No chop? No worries. The summer walleye bite can still be super hot when the water is silky smooth
#1 DEEP WATER
As most anglers know, walleye have light-sensitive eyes and therefore avoid bright sunlight by holding in deeper water. So when the conditions are both calm and sunny, the fish will move into slightly deeper water than usual. Under wavy conditions, for example, you might catch walleye along a sandbar, submerged island or ledge in 15 to 18 feet of water. But when the water is flat and it’s sunny out, you typically need to slide out deeper into the 25-foot range at those same locations. As you move deeper, be sure to watch your sonar to locate fish and baitfish relating to the structure.
When the fish are deeper like this on calm days, one of my favourite tactics is to anchor above them and drop down a small, leech-tipped jig. The jig should have just enough weight to get the leech down to the bottom without impeding its action, letting it wiggle freely. If you don’t have leeches, tip your jigs with minnows; if the walleye keep stealing your bait, use half minnows.
There are two ways to present your bait when jigging vertically. First, you can smoothly lift and drop your offering, all while maintaining a tight line. This keeps you in full contact with your jig, and lets you set the hook the moment you feel any resistance. When maintaining a tight line like this, you can also lift then pause, suspending the jig off the bottom to trigger strikes. This presentation works well when you know there are fish directly below you.
The second jigging option is to sharply flip your jig upwards in the water column, then let it free fall. This lively presentation can attract fish from a distance. Just remember, though, that you won’t feel the bite, since walleye will often inhale your jig on the drop when it’s on slack line. That means you should always be prepared to set the hook when you start your next upswing motion.
With both techniques, hold your rod with the tip pointing downwards. This helps you detect strikes, as well as give you plenty of room to set the hook. If you find it awkward to do this while sitting, try using a raised pedestal seat or fish while standing up. When standing, I find it easier to position myself right up against the gunnel in order to get my fishing rod on the downward angle.
Also, keep in mind that not all walleye jigs are created equal. For vertical jigging, you want a long-shanked jig, with the line tie at 90-degrees from shank (above). This tie-on position helps your jig sit horizontally, which is ideal. The longer shank, the further the hook enters the fish’s mouth when it takes your bait. That in turn gives you a better hookset when you’re pulling straight up. If you find you’re still missing fish with a long-shank because they’re biting short, try adding a stinger hook.
For this deep jigging, I like to use a six-foot medium-action rod with a fast tip. The shorter rod makes it easier to fish with the tip down, while the fast tip helps detect light bites. The medium-action, meanwhile, makes for solid hooksets and provides enough back bone to pull fish straight up from the bottom.
When fishing deeper water than usual, remember that walleye are susceptible to deadly barotrauma due to the rapid pressure change. Fish caught below approximately 35 feet have a low survival rate if released, so be prepared to keep all the fish you catch—up to your limit, of course. Either that, or find a shallower spot to fish (see “Shallow water”).