often times 80 per cent or more of the walleye in a lake will be concentrated in and around the major tributary of a lake. Twice a year as the water temperature stabilizes around four degrees the walleye are drawn to the reefs and running water of their birth.
Wait — what!? Twice a year? Yes, false runs occur in the fall especially in years were extended periods of the optimum water temperature coincides with the right amount of daylight and dark. Some years, the water cools down to fast to stimulate the false move. Some falls, the fishing on the false spawn can rival the peak fishing of early June. The fish are there — waiting for the knowledgeable angler to find them.
The rest of the year walleye are slaves to their stomachs and they go where the food is. The food that walleye prey on has its own life cycle — they are born, live, reproduce and die and the environment rigidly controls all of this.
Take, for instance, yellow perch — a staple of most walleye diets. Perch spawn in the spring on wind aerated rocky shoals and shore lines. This takes place after the walleye spawn but water temperature has the perch gathering early. Often these are the same shorelines, or adjacent to the spawning tributary used by the walleye. As the walleye complete their spring ritual they flood out of the running water onto the first structure holding food. Most often on natural lakes it is pre-spawn perch schooled up tightly on the main rocky points and these become a smorgasbord for hungry post spawn walleyes. Within a short period of time, the perch are done spawning and start to disperse back through the lake. Now the young perch hatch and the peak of primetime fish occurs as the walleye gorge themselves on all the young of the year perch that are available in huge quantities.
Walleye are where ever the food is — and the food relates to structure. Structure is home, safe haven and the fridge all rolled into one for the minnows and insect larvae that the minnows feed on. I like to think of structure as two types, hard or permanent structure and soft or temporary structure.
The best example of permanent structure is the classic community hotspot. This is usually a rocky main lake-point associated with a steep drop-off to the main lake basin. These points tend to protrude well out into the lake and create a focusing effect on travelling fish. Walleye in particular avoid changing depths unless it is necessary to eat. As much as it is nice to believe that fish set up camp on a spot and stay there, the truth is fish are almost constantly on the move. The bait moves around and the fish follow. The fact that schools are constantly on the move and don’t like to change depth means that as they swim along, bumping into a steep break, the drop-off has a tendency to concentrate fish.
Say the drop goes from eight feet to 30 feet in the space of 30 or 40 lateral feet. The fish, at their comfort depth, may have been scattered over a kilometre-width of lake bottom laterally before the drop of are now much more concentrated because of the funnelling effects of the point. The further the point projects into the lake, the better it gathers travelling fish. Hard structure like this holds fish throughout its length and breadth on any given day.
Creatures of Habit?
People are creatures of habit and always fish the best memories. Some days this pays off — often it is a cause for the “they weren’t biting” excuse. Proper search techniques can limit those off-days dramatically and find you a little elbow room of your own.
Staying on the move is critical — I never anchor unless my grandkids are with me. Throwing an anchor is the same as inviting everyone around you to stop and fish. However, people don’t know quite what to do with a boat on the move.
Even if I’m jigging I’ll slowly back into the wind with my trolling motor easing shallower and then deeper on the break. What I’m looking for is active fish; the ones that are feeding and will bite. Very often active fish are at the same depth on a piece of structure, so once I have a depth I can attack the entire point. This is important. Some spots — like the very tip of the point — may be the best spot on the point most days; however, almost half the time there will be better spots and they will have no one on them.
I like to pull monofilament spinners behind a two-ounce bottom bouncer. Tipped with a minnow or dew worm, the rig is lethal for walleye from ice-out to ice-up. This is my favourite rig for taking apart a structure. It allows me to troll at up to two km/h, yet change depths quickly and still present the bait precisely right under the boat.
One way I search is to drag a bottom bouncer and spinner at the productive depth and work the whole structure. Two things happen when you do this: very quickly you get away from the crowd and you start to develop a mental image of the shape of the structure. I like to use marker buoys and I’ll toss one out right quick when I catch a fish. It gives you a visual reference and you can go exactly back the spot where the last fish came from. It is surprising how a couple of markers tossed out help you visualize what is down below.
If you have a GPS unit with a plotter, your trail will give you a graphic outline of the point. Drop an icon on the plotter each time you catch a fish, as you move along the structure. As you trace back and forth you will soon have clusters of icons in high event areas, find these away from the pack at the community spot and you have your own honey hole.
I grin when people sit anchored in a tight cluster and I fish the break just a short distance away — catching fish while they watch. People are lazy, fishermen especially so, and most are loath to try a technique that requires a little work like boat control.
One lake I fish has a huge point that is a well-known community spot. Through studying underwater maps and working the point with my sonar and bottom bouncer, I know the point looks very much like the map of Italy in reverse. Well, rather than looking like a ladies boot — this point looks more like one of my old work boots. The top of the boot is attached to the shoreline and the toe points southeast. The sole of the boot slopes back towards shore to the northwest and you can follow the break on this angle for 300 yards, until you come to the heel and then the direction of the break changes drastically turning more than 90 degrees and heading straight for shore. Everybody and their dog anchors off the toe of the boot. I catch boat-loads of fish on the heel, and I’m almost always by myself. It is a major point on the point; a collector and concentrator of walleye and if they are swimming out of the west this is the first point to funnel the fish together. A secondary factor is the depth change at the heel is drastic —the heel is much closer to shore than the toe and affects a larger area of the neighbouring, slow tapering bottom.
I’m still on the same community hole as the crowd, but I have my own little sweet spot that almost no one knows about. There are a dozen little nooks and crannies I have GPS-marked on that point where I know I can catch fish just about any day I want. The fish are unpressured and on the prime food holding structure of the lake.
So the next time you are on your lake and it seems one boat is drifting away from the pack, keep an eye out and see if his net action tells you he knows something you don’t. I can tell you right now that every lake has unfound goldmines and it is only our lack of motivation or techniques that has kept these places secret.
Most times the answers really are right under our noses and your private honey hole is very close to the pack of boats…
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