Recently the Cabela’s National Walleye Tour event held at Bay City, Michigan let the cat out of the bag. The top weights in the tournament came not from Saginaw Bay, but rather from the Alpena shoreline of Lake Huron more than 100 miles north of Bay City.
The Alpena region or what is often called the Sunrise Side is one of those places in Michigan that is clearly off the beaten path. The sad truth is no one travels through Alpena on their way to some place. Alpena has for decades produced a noteworthy walleye fishery, but the recent NWT tournament cemented that fact in stone.
The waters of the Alpena area are ultra clear and require some ultra unique structure fishing strategies. Fish like this walleye are most often caught on one of three different lure groups including Glide Baits, Plastic Swim Baits and Lipless Crankbaits.
Ironically, the waters of Thunder Bay and the Lake Huron shoreline are especially stony and ultra clear. These waters are so clear in fact that it’s possible to see bottom and even fish on bottom in 20 feet of water!
Targeting walleye in water this clear requires a rather specific and unique skill set. Traditional fishing tactics simply don’t produce when walleye spot you coming. More stealthy tactics are required to get the drop of these fish.
Recently the Fishing 411 crew traveled to the Alpena area to sample it’s unique walleye fishery. Jake teamed up with long time friend and Off Shore Tackle pro staffer Erich Carlson. Erich lives in the Alpena area and fishes tournaments in these waters often.
“Clear water walleyes love structure,” says Carlson. “Walleye slip into the shady side of boulders and rocky reefs where they hunt for targets of opportunity. The round goby that also inhabits these waters in huge numbers, has become the number one forage species targeted by walleye all up and down the Lake Huron shoreline.”
THREE BAITS SHINE
During the recent Fishing 411 visit three lure groups proved to be consistently effective. “I caught most of my fish on a 1/2 ounce jig tipped with five inch Z-Man PaddlerZ soft plastic swim bait,” says Jake Romanack, Co-Host of Fishing 411. “These unique paddle tails are factory impregnated with Pro Cure fish scent that insures a natural scent stream in the water. I also used the six inch Z-Man SwimmerZ another paddle tail with a more pronounced thump.”
Erich Carlson is a big fan of plastic swim baits, but he also spends a lot of time throwing two different hard baits including the Rapala Rippin’ Rap and the Moonshine Shiver Minnow. “The Rippin Rap is a lipless crankbait that casts like a bullet and features an ultra tight wobble and loud rattles. “The Rippin’ Rap seems to generate aggressive or even angry strikes from walleye,” says Carlson. “The Shiver Minnow is a glide bait first introduced as an ice fishing lure. However, the Shiver Minnow also casts like a bullet and is especially useful for fishing deep water structure.”
“Walleye tend to strike glide baits like the Shiver Minnow when the lure is gliding back to bottom or they pin the bait to bottom the second it crashes down,” adds Carlson.
ULTRA LONG CASTS
Because the water is ultra clear, anglers targeting walleye around the Alpena area need to use ultra long casts. A seven foot medium action spinning rod/reel set up equipped with 10 pound test super braid line is an absolute must. “Nothing casts further than Berkley Nanofil,” says Jake Romanack. “We used a three foot leader of 12 pound test fluorocarbon tied to the Nanofil using a double uni knot. Jigs were tied directly to the fluorocarbon leader and both the Rippin Rap and Shiver Minnow were attached to the line via a small cross lok style snap.”
Because walleye living in clear water are ultra spooky, finding these fish requires using side imaging sonar technology. Jake and Erich used Lowrance 12 inch Carbon Units equipped with Structure Scan HD that allows for a panoramic underwater display. “Without SideScan technology we would never have been able to determine which reefs and bottom structure were holding fish without spooking those fish,” explains Romanack. “When using SideScan fish mark as ghost like images. Once we found fish, we simply backed off a ways upwind and positioned the boat for casting.”
It’s difficult to locate fish using traditional broad beam sonar technology because as the boat passes over top of these structures, walleye tend to scatter. Jake Romanack recommends using SideScan technology that allows the boat to be positioned off the structure while still being able to identify and cast to individual fish.
One of the most efficient ways of casting to fish holding structure is to use the Anchor Mode on the MotorGuide Xi5 electric motor. This feature uses GPS technology to hover the boat in a specific spot compensating for wind and current drift.
With the MotorGuide taking care of boat control chores, both Jake and Erich fished out of the back of the boat fan casting to cover the structure. “We usually got bit on the first or second cast,” remarked Romanack. “Most of the spots we fished only produced a fish or two, so it was necessary to keep moving and searching for fresh places to fish.”
Long casts are critically important to structure fishing success. A seven foot spinning rod/reel set up loaded with 10 pound test Super Braid line is ideal.
For some reason clear water structure seems to attract primarily adult walleye. “Between the time we were pre-fishing and the two filming days, every fish we caught was over 20 inches,” says Romanack. “Many of the walleye we catch are in the five to eight pound range,” says Carlson. “Tournament pros have zeroed in on structure fishing because the caliber of fish encountered are exactly what it takes to dominate on the the trail.”
Erich Carlson (left) and Jake Romanack pose with a typical walleye caught fishing ultra clear walleye structure. Making long casts with jigs tipped with soft plastic paddle-tails is one of the best ways to target these fish.