by John Kolinski
For many anglers, summertime walleye fishing is bad
The species we love to pursue for most of the year
has changed locations and feeding patterns. Walleyes become
as difficult to catch as reliable stocks and bonds. It's a
time of year when our investments are seldom justified by
Simply put, it's a recession, and it grips many of the
lakes and rivers where we enjoy productive angling during
the spring and fall months. So, most anglers go into walleye
shutdown, suspending operations until the economic climate
There are alternatives. With a little bit of strategic
planning and a reallocation of your angling investment
dollars, you can continue to profit while your peers are
grumbling about their losses.
Phase I - Establishing goals
Developing a sound summer strategy begins in the office.
First of all, you need to determine the who, when, where,
what, why and how much of your plan. Determine a budget and
shape your trip around it.Most of us will be traveling to
put this plan into action, so we may want to tie it into a
family vacation. Better yet, make it a multiple family trip
to further reduce costs.
That, in turn, will help you choose a destination.
Because of summer walleye migrations and behavior patterns,
the most productive and consistent summer waters are major
reservoirs and the Great Lakes that feature tremendous fish
populations and the opportunity to catch a few trophy
If the wild West is something that interests you,
consider Fort Peck in Montana. If you are looking to get
away from it all, North Dakota's Sakakawea or Devil's Lake
might fit your needs. If that's a little farther than you
wish to travel, there is plenty to do in South Dakota not
far from the Missouri River reservoir system and lakes like
Oahe, Sharpe or Francis Case, although those bodies of water
aren't known for kicking out many double-digit walleyes.
The top summer Great Lakes destinations tend to be closer
to major metropolitan areas with amenities like theme parks,
professional sports and shopping malls. Green Bay in
Wisconsin is one of the hottest walleye fisheries in the
country these days. Saginaw Bay and the Bays de Noc in
Michigan are superb locations. And it's hard to beat Lake
Erie anywhere from Ohio to New York.
Once you've settled on a location that is agreeable to
all involved, organize your resources. Designate a couple of
individuals to develop the entertainment agenda. Put
somebody in charge of accommodations and meal-planning.
Brainstorm the fishing intinery. How many people want to
fish? How many boats and how much gear will be needed?
Phase II - Research
Unless you live near one of the country's major
reservoirs or top Great Lakes destinations and fish them
frequently, you will be well-served by doing as much advance
scouting as possible.
Things don't change that much from year to year when it
comes to summertime walleyes on big water. Their behavior is
fairly predictable, as are approximate locations and
On the Great Lakes, you will typically be fishing for
suspended walleyes that have migrated to deep, cool water
and formed massive schools. In reservoirs, you can expect to
find the fish concentrated near major points and transition
areas in the deepest sections.
In both cases, seasonal migrations are dictated by the
availability of forage. And because walleyes have a
significantly increased metabolism during the warm-weather
months, they prefer larger, high-protein meals like smelt
and alewife that can be found in massive schools in the
Old magazine or newspapers articles or tournament reports
from the approximate period you will be at a particular site
can be a good starting point. Learn what you can about what
has worked and where it has worked in previous years.
As your trip gets closer, the internet becomes a valuable
source of information. Today's anglers and guides provide a
wealth of information with reports that are timely, if not
always current. Keep in mind that the majority of reports
are usually posted on Mondays after a weekend on the water.
They may be a week old by the time you read them or are in
position to put the information to use, but things won't
change much this time of year.
A few phone calls will help complete your research.
Network with friends or contacts you might have in the
area you plan to visit. If those connections don't exist,
aren't available or can't provide any current info, contact
local bait shops or resort owners. They want your business
now, and they also want it in the future so they are
best-served by providing the most accurate and detailed
information they can.
Ask where the concentrations of fish can currently be
found, what water temperatures to seek out, what depths to
fish, what baits to use and where to find the boat ramps
closest to the hot fishing.
When you get into town, visit local bait and tackle shops
for information that is even more up-to-date, and check out
any photos on the counter or bulletin board that might
provide clues about what kind of fish have been caught the
last two or three days.
Some of the best information can be had at local launch
facilities. Talk to anglers coming off the water. If there's
a fish-cleaning station, check it out to see what's being
prepared for the frying pan or freezer. Poke around the
entrails of a walleye carcass and you can also learn what
the fish are eating.
Phase III - Putting your plan into action
By now, you know approximately where you will fish and
what you will use.
Before you launch, evaluate recent weather patterns and
consider current conditions like wind direction and cloud
cover that might require adjustments in location and
Visit your original target locations and put your
electronics to work. Those open-water Great Lakes fish are
usually easy to see on sonar. Reservoir fish relating to
main lake points can be a little more difficult to pin down
because they can be almost anywhere on or off that
In either case, a high-quality sonar unit will make you a
more efficient and productive angler. I want all the detail,
contours and substrate feedback I can get, in addition to
GPS functions. It's hard to beat Humminbird's 1197 series,
several of which also feature a 10.4-inch color display,
preloaded Navionics mapping and side-imaging sonar that
takes scouting to a whole new level by showing me not only
the fish beneath my boat, but those off to the sides, as
Your presentation will depend on what your sonar tells
First of all, don't start fishing until you mark fish. If
they aren't where you expected them to be, chances are they
won't be far away. Look for slight changes in the immediate
area, such as water clarity, cups in contour lines, subtle
changes in depth, humps or bumps on the bottom, variances in
water temperature, scum lines that attract and hold both
aquatic insects and baitfish or transitions where sand might
turn to gravel or mud changes to boulders.
Look for other anglers, too. Nearly every reservoir and
Great Lake has a significant number of walleye fishing
enthusiasts, as well as guides and charter captains. Keep an
eye out for concentrations of boats that can tell you
exactly where the schools of fish are holding.
When you are satisfied that there are walleyes in the
area, pick a presentation that puts your baits in the strike
zone. Because a walleye's eyes are located on the top of its
head and it usually rises to attack its prey, always target
the zone just above the fish your sonar is showing.
If the fish are suspended over open water, try trolling
large, 5- to 6-inch long crankbaits like No. 11 or No. 13
Normark Husky Jerks or Rapala Tail Dancers that have
profiles and wobbles resembling alewife or smelt. Start with
bright colors or metallic finishes on bright days and more
subdued hues (blues, purples) or natural patterns on
overcast outings. Make any necessary depth adjustments by
using snap weights or in-line sinkers, and get your lures
away from the boat with Off-Shore planer boards.
Fish that are on or near the bottom may call for a
bottom-bouncer set-up, a live-bait rig or crankbaits trolled
on lead-core line, depending on the depth and the size of
the school. If they are tightly schooled, a live-bait
approach and short drifts or trolls will keep you in the
zone. Nightcrawlers and leeches fished on a six- to
eight-foot leader behind a bottom-bouncer is a good way to
stay on the fish in choppy, deep water. A Lindy rig might be
a better way to go in calmer conditions when you don't have
to get your bait quite as deep.
When possible, I like to drift-fish my live-bait
presentations or slow-troll with my MinnKota Terrova
bow-mount. Sometimes, I use the MinnKota for direction and a
drift sock to keep my speed under 1 mph.
If you have multiple anglers in the boat, those in front
should use heavier weights and keep their rigs under the
boat while those in back deploy lighter weights and let out
more line to avoid tangles.
If your target area covers a wider swath, trolling
crankbaits or spinner rigs becomes an option.
Phase IV - Getting results
By now, you should be sampling the underwater market and
earning dividends on your investment.
The next step is making adjustments to improve your
While you were putting your plan into action, you should
have experimented with slight variations in depth. Once
you've found the most productive number, make sure all your
lines are working that zone. Duplicate the amount of line
you have out, weights, bait sizes and color patterns if
you're fishing crankbaits or spinners. If one side of the
boat is outfishing the other, consider moving additional
lines to that side because wind, wave action and underwater
currents can often make one side fish differently than the
If you aren't catching any large fish, it's possible that
you need to diversify. There are several tricks you can try
to add some heavyweights to your catch.
First, try moving to the outer perimeter of the area away
from the concentration of boats. Second, put a bait or two
just under the surface or all the way to the bottom to see
if that's where the piggies are holding. Finally, experiment
with longer leader lengths. Instead of six feet between an
in-line sinker and a spinner rig or crankbait or a six-foot
snell behind a bottom-bouncer or rigging sinker, see if a
10- or 12-foot lead puts more trophy fish in the boat.
Lastly, look to expand your territory. That can be as
simple as moving away from the crowd, it can also mean
taking note of the factors present in an area known to hold
fish (depth, water clarity, water temperature, etc.) and
looking for similar areas. Navionics Gold maps can help you
identify areas with similar depth and contour.
However, one thing probably won't change. If there aren't
baitfish present, there probably won't be large numbers of
walleyes present, either.
Summer doesn't have to mean suspending your walleye-fishing
Basically, walleyes have their own business to take care
of. It's about mergers of small companies of fish and
hostile takeovers of baitfish entities. Go where the
greatest populations exist and develop a solid strategic
You just might enjoy profits like never before.
Editor's note: John Kolinski is the 2002 Professional
Walleye Trail Angler of the Year, the 2003 Illinois River
RCL winner and a 18-time championship qualifier. He is the
only angler to fish the PWT and B.A.S.S. at the same time.
His articles can be read in numerous Midwestern outdoor
publications and at several web sites. Kolinski is sponsored
by Triton Boats, Mercury Motors, Humminbird Electronics,
Yo-Zuri fishing line, Normark/Storm Lures, MinnKota, Lindy
Legendary Tackle, Uncle Josh, Tempress Rod Holders,
Off-Shore Planer Boards, Optima Batteries and Zebco/Quantum
rods and reels.