Wrangling Weed Walleye
By: Mark Romanack
The Off Shore Tackle Side-Planer equipped with a Tattle Flag kit is one of the best tools for fishing walleye in the weeds. The spring loaded flag tips down when small fish nibble on the bait or if weeds foul the hooks.
The month of May is one of my favorite times of year. Just about everything sporting fins is hungry and looking for a fight. That goes double for walleye and those anglers who just can’t get enough of ole marble eye.
In the month of May you can target walleye using all sorts of fishing gear and tactics. One of the more challenging tactics is to pry walleye out of the weeds trolling with spinner rigs.
While many think of the walleye as a structure loving creature, the truth is walleye are just as likely to be found in weed cover as classic rock structure. Aquatic weeds attract all sorts of bait fish and also snack sized young of the year fish. Walleye are well adapted to hunt in the weeds setting the stage for some excellent angling action for those who understand how to wrangle walleye from the weeds.
All aquatic weeds are not created equal. The weed growth that most consistently attracts walleye are a family of aquatic plants commonly referred to as “cabbage” weed. The actual name of these plants is pond weed and there are a number of varieties that are commonly found in both the Great Lakes and inland waters.
Pond weeds anchor to the bottom and grow upwards in the water column several feet. Leaves radiate out from a single stem, creating excellent cover and shade for both bait fish and sport fish. Generally pond weed is found over organic bottoms that provide the nutrients needed to support such abundant plant growth. Depending on water clarity and light penetration levels, pond weed can typically be found in water from six to 20 feet deep.
Because pond weed can and often does grow in dense patches, trolling is limited to ticking the tops of this salad.
When walleye are using sprawling weed flats, the use of in-line boards can help cover more water and contact more fish.
BULLET WEIGHT RIGS
One of the most efficient tools for trolling among pond weed is a simple bullet weight rig. Thread a bullet or worm weight onto the line, then add a small bead followed by a small barrel swivel. The bead prevents the bullet weight from making contact with the knot. A 36 to 48 inch long crawler harness is then attached to the barrel swivel.
This rig can be nicely presented to the top of weed beds, but it’s important to use just enough weight to reach the plant tops. In most cases a 1/4 to 3/8 ounce sinker is about perfect for ticking the tops of the weeds at spinner trolling speeds that range from 1.2 to 1.5 MPH.
The shape of the bullet weight helps it slide through the weeds with minimal hang ups. Often when the weight catches on a pond weed stem, the spinner’s forward movement hesitates for a few seconds before the weight pops free and the spinner is lunged forward. This “stop and go” action is amazingly effective at triggering strikes from walleye that tend to cruise among the weed stems.
When targeting somewhat deeper weeds, scattered weed clumps or the edges of weed flats, the Off Shore Tackle 1/2 ounce Guppy Weight can be rigged as an in-line sinker. The snap on the main line is attached to a hole on the top of the Guppy Weight and a snap swivel added to the back hole. The nightcrawler harness is in turn attached to the snap swivel.
Guppy Weights do a nice job of reaching deeper fish and the weight itself tends to catch and hold weed debris floating in the water. This prevents the weeds from sliding down the line and fouling the nightcrawler harness.
Weed fishing generally calls for using spinner blades that are modest in size. Small number 1, 2 and 3 size Colorado or Indiana blades are the most common sizes and types employed by weed walleye anglers. For every rule there is an exception to that rule. In the case of Lake St. Clair and some other Great Lakes fisheries, larger number 4, 5 and even 6 size Colorado blades are popular.
Spinner trolling in the weeds is generally a game best played with monofilament line. The natural stretch associated with monofilament helps to create the “stop and go” action as the sinkers catch temporarily on weed stems. When low stretch super braid lines are used, the nightcrawler harness often snaps forward so aggressively that the nightcrawler itself is stripped from the hooks.
RODS FOR SPINNER FISHING
The ideal rod for fishing spinners in the salad is one that has a soft tip and a body of the rod that bends uniformly and easily. Often referred to as “slow action rods” if a rod is too stiff it will tend to snap the rig out of the weeds instead of gently pulling it free.
For those who prefer to hold the rod in their hand while trolling, a graphite medium or medium/light action steelhead style rod makes a great weed fishing stick. For those who troll using in-line boards to spread out lines, a somewhat stiffer action rod will be required to handle the weight of the planer board.
Fishing the weeds with spinner rigs is a game that requires a lot of bait management. Not only will weeds frequently strip the nightcrawler from the hook, non-target species like yellow perch, rock bass and sheepshead are not shy about nibbling away on the worm.
The only way to manage this problem is to check the line often to insure the bait is in good shape. The second a non-target fish nips off the tail of the nightcrawler, it’s time to rebait.
After market items such as the Off Shore Tackle Tattle Flag articulating planer board flag kits, help detect when your rig is getting robbed by a panfish or small walleye. These spring loaded flag kits allow the flag to fold down when a fish (even small fish) grabs the bait.
WHERE IT HAPPENS
Walleye can be found using the weeds in natural lakes, rivers, the Great Lakes and even in impoundments. One of the most noteworthy weed fisheries in the Great Lakes region is Lake St. Clair. This shallow and fertile body of water is crawling with walleye that spend much of their lives living and feeding in the salad.
Lake St. Clair is designated as a Great Lakes Connecting Waterway because it connects Lake Huron to Lake Erie through the St. Clair and Detroit River systems.
The Lake St. Clair Walleye Association is one of the largest fishing clubs in Michigan and is dedicated to teaching others the finer points of walleye fishing. The club offers monthly membership meetings, tournaments and other fun events aimed at helping others enjoy more success at walleye fishing.
To become a member or to learn more about tactics for fishing walleye in the weeds, visit the web page lakestclairwalleyeassociation.com.