Cool tactics for hot western walleye action—all summer long
Troll the bottom
During summer in many western walleye waters, the fish will move from their spring haunts in eight to 15 feet of water into 20 to 30 feet of water. Typically, they’ll relate to deep structure, such as sunken islands, old river channels, deep tips of long-running sandbars and drop-offs between shallow and deep water. Often, these areas won’t be too far from where the walleye were found at the end of the early-season bite.
One of the best ways to cover water and locate these fish is to troll a bottom bouncer and spinner rig (below). The spinner should be equipped with a size 4 to 7 Colorado blade and tipped with a nightcrawler or leech. Over the years, I’ve found that a trollingspeed of between 1.2 and 1.5 mph works best for this presentation.
Another option when trolling deeper water is to drop your speed to between 0.5 and 1 mph, and use a bottom bouncer with a 36-inch slow-death rig. Thread a nightcrawler along the slow-death hook and over the knot, then pinch it off so only a quarter-inch of the worm extends past the bend of the hook. This creates a wide spinning motion that triggers walleye to bite. (To see the author's tips on making your own spinner rigs, see "Spin Doctoring.")
If you like to dress up your slow-death rig with beads or spinners for added flash, be sure to use only a few beads and a small willow or Colorado blade. This will ensure the presentation continues to spin easily at slow speeds. And don’t set the hook the moment the walleye takes the offering. When you detect a bite, aim your rod tip back toward the fish instead, and give the fish a couple of seconds to inhale the offering. Then, gently set the hook with a long sweeping motion.
Jig down deep
Vertical jigging is another great method for targeting deep-water summer walleye. For years, the common practice was to anchor above structure and entice the fish to bite a lead-head jig tipped with a minnow. In the recent years, however, anglers have been putting a new twist on vertical jigging by drifting over structure and ripping a size 7 or 9 Rapala Jigging Rap (above) or large jigging spoon, such as a ¾-ounce PK Lures Flutter Fish (below).
Live-bait rigging is another time-honoured tactic for catching summer walleye down deep. I like a single size 6 or 8 octopus hook, tipped with a leech, crawler or minnow, on a long leader (or snell) behind a walking weight. To better detect strikes, try keeping the weight directly below the boat so the line remains vertical, rather than behind the boat at a 45-degree angle.
Walleye caught in deep water and battled to the surface often end up with bulging eyes and swollen swim bladders, indicating they’re suffering from barotrauma. If you’re keeping the fish, this is fine. But if you’re practising catch-and-release, a fish in this condition likely won’t survive if you just drop it back in the water. Instead, it’s important to use a descending device—an inverted barbless hook with a weight—to lower the fish to the same depth at which it was caught before releasing it.
Work the weeds
Summertime walleye can also be found in weedbeds, which insulate the lake bottom from the beating sun, providing both shade and cooler water. As well, weeds are prime hiding locations for walleye to ambush unsuspecting prey. Look for weedbeds adjacent to deep water, rising up about two-thirds of the way from the bottom of the lake. Also look for weedbeds comprising thinner clumps of plants with openings among them. These are much more productive than thick, heavy, overgrown masses of weeds.
To effectively fish a weedbed, troll a crankbait at about 2 mph just above the tops of the weeds or tight to the bed’s outer edge. Be sure to use a lure that matches the local forage fish, whether it’s perch, shiners or ciscoes. My favourite cranks for this include Rapala Shad Raps, Berkley Flicker Shads (below) and Bagley Rumble Bs. And hold on tight—the walleye will dart out and aggressively whack your offering.
Another approach for fishing the weeds is to suspend a live leech or minnow—where legal, of course—under a slip bobber. Position the rig so the bait dangles just above the weeds or in the open pockets between them. Then wait and let the leech or minnow do its work, drawing the walleye out of the weeds. When the bobber goes down, instantly set the hook and quickly retrieve so the fish doesn’t go back into the weeds and possibly break off. Ditto if the bobber falls on its side, indicating the fish is swimming upward with the bait in its mouth.
Target suspended fish
Another place to find walleye during the summer is suspended at mid-lake depths. Typically, they’ll suspend in relation to the thermocline, that narrow transition band between warmer water above and colder water below. In fact, walleye will stage right in the thermocline and feed in both its upper edge and in the warm water area slightly above it.
To target these fish, cruise deep areas of the lake while watching your electronics. Once you spot suspended fish, break out some crankbaits and troll just above where the fish are holding. Set the appropriate running depth of your crankbaits by adjusting the amount of line you put out, or by adding weights. To determine the right amount of line, I use the dive curve data in Precision Trolling: The Troller’s Bible (now also available as a smartphone app).
Try pulling the crankbaits at 1½ to 2 mph. If that doesn’t work, experiment with trolling speeds of up to 3 mph, as faster-moving baits sometimes trigger suspended walleye.
Follow the baitfish
Each summer, a couple of unique and surprising walleye patterns develop in the places where people play. Sandy beaches are prime locations, attracting minnows as well as people. And when the minnows arrive on the scene, the walleye aren’t far behind. Running small crankbaits or spinner rigs with minnows over such areas can produce some nice hot-weather walleye.
Avoid fishing beaches during the day when swimmers are present. It’s usually safe, however, to fish these areas early or late in the day, or when it’s rainy or overcast and beachgoers typically stay home. If there are similar sandy areas on the lake that don’t host swimmers, those can be hot at any time of the day.
Believe it or not, another summer fishing location for walleye is in the wake zone created by recreational boaters pulling people on tubes and kneeboards (above). Such areas are especially productive if the waves crash into a nearby shoreline or an exposed sandbar. This stirs up the water, similar to what happens on a windy day, triggering walleye to move into the haze to feed.
Although the action can be hot and heavy, just be aware that wake zones can also be frustrating to fish. Boat control may be an issue, with the pounding, irregular waves bouncing you around all day and making it difficult to stay in position. And for some, the sounds of roaring boat engines, kids screaming and music blaring can be hard on the nerves. But to me, the action you’ll find beneath the waves makes it all worthwhile.
Saskatchewan contributor Mike Hungle will fish for walleye in any weather.