Dog Days Walleye
By: Mark Romanack
In bodies of water that feature mid-lake structure, summer time is prime time to find adult fish hunting the edges of reefs and submerged islands. Throwing glide baits, swimbaits and also lipless crankbaits are three of the most effective ways to target walleye on mid-lake structure.
As summer wains on and the days get hotter, a lot of anglers have the misconception that walleye fishing slows down. On the contrary, when the water warms up, the metabolism rate of walleye speeds up. In the summer time walleye have a constant “need to feed” as they burn up food energy almost as quickly as they can stuff their stomachs.
Anglers who struggle on summer walleye are likely looking in the wrong places. Here are a few “sure fire” places and presentations for targeting mid-summer walleye.
In the summer time when aquatic weed growth is exploding, walleye will often take advantage of weed cover to hunt for minnows, crayfish and young of the year perch that also invade the weeds to find shade, food and cover. In the world of aquatic weeds, there are “good weeds” and “not so good weeds” to consider.
Dense patches of weeds that form into impenetrable mats are usually not going to support much walleye activity. Weeds such as coontail, Eurasian milfoil and naiad are examples of weeds that often grow so thick they don’t allow walleye much room to cruise and hunt.
Other species of weeds such as curly leaf pondweed and common pondweed, typically grow in patches that leave open water pockets for walleye to cruise and ambush prey. Both of these weed types are anchored to the bottom by a single stem and they tend to grow up tall providing leafy cover and shade even in water as deep as 15-20 feet.
Anglers get frustrated when trying to fish for walleye in the weeds. To consistently catch fish requires coming in contact with the weeds and of course fouling your gear constantly. Effectively fishing the weeds requires constant vigilance to keep the bait working weed-free.
Slip bobber rigs baited with leeches is one of the most popular ways to target walleye in the weeds. Set the bobber stop to allow the bait to rest about half way to two-thirds of the way to the bottom. Make a cast and give the leech about 30 seconds to a minute to work it’s magic. If a strike doesn’t occur quickly, reel up and make another cast to a slightly different location.
Keep up this vigil until fish are located. When that leech finally drops down near a walleye, the bite will come quickly and decisively.
Trolling spinner rigs can also be a great way to cover water and target weed walleye. A bullet sinker rig is a good way to approach weed walleye with nightcrawler harnesses. Thread a 1/4 to 3/8 ounce bullet weight onto the line, then thread on a small bead and tie on a small barrel swivel. To the barrel swivel add a nightcrawler harness ranging in length from 24 to 40 inches long.
When trolling, let out just enough line that the bullet sinker starts ticking the tops of the weed cover. A long steelhead style spinning rod is ideal for this work because the longer rod helps to get the bait away from the boat and the soft rod tip helps to prevent tearing the nightcrawler from the hooks as the rig comes in contact with the weeds.
When fishing walleye in warm water, get the fish back into the water as quickly as possible. Hold the fish by the tail for a few seconds to let the fish recover before letting go. When the fish is ready it will kick and shoot off back to the depths unharmed.
In many bodies of water walleye move off shore and set up on mid-lake structure during the summer months. These fish can be as regular as clock work. When fish are caught and removed, others move in and take advantage of the same structure providing very consistent fishing opportunities all summer long.
When targeting walleye on mid-lake structure it helps to have several spots to try. If you show up on a favorite spot and another boat is already there, it’s best to simply move on and check other spots.
Three different presentations routinely produce walleye that stick close to mid-lake structure. A jig tipped with a soft plastic swimbait body is a good starting point. Select a jig that is heavy enough to sink quickly and stay in close proximity to the bottom during the retrieve. In most instances a 1/2 to 3/4 ounce jig is ideal for fishing 15-25 feet of water. For deeper structure a larger one ounce jig is a good investment.
Using your sonar pinpoint the structure and then back off a short distance. If you have an auto-pilot style electric motor, use the “spot lock” or “anchor” mode to hold the boat in position and fan cast the structure.
Let the jig sink all the way to bottom before starting the retrieve. Usually a slow and steady retrieve that keeps the jig/swimbait combination close to bottom will produce the best results.
Glide baits like the iconic Rapala Jigging Rap or the Moonshine Lures Shiver Minnow are also good choices for fishing mid-lake structure. These baits are fished aggressively and generally appeal to fish that are fired up and feeding readily.
Make a long cast and let the bait sink to bottom. Then reel up the slack line until the weight of the glide bait can be felt in the rod tip and give the rod an aggressive snap that pops the glide bait up off the bottom. Let the bait sink back to bottom on a slack line, reel up the slack again and repeat the same aggressive snapping motion of the rod tip.
In most cases, the bite occurs when the glide bait crashes back to bottom and the fish literally pins the bait to bottom. When the slack line is reeled up, the weight of the fish will be detected.
Most anglers don’t work glide baits aggressively enough. This is not a finesse presentation, but rather a presentation that triggers aggressive reactionary bites.
A third option for casting to mid-lake structure is accomplished by using lipless crankbaits such as the iconic Bill Lewis Rat-L-Trap or the Rapala Rippin’ Rap. These sinking crankbaits can be casted long distances helping to cover water effectively.
Let the bait sink to bottom, reel up the slack line until the weight of the bait can be felt in the rod tip and then pull the rod tip upwards sharply. If you lift the bait quick enough, you’ll feel the bait vibrating noticeably. If you’re not lifting the bait aggressively enough, the bait will feel dead and lifeless.
After lifting the bait aggressively, hold the rod still and allow the bait to sink bait to bottom. The bite on a lipless crankbait often comes as the bait is sinking back to bottom and will be detected as a subtle tap or hesitation in the line. Often walleye will pin a lipless bait to bottom much the same as they do glide baits. In this situation, the weight of the fish will be detected as the slack line is reeled up.
During the Dog Days of Summer, walleye are often found suspended in the water column over sprawling mud flats. Trolling crankbaits in combination with Snap Weights can be deadly effective at reaching these fish in deep water.
TROLLING FOR SUSPENDED FISH
In bodies of water that have pelagic forage fish such as smelt, alewives, gizzard shad or ciscoes, adult walleye will often suspend in open water to target these fat and protein rich forage species. During mid-summer it’s common to find these fish suspended in the deeper basins of the lake, often over top of sprawling mud flats.
Reaching these fish with crankbaits often requires some specialized trolling tactics such as using a Snap Weight to increase the diving depth of the crankbait or lead core line to also increase the diving depth of the crankbait.
The Precision Trolling Data phone apps offers trollers extensive data that will help anglers pinpoint their crankbaits to the strike zone using both Snap Weights and lead core line. The Snap Weight data appears in the “line type” options on the app and is called the 50 Plus 2 Data.
Lead core data is also provided for select crankbaits. This data is also found in the “line type” option on the app.
Pulling crankbaits with lead core and/or Snap Weights is a game best played with in-line planer boards such as the Off Shore Tackle OR12. The use of in-line boards makes it possible to fish multiple lines and to also spread out gear to cover the maximum amount of water.
SUMMING IT UP
Hot weather can zap the enthusiasm of anglers, but it doesn’t keep walleye from feeding aggressively during the dog days of summer. To beat the heat, get on the water early and avoid fishing during the heat of the day. Fishing for a few hours in the morning and again in the evening when the sun is low helps at keeping angler enthusiasm also at a peak.