Fishing For Walleye

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Spice up your angling adventures with these tips

I pity the angler who grows tired of catching fish. It’s an unfortunate thing, really. This being said, I’m guilty of occasionally experiencing enthusiasm lulls during a season. More often than not, the culprit is too much of the same: same bait, same spot, same pod of fish.

To remedy things I look for opportunities to interject some variety, which, as the saying goes, “is the spice of life.”

If your walleye outings have become a touch too regular and routine, read on. The following list is a sampling of ways to catch walleye that will get both smiles and adrenaline flowing the next time you’re gripping a rod and reel.

 

Fish at night

Walleye have evolved to be excellent low-light hunters, stalking prey by moonlight and under the cover of darkness. This, in and of itself, is solid rationale as to why night fishing should be common practice, but there are other reasons that make evening adventures enthralling affairs.

As dusk fades into darkness, a lake or river transforms into a quiet, calm place. Often, although not always, daytime winds diminish. Recreational boaters also take their leave, typically vacating before twilight arrives. The noises of jet-skiers, motorboats and crowded beaches are replaced with a loon’s call and the gurgle of water. Serenity.

Nerve-calming benefits aside, a deserted lake has perks from an angling perspective. Less boat traffic encourages fish to feed. Walleye will reclaim shallow areas and hotspots in the main boating channel, following the departure of pleasure boaters.

Night is also trophy time. Big fish reach their proportions by being cautious. If they didn’t, odds are they would have gone home to a frying pan by now. As such, bruiser walleye frequently feed at night.

To catch these big specimens, a critical concept to keep in mind is locating their feeding areas. Large, weedy bays, mid-depth rocky shorelines, sand/rock/weed covered bars and shallow, fertile flats are all prime areas that hold a cornucopia of attractive foodstuffs for marauding walleye. The absolute best food shelves will be close to deep-water daytime haunts, such as a lake basin.

A range of tactics will catch nighttime walleye. Trolling shallow-running crankbaits and stickbaits over weed tops or along rocky points are reliable methods. Pulling moderate to deep-diving models near drop-offs, beside deep weed edges and across bars will also fool fish.

Casting at night can be a blast but it demands full concentration, as blunders, such as line tangles, are more apt to occur in the darkness than during the day. Top baits include minnowbaits, crankbaits and swimbaits because their straight trajectory makes it easy for fish to hit their target, which increases your hook set percentage. Spinning rods are recommended for their ease of use.

Night fishing from shore is also an engaging way to catch walleye. It’s tough to go wrong tossing a shallow-running crank or minnowbait to culverts, rocky points, wing dams, bridges, boat launches and protruding rip rap. Focus on areas containing a deep-to-shallow water transition that’s within casting distance. Be on the lookout for healthy weeds as well.

 

Go for 24

This is a concept that a friend and I came up with several years ago as “something to do” to mix up our angling outings. The adventure was simple: spend 24 hours in a boat, fishing one of our favourite lakes for walleye.

There were rules, of course. Power naps were allowed. Shore breaks to the outhouse were also permitted in the event that nature called. A well-stocked cooler and portable pantry were mandatory. We also decided that the outing should occur during a full moon. This would help with night navigation, as well as put the odds in our favour to chase walleye when they’d be most active. Ultimately, the adventure’s objective was to have fun while observing a lake for a 24-hour period and deciphering the corresponding fish movements.

These extended outings will reveal many things, such as the location of the top late-night walleye eateries and how shallow fish will hunt. Being on the lake long before dawn and seeing daybreak is also a special treat, especially after you’ve spent the night on the system. Be sure to keep safety in mind and leave an itinerary with someone at home. Oh, and don’t forget your thermos of coffee.

 

Commit to one

In angling, as with any activity, there are no shortcuts to improving a skill. It takes practice. One way to spice up your typical outings, while simultaneously improving your angling expertise, is spending a full day fishing only one presentation.

I’ve done this with bucktail jigs, bottom bouncer and spinner rigs, a drop shot and specific crankbaits. Leaving the dock with just one type of lure is a commitment, but it forces you to practice and hone the skills required to properly present the bait. It also eliminates the “should I change to another bait?” dilemma, challenging you to find ways to make fish eat the one bait you have. As such, you’ll likely use it in scenarios you wouldn’t have if you had other bait options. This expands the situations where you can fish particular bait, providing you with more options on future outings. This leads to a deep understanding of the lure’s strengths and weaknesses.

This was the case for me after using a drop shot for a day. Straight-down to structure, casting flats and bars, pitching to weed edges and lanes, spelunking standing timber and slow drifting through a range of areas were highlights of how I caught walleye with this rig. These methods have routinely served me well on trips when other tried-and-true tactics failed to produce a fish.

This experiment is often best reserved for multi-day trips. I suggest this to remove the pressure of putting all your eggs in one basket, so to speak. My experience is that I’m more open to learning from this challenge when I know that tomorrow’s an unstructured day of fishing that will include all my lures being in the boat.

 

Experiment with what’s new

Every year, a plethora of new equipment, lures, lines and terminal tackle flood the market. This drives the recreational fishing industry. Even if you’re not a fan of always investing in the latest and greatest, it’s still wise to follow trends for the simple reason that every so often a game changer enters the scene. The surge in superlines over a decade ago, the boom in paddletail swimbaits and the scent-infused soft bait revolution are all examples of products that dramatically changed angling success for walleye.

Bait I’d suggest trying for the upcoming year, if you haven’t already, is the Fergie Spoon. It can be cast or jigged vertically and offers a unique action and vibration compared to other spoons and hard baits – and walleye absolutely crush it.

 

Explore more

Few things get me as excited about an outing as embarking on a water system I’ve never fished before. Locating walleye on a new lake or river can be both challenging and rewarding.

Options abound for integrating some exploration into your season. A sampling includes: a fly-in or canoe-access trip to a remote destination, getting on a regional lake you’ve yet to try or exploring an unseen section of big water on one of this country’s massive lakes.

Don’t ignore the little water systems though. Some of my most memorable fishing in recent years has occurred on small lakes and streams accessed in my kayak or a small, car-topper. Typically, fishing is fantastic and it’s common to have smaller bodies of water all to yourself.

 

Keep it simple

Fishing from a kayak or a car-topper offers the added benefit of being straightforward and simple. I won’t deny that I fully embrace angling’s technological gadgetry and cutting-edge tackle, but occasionally stripping away all of these aids is refreshing.

There are other ways to achieve simplicity, too. One option is using live bait rigs for a day. If faced with bait restrictions, using the artificial version of soft bait is a respectable substitute that will produce similar results.

Trolling a spinner clad with a worm, drifting a leech on a split shot rig or casting a minnow on a jig are three good bets. My friends and I call this Huck Finning, in honour of this memorable character and his laid back angling approach.

Part and parcel of this routine is having a robustly packed cooler in the boat because when the action’s off, having gourmet grub on hand always makes the day better.

 

Try a fly

If angling walleye is typically done with spinning and baitcast gear, targeting them with a fly rod can add zest to your next excursion. With knowledge of their feeding habits, location preferences and activity cycles, you’re well prepared to try this tactical change up.

Methods abound too for fooling walleye on the fly. Casting to river pools and rapids is my favourite approach. Walleye are often stacked up in these areas, waiting in ambush to pounce on vulnerable meals swept downstream in the current. Drifting a streamer in the flow is usually all that’s needed to get bit.

There are lots of fly patterns that work in these conditions, but I’m partial to the few patterns I tie myself, like a woolly bugger and a clouser minnow. After all, hooking a fish on a homemade fly only adds to the thrill of the experience.

Fly success for walleye isn’t exclusive to casting. Trolling a streamer on sinking line along weed edge, across points and over mid-lake humps are reliable but overlooked walleye strategies. These methods are particularly deadly on lakes that receive heavy angling pressure because the presentation is different than what fish are accustomed to seeing.

 

Go smaller and lighter

Another way to have more fun fishing is using light gear. A medium-light spinning rod, a reel spooled with six-pound-test fluorocarbon and a selection of small jigs, minnowbaits and other finesse presentations are all you need to make this happen.

Using light baits has many benefits. For starters, finesse tactics reliably fool fickle, inactive walleye. This is the snack-versus-meal theory of eliciting strikes. Featherweight gear also delivers more sensitivity and this enhances the ability to feel and manipulate the lure so its action is as enticing as possible. It also increases strike detection, especially when hits are faint.

Once hooked, fighting a fish with light gear gets exciting. Walleye must be wrestled gently and with patience. Mistakes that mean little with heavy gear can cost you a fish on light tackle. As such, the entire battle occurs with a heightened focus. Every headshake and run adds to the drama of the standoff and the anticipation of successfully playing the walleye within the reach of the landing net.

This said, be careful not to overextend the scrap to the point of exhausting the fish if planning to release it. Even with light tackle, fish should be played as fast as possible to avoid exhausting them and to ensure their best chance of post-release survival.

 

Get nostalgic

All of us have memories of angling experiences: special snapshots of early catches, witnessing nature’s wonders and time spent sharing these things with family and friends.

Something I’ll do to tap into these mental treasures is going retro with my tackle selection. I take inspiration from my grandfather’s tackle box that I inherited. A couple of times a year, I’ll try to catch a couple walleye using his favourite spoons and homemade baits. When I do, I can’t help but think that Gramps is looking down and smiling, even though I’m sure he’s still out-fishing me on the big lake in the sky.

Another memory I have from my childhood is the thrill and anticipation that came with picking worms from our lawn at night, in preparation for an outing the next day. When I have the time, getting out and doing some bait collection grunt work is a way to reconnect with how it all started. Plus, bait harvested on my own time always seems to have a special fish-catching ingredient that I can’t seem to find in any store-bought product.

This activity is also a great gateway to get youngsters involved in angling, which leads to the final tip.

 

Share your passion

All the activities above are ways to infuse more fun into fishing. But, if you’re looking for a guaranteed way to have a hoot, I’ve saved the best suggestion for last: help someone else catch a walleye.

Sharing your time and expertise is one of, if not the best, angling experiences. Yes, landing a trophy yourself is a thrill. However, playing guide and getting to net a walleye to the cheers and hoorays of a child, friend or family member is about as good as it gets, folks. If this doesn’t bring a smile to your face, I’m not sure what else to say, except, perhaps, that I hear golf is nice.

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