June 15, 2015 Share

Walleyes No One Else Can Catch

Two factors greatly impact walleye fishing success, yet most walleye anglers don’t even consider them.

The first is fishing pressure and it is more intense than anglers realize. Consider Minnesota’s famed Mille Lacs: last year alone anglers invested 3.05 million hours of fishing effort on this 128,000-acre lake. Given that today’s anglers are the most knowledgeable, best equipped ever, the impact of this much pressure can’t be ignored. Heavy pressure pushes walleye off classic structure. Thus, many “secondary” spots have become new “A list” fish-catching locations.

Secondly, lakes across the walleye belt are aging. Their fertility levels are increasing. In some lakes there isn’t enough light penetration to support weed growth beyond 7-8 feet of water depth, driving fish like this walleyes into the weeds. Likewise, expansive areas of vegetation draw biodiversity—from micro-invertebrates to baitfish and young-of-the-year—which draw in walleyes. Drop an underwater camera and the number of walleyes in the jungle is surprising.

“When you take a step back and look at the big picture,” said long-time Yamaha pro and ‘Lake Commandos’ television host Steve Pennaz, “it makes perfect sense why we should be spending more time targeting walleyes in weeds. Walleyes love structure, but they’re also an adaptive animal that utilize weeds often to feed and rest.

So why do so few anglers chase weed walleyes? Pennaz believes that many still cling to walleyes lore dating back 50 years or more.

“When you revisit the 1960s,” said Pennaz, “two advancements changed walleye fishing forever. The first was sonar. It seems silly today that a dial and flashing light could be considered revolutionary, but at that time the flasher was magical. For anglers, it opened vast new areas of unexplored water.

“The second revolution was the development of spinning tackle that performed well with monofilament. For a generation of anglers forced to rely on heavy black Dacron braid it was a massive move forward. Millions of Mitchell 300 spinning reels were sold and anglers filled them with monofilament lines madeby tackle pioneers like Berkley Bedell.

“Top walleye anglers of the day used these new tools to make amazing catches, typically using light lines, small hooks and live bait. Unfortunately, there are still anglers today who believe the only way to catch walleyes is by using finesse rigs and live bait. It wasn’t true then and it’s not true today. In fact, artificial lures routinely out fish live bait for walleyes, which is great because artificials make catching weed-loving walleyes easier,“ said Pennaz.

Walleyes & Salad

Walleyes are not ambush feeders like bass so they prefer sparser areas of weed growth or weed edges. Summer/early fall fish are active so fishing larger is effective. Both cranks and spinner rigs work well when trolled along the deep weed edge.

“Trolling weed edges is tough to be in late summer/early fall…if you can avoid pesky panfish,” said Pennaz. “Live baits like leeches and crawlers are usually mauled in short order making it difficult to keep your presentation in the strike zone.

berkley powerbait rib worm“Several years ago I made the switch from live crawlers to Gulp! worms when fishing a weed edge with abottom bouncer/spinner rig and have been thrilled by the results, said Pennaz. “The bait is tough enough to withstand panfish attacks and walleyes love ‘em. My favorite is the 4-inch model; its subtlepaddle tail swims realistically even at slow speeds.”

Jig worms are also deadly on weed walleyes.

“Several years ago a bass fishing friend told me about all the walleyes he was catching on jig worms when targeting weed line bass,” he said. “At first I thought he was joking, but it soon became clear he wasn’t.

“I typically fish a 4- to 6-inch worm on an 1/8 or ¼-ounce mushroom head jig. Long casts parallel to the weed line are best. In most waters, this technique produces both walleye and bass,” said Pennaz.

In early spring, shallow flats hold a lot of walleyes, particularly when located near prime spawning areas.

Light jigs in the 1/16- to 1/8-ounce range are ideal, particularly when paired with a durable soft bait. A swimming grub is tough to beat on windy days, and when more finesse is required, Pennaz recommends switching to more natural presentations like a 3- or 4-inch Berkley Power Minnow, Gulp! Minnow or Twitchtail Minnow fished bare.

“If you absolutely must fish live bait for confidence reasons,” said Pennaz, “ tip the jig with an inch-long piece of nightcrawler.”

Target flats in the 2-6-foot range and cover a ton of water as the fish are typically scattered.

Shallow-running cranks are also deadly. The best walleye cranks cast well on spinning gear and have a tight wobble when compared to bass cranks. Pennaz’s favorite crankbait is the #5 Flicker Shad in black/gold; he’ll upsize to a #7 when fishing deeper. In both cases he throws the cranks on 8-pound Berkley Nanofil for maximum casting distance. Not only that, he says Nanofil telegraphs exactly how the bait is running.

As summer approaches, walleyes move to mid-depth weeds; 4-8 feet is typical in highly stained waters, 8-15 feet in clear