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               Spring 2007 Feature Article

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Weed Walker
by Ron Anlauf

  June is definitely where itís at when it comes to good walleye fishing.   Itís a time when you can catch numbers as well as numbers of big fish.  The fact is there is usually a lot going on and you may have to sort through a number of different patterns to find the one thatís producing the most action.  

The problem is that June is a link between spring and summer and it really isnít one or the other.  In fact itís a little of both, and there is always the potential to have a variety of early and summer patterns all happening at the same time.  To sum it up; you can find active fish shallow, deep, and maybe somewhere in between.

Hot early season patterns include light lining live bait rigs over gravel and sand flats, pitching jigs to shallow rocks, or maybe trolling crankbaits across rocky bars and reefs.  Itís all good, at the right time.   As we slide into summer most of the action heads deeper, and deeper, depending on whatís available. Itís also when live bait rigging mid lake structure picks up, or maybe pulling bottom bouncers and spinners over deeper humps starts producing.   The thing is if youíre deep when the fish are shallow (or shallow when theyíre deep) you might be missing out.

One of the steadiest patterns to set up that really doesnít have a ďwrong timeĒ involves weed beds.  Weeds attract walleyes period.  And they do it because they harbor all kinds of minnows and baitfish as well as last yearís young of the year perch.  In other words; good eats.  Nice healthy green weeds are what weíre talking about and include cabbage, coontail, and even the dreaded Eurasian milfoil.  From early on if the weeds are up they have the potential to produce and they do it whether itís windy or calm, sunny or cloudy.   

How you approach them can change though, and will depend on the conditions.  If itís windy enough and the weed line is deep enough you can try trolling along and into the deep edge with a live bait rig.  Wind and wave action will help hide your presence and reduce the spooking factor.  Another big help is a powerful electric motor like the MinnKota Vantage, which is absolutely amazing.  With itís 3X steering you can move your boat backwards, forwards, and even sideways with a short stroke of the control handle.   

What that means is you now have complete control of your boat and can stay on a dime and if you can control your boat you can control where you put your bait.  Instead of using the standard sinker you might try replacing it with the new Sling-Shot from Northland Tackle which will slide through the weeds easier.  The Sling-Shot has a bullet shape and an adjustable rubber sling center which will allow you to quickly change weights or snell length with a simple twist.  Itís designed for bass fishing but works great especially when walleyes forget theyíre walleyes and try to hide out in the weeds.  

If itís calm you might try and stay off the edge of the weeds and cast to them with a jig head tipped with a minnow or a crawler, or maybe one of the new plastic swim baits like the Slurpies Swim Shiner.  Weed walleyes can be plenty aggressive and more than willing to gobble up a sweet looking and tasting plastic bait.   Pitching jigs to a weed edge is about as pure as it gets and is all about feel, which makes it so much fun.  It also takes a lot of concentration and paying attention to your line, which can reveal the sometimes delicate bite of a walleye.  About all you might see is a slight twitch of your line on the surface and if youíre not on your toes your bait could get rejected before you ever know what happened.  If you see the twitch, or if your line starts moving off to the side, or you actually feel the hit, reel down and set the hook.  If youíre missing fish try waiting just a little longer before making the set. 

Another option if itís windy or calm, is using a slip bobber and live bait approach especially if you run across a point, pocket, or anything that might help to concentrate fish.   A slip bobber can suspend your bait and keep it in the perfect position which makes it an extremely efficient technique.   A jig head tipped with a leech or crawler and suspended right smack in the face of a bunch of hungry Ďeyes might be more than they can take.  Longer rods like the St.Croix Slip Stick model TWS80MLF make it easier to cast live bait and keep in on the hook, take up more line on the set, and provide plenty of fish fighting power.  Better yet the Slip Stick is telescopic making it much easier to find places to store the eight foot rod. 

If you have the time and the equipment it wouldnít hurt to make an investigative run with an underwater camera like the VS560 from Marcum.  The VS560 has a camera that rotates 360 degrees in its housing and can give you an all around look instead of just straight ahead.  A camera will give you a fish eye view and youíll see weeds, rocks, where there are rocks in the weeds, baitfish and minnows, and yes; even walleyes.   

Even if there are deep fish to be had the weed bite can be the best thing going.  They just need you to be there with what they want, when they want it.  See you on the water.   

  We've all been there. Cabin fever syndrome ... staring at the walls crazy. We want to go fishing ... but we haven't been able to ... until now! The time to start is here, so let's get you started off on the right foot by giving you a "spring-through-early summer" run-down of the hottest locations, and latest techniques with the best tackle choices for the new year.

 Rivers can be the ticket in spring. Fish location is a real key, with walleyes concentrating close to shore, during high current conditions near swirling back eddies and slack water refuges. In years of slow or moderate current flows the fish will relate to the deeper main channel edges. Boat control is the most critical part of a precise presentation needed to fool these current orientated walleyes. It's desirable to match your boat speed to the exact speed of the current by using a bursting technique to compensate for winds and bottom contour changes. Minn Kota's Genesis bow mount electric motor, with 74 lbs. of thrust, makes this type of river fishing a breeze, even with the largest of fishing rigs. Vertical jigging techniques rule during this cold water time frame and arming oneself with the ideal weaponry to do battle with these lethargic post winter fish is a must. A Walleye Angler Signature Series jigging rod, a handful of Northland Tackle's Buck-Shot Rattle Jigs, some Berkley Power Jig Worms, minnows, stinger hooks and premium 6 lb. FireLine or Trilene Premium Strength mono will be the right stuff to win a few walleye wars.

Another fantastic spring area is the shallows of both rivers and lakes. Spawning areas are particularly productive as both males and females relate to the gravel and stone substrate. Pitching 1/16 to 1/8 oz. FireBall Jigs along these rock studded shorelines should prove to be a satisfying fishing experience. Walleyes won't be the only thin water victims as many bass, sunfish, and catfish go shallow this time of year. Sometimes our favorite fish likes to spend time hanging around flooded timber and such. Use the same jig pitching technique but vary the jig style to a hook guarded Northland Weed Weasel. Throw the jig quite close to shore, and retrieve with a lift, pause, lift, pause type of stroke. Beginners and novices who have not yet garnered the experience to positively identify a soft bite or that have a rod that is not an expensive high-tech graphite model will have much more luck with using no-stretch FireLine. For those experienced, lightning fast reflex guys and gals, Trilene Premium Strength mono will be your choice so as not to repeatedly pull the hook out during your hard positive hookset.

As spring rolls to summer, walleyes normally move deeper (10-15 feet) to the breakline edges, down the slope and sometimes even to the bottom edges. Offshore humps and long shoreline finger points dumping to deep water all hold fish. One of the simplest, most deadly methods for early summer walleyes is the Rock-Runner Bottom Bouncer. Bouncers of the 1/4 to 1/2 oz range coupled with a 7 foot snell, bare hook and live bait, slow trolled with an electric motor can literally fill the boat on certain days.

 Another great method for these mid-depth breakline orientated fish, especially if they seem to be scattered along the break, would be crankbaits. Using a Mercury 4-stroke kicker (9.9 -15 hp) outboard to troll ultra-slow, maintaining a constant depth is called contour cranking and can be devastatingly effective. Normally this will be a numbers game, in effect, trolling crankbaits such as Storm DTS09 Deep ThunderSticks and Rapala #7 Shad Raps past hundreds of fish to get one bite. Surprisingly there are times that walleyes will congregate on a reef by the thousands making for a quick limit even when bucking the numbers odds. During contour cranking you are concentrating on a fairly narrow fishing zone, "along the break", so make the lure spread with 3 rods. Two 8 foot 6 inch trollers out the side, in the rod holders and a 7 foot 6 inch hand held version directed behind the boat (check local regulations for number of rods allowed per angler).

Trolling is an awesome early summer tactic, but let's switch to another location. Shallow flats. By definition, these areas will be relatively structure free, but as far as overall lake depth is concerned, definitely not in the deepest part. For instance, in natural lakes a good flat might be from 8-10 feet deep while in Lake Erie we may be talking 30-40 feet. The first overlooked trolling technique is using the same rod setup discussed earlier but adding a fourth 7 foot 6 inch troller. Lines will be spread using Offshore Planer boards and on natural lakes bottom bouncers with Northland 3-D Rainbow Spinners baited with crawlers. When the water is clear, choose blades that are shiny and emit a lot of flash.

Deeper Great Lakes flats will often find the walleyes suspended, making the use of open water type spinners imperative. These spinners are still baited with crawlers but sport treble hooks instead of singles for better hooking power. Suspended walleyes feed in an upward direction which means replacing bottom bouncers with Off Shore Snap Weights. When the fish are close to bottom use a 10 foot lead on a Open Water Spinner, attach the Snap Weight and drop the offering just above the depth finder's "hooks" you're marking. If they are suspended higher in the water column, make the lead longer (50-100 feet- depending on water clarity) before attaching the Snap Weight.

Whenever the fish are setup on flats it's very important to locate them electronically. Usually there are no structural marking points, so schools of walleyes must be found and marked by using a combination of sonar and GPS. Units like Lowrance's LCX-15MT, that combine sonar and GPS in one unit, are great for this. Cruise the proposed fishing area with sonar, marking likely looking areas with GPS icons, but use a non fish symbol to mark the potential school. Once the area is scoped out, go back and fish in the vicinity of the icons. When you catch a walleye, drop a fish icon, and work the area thoroughly, dropping more fish icons for each walleye caught. This way a school location will become quickly apparent.

The last early summer technique is the probing of these same open water flats with planner boards and crankbaits. As the water warms to 50 degrees and above, walleyes will turn to cranks. Subtle action baits like ThunderSticks and Rapala Husky Jerks work well in cold temps and moderate action baits like Shad Raps or the new ThunderCranks take over when water is on the warm. In clear water use chromes and natural colors. Dingy water dictates FireTiger or other bright colors.

We think that you'll find the summary of spring and early summer techniques and locations helpful this year. Fishing season is almost upon us, so sharpen those hooks, and spool up some fresh line ... cabin fever can't last much longer!