September 24, 2010
Before the curtain comes down on your walleye water this winter, try these jigging and rigging tactics for November's deep-water walleyes.
For all practical purposes, it's winter. The lakes are fully staged for the close of the coffin that seals them until spring. Meanwhile, back behind the beached docks and idle swimming platforms, a cabin glows warm with crisp, dry oak and a dim yellow reading lamp welcomes winter's first good read. Not a bad way to wait out first ice, assuming you've already patched the mouse holes in the fish house and greased the tip-ups.
So, you wait with the patience of a saint for the lakes to harden. Summer won't have it, though. It bounces back with fury. Days stay in the 50s, while nights barely see freezing. You're officially second-guessing yourself about shelving the boat.
I happen to know one decorated angler who refuses to winterize his boat until the stockings are hung by the chimney with care. Scott Glorvigen doesn't say "uncle" until there's a skim coat of ice on the deepest and clearest lakes in the neighborhood.
"They're the last to freeze," said the veteran walleye pro. "On top of that, the walleyes on big, clear, natural lakes continue biting right through the fall."
It's post-turnover. The rigid stratification of water temperatures and oxygen levels has been broken. Ten feet of water looks and feels much like 50 feet of water. A layer of warmer water forms along the basin, though, made that way as surface temperatures continue downward. As the surface layers continue cooling, that band of warmer, oxygenated water becomes more attractive to walleyes, as long as prey is available.
To find fish, however, an angler needs more to go on. There might be tens of thousands of surface acres blanketing deep basin areas. Fortunately, most things in nature aren't random.
These armored members of the perch family are suckers for structure. So if the bottomless basin is the place to be, they'll occupy pieces that are nearest or adjacent to structure. Glorvigen earmarks the deepest basin sections on a lake that broach significant and sheer structure.
He's shrunk the size of the lake by highlighting key deep water and structure combos, but the fine-tuning doesn't end there. Glorvigen is guided by prevailing winds, too. "There's a connection between wind direction and the currents they cause," he explains. "The winds are usually bearing down from the west, north or northwest. That mixes the water and collects baitfish on the downwind side of the lake, or the downwind side of mid-lake structures."
The blending effect moves organic matter around and puts color back in the water. The phenomenon encourages walleyes to range shallower and improves the potential for daytime feeding. Glorvigen says fish that were lumbering along the bottom in 30 or 40 feet of water might shift into the 20s or teens if the wind howls from the same direction for consecutive days.
Glorvigen continues making the lake smaller by identifying prime portions of selected structures. He seeks the steepest flanks and those with the most irregularities, be it stair-step shelves, alterations in bottom composition, rock fingers or hooks and bulges.
So, let's assume that Glorvigen rooted out the top six likely spots based on a combination of past experience and their qualifications as indicated on a map. He next boils it down to two locations influenced by what the wind's been up to the last couple of days. Of the two, he gravitates toward one, a substantial shoreline point. It's physically larger, butts up against the vastest basin on the lake, and offers more dramatic features than the other, including faster falling flanks.
On this particular heap of rock, he's especially keen on the complex features and screaming plunge on one side. Down goes the bow-mount with eyes glued to the Lowrance. Suddenly, at the absolute base of the break, he spies a couple of arcs. They're definitely not part of the structural scenery. The wily walleye-whacker spins around and positions the boat within casting distance of the break above the identified targets.
Up goes the MinnKota and down goes the anchor. In the late fall, stalking small gatherings of fish, even single arcs, is both an art and a science. Science says those fish will feast as they fatten for the winter, and that they'll loiter in place for a couple of passes. Identifying bottom-sticking walleyes on the screen and positioning yourself to tag them is the art.
Boat married to the bottom on 50 feet or more of rope, Glorvigen reaches for one of several pre-rigged combos. "I'm going with a jig," he said. At the end of the line, we find a 3/8-ounce Northland Fishing Tackle Slurp! Jig, which will soon impale a hefty lake-run shiner minnow. "I like the long shank on the jig for threading minnows. The double barbs on the collar really hold the minnow in place, too. Walleyes can't easily strip it." Other long-shank jigs to consider are the Fin-Tech Bass-N Nuckle Ball Jig, Lindy Max Gap Jig and JB Lures Shiner Jig.
Glorvigen pitches at the cascading rock wall and methodically works the jig down the break. The retrieve progression consists of a tender lift and fall composed of 1- to 2-foot strokes, each fall partnered with a brief pause. If Glorvigen misses, the walleyes move, or they just aren't inclined to pursue, he broadcasts the jig, moving left to right, covering every boulder and sunken artifact within pitching range.
Finally, there's impact. Fully composed, Glorvigen drops the rod tip, lending enough line for the fish to hang itself. "There's no feeding fish this time of year, especially when jigging. They usually smoke it," he said.
Without encountering a taker, he weighs anchor and starts poking around, this time employing a live-bait rig -- and a heavily weighted one at that.
Glorvigen defines the rig: "A 3/4-ounce weight is typical, even up to an ounce if it's rough or I'm in over 35 or 40 feet of water." He wants to stay as vertical as possible and be able to move briskly.
Below the sinker, in front of the swivel, Glorvigen traps a single but bold, oversized bead. The bead makes noise slamming between the swivel and weight. And that sound they hear is the proverbial call to dinner: "Walleye, party of one, your table is ready."
His snell, composed of 6-pound Berkley Vanish turpentine-clear fluorocarbon, spans 5 to 6 feet and finishes with a No. 8 to No. 4 hook, ultimate size selection guided by the heft of the minnow. And despite the northern latitude at which Glorvigen makes his home, his bait-hooking technique is saltwater influenced. "I nose-hook it for the sake of liveliness," said Glorvigen.
Slicing right to left, the hook point basically scrapes the minnow's nostrils, just penetrating the "fat of the nose." It won't even know it's been hit. Again, the hooksetting process is a casual drop of the rod tip followed by a stern crack. If by chance Glorvigen gets stripped, he factors in a petite but tough No. 12 or No. 14 treble stinger-hook, piercing one of the barbs in the back somewhere behind the dorsal fin.
For a take on minnow selection and care, we go to Brian "Bro" Brosdahl, another walleye savant who capitalizes on late-arriving ice. "The minnow is going to do most of the work, especially if you're rigging," Brosdahl said. "Your bait needs to be fit as a fiddle. That means kept cool and well oxygenated."
Even the energy of a November sun can warm bait to unhealthy levels. Proactively, Brosdahl corrals the minnows in an insulated bait container. "Insulation beats back the power of the sun," he said. "But I still check the temperature every so often. If it feels warmer than the lake, I add some ice. Not a block, just a handful. You don't want to shock the minnows." Brosdahl, who tests bait management products for Frabill, mentions proper oxygenation as well. "Again, even though the air is cool, keep the bubbles bubbling. You're going to ask a lot of the minnows, so make sure they start with as much energy as possible."
Without hesitation, both Brosdahl and Glorvigen name chubs -- creek or redtail -- as their top bait choice.
That rumbling you hear in the background is your neighbor pulling the blue tarp off his boat. The other sound, the dull hum? A 16-footer aimed straight for Big Point. What are you waiting for? The fish house and tip-up chores will be there when you get back.