Nothing is worse than being skunked while walleye fishing in June, which we all know is the best time to catch these tasty fish. It hurts even worse when other anglers are tying up at the dock with their limit of husky ‘eyes.
The best way to enjoy a successful June walleye outing is to do what the pros do. With that in mind, here’s a look at five proven tips for catching walleyes from anglers with years of experience on the walleye trail.
FINDING JUNE WALLEYES
“Walleyes often linger in the shallows of a lake after completing their spawning run,” said walleye expert J. Michael Kelly. “Although such fish can be caught at any time of day, they’ll bite best at night, because that’s when they feel safe and comfortable in the near-shore environs.
“A windy shoreline almost always produces better early-season action than a lee shore, for several reasons. First, the incoming waves push baitfish into the shallows, and hungry walleyes won’t be far behind. Second, the wind roils the water, making walleyes feel more secure as they come close to shore. Finally, the wind pushes warm surface water shoreward, making any game fish in the neighborhood more active.”
JIGGING FOR WALLEYES
Kelly is also a strong proponent of jigging for June walleyes.
“Don’t assume that walleyes always hug bottom when they’re in the weeds,” he said. “In the evening hours, especially, they frequently feed along the tops of the weeds, where they become easy prey for any jig that resembles a local forage species.”
Walleyes often strike short, or take a tentative half-bite, at a jig with a nightcrawler attached. To hook more of those fish, add a trailing or “stinger” hook to your jig. Tie a 3-inch piece of monofilament line to either the eye or the bend of the jig hook. Attach a No. 4 or No. 6 bait hook to the other end of the trailer line and burry it in the middle of the worm to catch short-strikers.
When you’re into fish, vary your jigging motion. If your fishing partner is getting more strikes, watch him in action for a while and don’t be afraid to ask for a demonstration. A subtle change of pace in your retrieve can make a huge difference on any day.
Alternating jig weights and colors is always a good idea, but don’t forget to mix up the shape of your jigheads, Kelly noted. “A round-headed jig has a different action than a flat or bullet-shaped jig. The first plunges straight for the bottom, while the flat or bullet-head weight has a sort of planing action as it falls.”
Think of your jigs as minnow imitations. White, gray or green can do an effective job of mimicking fleeing baitfish, but don’t forget to add a bit of red to the lures. Walleye guide Tony Buffa, for example, ties all his jigs with red thread in the belief that a collar of red will prompt walleyes to think the lures are fish that are either flaring their gills in panic or bleeding from a close call with another predator.
Dan Armitage has been a successful walleye angler for decades and often reports on the most productive walleye anglers in the world.
“Walleyes suspend throughout the water column following the spawn, but by June they will be hanging shallow to follow schools of baitfish,” he said. “At this time they tend to shy away from boats. Savvy walleye trollers know the value of planer boards, which allow baits to be presented well off the side of the boat.”
Walleyes will move away from the path of an approaching craft, which places the fish in perfect position to intercept baits dragged off to port and starboard behind a planer board.
Sammy Cappelli, a big-lake walleye expert and tournament pro, recommends “wire lining” for big June walleyes.
“In hot weather you can bet big-lake walleyes will be suspended in deep water.” Cappelli said. Walleyes in the central basin of one large lake he fishes often suspend in 40 to 60 feet of water. “But, depending on where you are,” he said, “you can be sitting over 65 to 150 feet of water.
“One tactic that is fast becoming a lost art is wire lining. Wire line emits a vibrating noise when pulling crankbaits, but I think the noise helps attract walleyes. Wire lining is an effective way to catch fish, but you have to be patient because one tangle will retire a rod for the trip.”
Cappelli uses No. 12 wire made by American Fishing Wire in 1,000-foot spool that will fill four reels. The guide uses Daiwa Sea Line 47 reels with 900 feet of 20-pound-test monofilament backing and then 250 feet of wire tipped with a 7- to 10-foot, 15-pound-test fluorocarbon leader. A No. 14 swivel is tied to the monofilament and then to the wire by twisting it eight times, and then another No. 14 swivel and leader, and finally a No. 4 snap to the bait.
In lures, Cappelli uses Storm ThunderStick Jr., Dave’s Ka Booms and Bomber Long As.
“You must tune your baits before letting lines out,” he noted. “If your lures don’t run true you will get tangled, and it can be frustrating trying to untangle wire line; one kink and the wire is trashed.
“I like to run baits that don’t have a real aggressive action because of tangles and tuning issues. The reason I run mono line under our wire is because we let all of the 250 feet of wire out and maybe another 50 to 150 of monofilament. I can connect the mono to planer boards to help spread the lines out and cover more water. If you let out 350 feet of line it will take a lure down to about 45 feet at 2.2 miles per hour.
“The trick to letting out wire line is to keep the line straight,” Cappelli said. “Start the line out the back of the boat once you get about 10 feet out. Just keep the rod pointed out the back of the boat and let it free-spool. Keep the rod pointed out the back of the boat so that the wire is pulling down through the guides and right off the spool of the reel. This way there is no resistance and the wire goes out straight. When you get the No. 14 swivel that is connected to the end of the wire and the start of the monofilament backing, the swivel may hang up and backlash the reel. With practice you can have four rods out in less than 5 minutes.”
Cappelli also recommends lead-core line for getting down to deep-water walleyes. There are several different line weights of lead-core but 18-pound-test runs the deepest. Most spools of lead-core contain 100 yards of line and every 10 yards the line changes colors, so there are 10 colors per spool.
“The most important thing to remember about lead-core is speed: lead-core is very speed dependent,” Cappelli noted. “A good rule of thumb is for every color (10 yards) of lead-core that you let out, it will take a crankbait down 5 feet at 2 miles per hour trolling speed. If you are in 20 feet of water and you mark fish at 15 feet, let out three colors of lead-core line, which will put your bait down 15 feet and close to the strike zone.
“Always let lead-core lines out slowly,” said Cappelli. “If you free-spool lead-core it will take the bait right to the bottom. I like to pound the bottom with cranks on hot summer days. When I feel the bait tick the bottom, I bring it up a few feet to get fish lying on the bottom to hit.