Try these deadly, but little-known tactics for prairie lakes, Shield lakes and rivers
Year-after-year, walleye are the most sought-after fish in Canada. Handsome, gregarious, relatively prolific and widely distributed in lakes, rivers and reservoirs across the country, they grow quickly and, of course, taste great no matter how you prepare them.
But because walleye are found in so many places, you need to understand the type of walleye water you’re fishing, then adapt your seasonal presentations accordingly in order to consistently catch fish. With that in mind, here are some deadly, yet overlooked summertime tricks for the main types of walleye waters across the land.
During summer, you’ll often find the most and biggest walleye just off the sandy beaches on flat, prairie-type lakes—yet almost no one fishes these areas. That’s largely because you first need at least three or four days of hot, sunny weather and flat-as-a-pancake water.But when that happens, the warm, sandy micro-habitat blooms with zooplankton, attracting schools of pre-spawn emerald shiners that, in turn, lure in the walleye.
And the longer the weather remains hot, calm and stable, the more schools of shark-like walleye you’ll find foraging in waist-deep water, even in the middle of the day—if the water is slightly dingy or stained. If the water’s crystal clear, on the other hand, early morning and late evening make for better results.
Casting crankbaits and ripping jerkbaits will produce arm-wrenching strikes, but keep your distance from the fish so you don’t spook them out of the shallows.Trolling with planer boards is another totally overlooked option that allows you to keep the boat out in deep water while your crankbait, jerkbait or spoon strains the walleye-rich sandy beach area.
Walleye in Shield lakes vacate their spawning grounds much faster than most anglers realize. This is especially the case with the bigger females as they conserve body weight, devote energy to egg development and feast on the prized fatty forage fish out in the main lake.
That’s why I keep close tabs on the local weather conditions from mid-June to early September, watching for stretches—the longer the better—of stifling hot and humid weather. Throw in a strong, gusty wind and you’ll find me running my waypoint list of main-lake hard-bottomed structures that lie right its path.
Long underwater points are good, but jagged rock reefs just breaking the surface are best—the resulting whitecaps shatter the surface tension and dial down the light. This draws schools of shadow-loving walleye to feed on schools of baitfish gorging on plankton, as well as hordes of crayfish enticed out of crevices by the dim conditions.
Under this scenario, you’ll be rewarded with some of the most frantic walleye action you’ve ever experienced, even during the middle of the day and even if you were catching fish by trolling in much deeper, calmer water only a day or two before. Some years, such conducive conditions come together almost weekly. In other years, however, they can be infrequent, so be vigilant—you want to be on the water when all heck breaks loose.
In terms of your presentation, there’s nothing finesse about it—this is slam-bam fishing. Either a medium-heavy-action spinning or medium-action baitcasting rod and a reel spooled with 12- to 17-pound-test braid will do the trick. The lures of choice include jerkbaits (X-Raps, Husky Jerks, Thundersticks and Lucky Craft Pointer Minnows), crankbaits (Shad Raps, Wiggle Warts and Arashi Shad) and five- and six-inch soft-plastic swimbaits (Bass Magnet Shift’R Shads, X-Zone Swammers and Berkley Hollow Belly Swimbaits). Attach the swimbaits to half- and 3/4-ounce long-shank jig heads or Freedom Tackle Hydra heads.
Cast into the skinny water over the structure—the walleye will be so shallow you’ll wonder how their dorsal fins remain below the surface—and just try to swim your lure back to your boat without getting bit.
When was the last time you vertically jigged a spoon for walleye in a river? It’s been so long you can’t remember? Big mistake. Any time you find the fish—usually relating to a structure that is breaking the flow in 15 feet of water or deeper—you’ve found the ideal spot to rip-jig a spoon.
For this technique, a good sonar unit and powerful electric trolling motor are essential. Based on the speed of the current, walleye will bunch up in select eddies and behind breaks, but they won’t move far from the zone to strike your lure. So you need your sonar and electric motor to stay positioned close to the fish at all times.
With the bow of your boat pointed into the current, cast your spoon—my favourite is a 3/4- to one-ounce Fergie Spoon (above)—upstream 10 to 20 feet, depending on the current speed, so it returns to the vertical position as it falls. If you don’t get a strike as soon as the lure touches the bottom, sweep your rod tip up, from just above the water to about shoulder height. Pause for a second or two, then drop the rod tip back down.
While you’re doing this, let the boat slip downstream with the current so that you keep your line as straight up-and-down as possible. You’ll catch 99 per cent of the fish as the spoon falls, and they’ll whack it like a ton of bricks.A shorter, 5½- to 6½-foot long medium-action baitcasting rod, paired with a reel spooled with 15- to 20-pound-test monofilament line (the slight stretch is beneficial), is perfect for taming the combination of heavy hardware, swift current and big walleye.