Someday at Mary I’d love to teach a class entitled “Advanced Walleye Tactics.” Maybe four credits–three in class, and an hour of lab, as it were. We’d name the lab “Applied crankbaits.” Or better maybe to make it a practicum, and just go fishing every day. If the good folks at Wyoming Catholic College spend so much time horseback riding…
The conventional wisdom holds that the late summer is a slow time for angling for God’s most perfect fish, Sander vitreus, the walleye. But the conventional wisdom here is wrong. Like every other creature, walleyes react to environmental conditions while still needing to eat. Indeed, walleyes wish to eat now somewhat more because the rising water temperatures accelerate their metabolism. Might as well be your bait.
So as in all things it’s a matter of using the right tool for the task and conditions. Some ideas:
Crank it up. Conventional walleye doctrine holds that walleyes are a lazy fish, and so trolling very slow on the bottom with a spinner harness presenting a crawler or leech–especially during the dog days of summer–is the only way to entice some sluggish walleye to possibly bite on one’s rig. But as we used to say in football, speed kills: instead of slowing down, pick up the pace and troll faster, which allows you to cover more territory and encounter more fish.
Crank it up. If you’re going to crank up the speed, use crankbaits, which must be trolled at a higher speed than spinners. My favorites for trolling are bright deep-diving Salmos and ripsticks, while I use Rapala floaters and husky jerks from shore. And crank it big this time of year. Raps are usually bigger than Salmos, and large ripsticks are effective as well.
Go deep. My mother and I hit Lake Audubon recently. I started in 15 fow (=feet of water) and moved to 30 and found very few fish on the finder. Decided to go deeper, to 40 fow, then 50 fow, then finally at 52+ fow fish appeared plentifully. Mom got her walleye at this depth. Took forever to reel it up. Now, heavy bottom bouncers can hit this depth (although we’re close to the point where we’d need downriggers, actually), but the deepest cranks they sell in Scheels run is about 20 feet. One option: A heavy, heavy bottom bouncer with a leader running to a Rapala floater (which usually runs 2-4 feet deep), or to a floating crank with a busted tongue (so don’t throw them away!). The busted tongue will allow the crank to float up and may give the appearance of an especially “wounded minnow.”
Crank it down. Stop dead, and drop a 55′ anchor rope(!), if you have one, or use your trolling motor to maintain position, and fish straight down, with a heavy jig or lindy rig. On a couple of occasions we found the walleyes grouped in tight schools deep as they will sometimes do in the summer heat.
Search higher. Sometimes, for whatever reason, walleyes will suspend well off the lake bed in deep water. You might try, for instance, pulling cranks running 20 feet deep in 50 fow, or spinners at the same depth, or lindy rigging or jigging at that depth.
Back to baitfish. Try a spinner and a minnow.
Lively bait. Make sure to keep your minnows, crawlers, and leeches stored properly in the boat so that they’re living and active.
Use single-hook rigs. Walleyes are often headhunters, so use a single hook rig with a minnow, crawler, or leech (But I’ve caught too many fish on trailing hooks and stinger hooks to see this as an iron law.)
Tip your cranks. Bits of worm, or small artificial baits — jig skirts, or Gulp! fish fry or tiny minnows. Just make sure to put any tips on the hooks that hang straight down so your crank runs straight.
Fish a small lake. Easier to find fish this way.
Change it up. Although fishing is an exercise in prudence and patience, the definition of insanity is doing something the same way again and again and expecting a different result. Give a technique or area 15 to 20 minutes, and if nothing hits, either change presentation or change locations. The difficulty is that you might change just before you would have got a strike. This is where prudence and patience come in, and the only way to know what to do is good instinct born of experience. Last year at the Garrison Dam Tailrace I fished a spot for about an hour and got nothing. Moved ten meters, and a guy who looked like he knew what he was doing — camo, headlamp, waders, scruffy beard, in short, RoboFisherman — stepped up, cast, and hauled in a six-pound fish.
Read this. Walleye Wisdom: An In-Fisherman Handbook of Strategies. This shall be your enchiridion (a fancy Greek word for “handbook”; that’s what you get when PhDs in the humanities write walleye advice).
Give up. All the above is good advice that works. Nevertheless, it still seems harder to produce fish this time of year. In fact, that walleye mom hooked in 50 fow was our only walleye of the day, and may have been our only bite of the day. This can be a great time of year to get home projects done and prepare for the onslaught that is school, before hitting the fall walleyes hard in September and later.