There are certain statements no walleye angler ever wants to hear. “The fish have lockjaw and the bite has been off, but two weeks ago we really got them.” Unfortunately, every angler has been there. There are plenty of reasons walleyes go off the feedbag. Cold fronts, muddy water, changes in food sources. It can be a daunting task to consistently catch fish every trip on the water, and even tougher when that water is unfamiliar.
Talk to any pro angler who has been at it awhile and it quickly becomes evident that giving up on a bite is not what good walleye anglers do easily. While it may be frustrating and a tremendous challenge at times, tough bites can make better anglers. After all, fish don’t jump in the boat on every trip. The following will help anglers increase their odds of success on any lake in the country.
FIND PRODUCTIVE WATER, MIND THE LITTLE THINGS
Understanding the general rules of thumb to follow on most lakes is the best starting point for every angler. The very first rule is to pay attention to those little things that can make us all better anglers. Eliminating bad smells on hands, checking line for bad spots and sharpening hooks can make all the difference on tough bites.
Understanding unproductive water in a lake is also a big part of this. While it might not be exactly true that 90 percent of the fish hold in 10 percent of the water, it is certainly true that anglers should immediately look to eliminate unproductive water. Knowing what food sources walleyes have available in the lake, as well as depth of the lake and water conditions, can rule out much of the water before the boat is launched.
Eliminating this unproductive water could relate to several lake conditions as well. Extremely muddy water is often very high on this list. Walleyes do not like to suck in baits in muddy water as water must move through the gill plate to feed. If that water is loaded with debris, they may just not feed for a few days; however, fish will often hang out in this water because it is warmer or because they have no choice. There is nothing more frustrating than marking nice hooks on the graph and running every bait in the box through the school only to watch the gas gauge drop.
Many times, it becomes important to eliminate the muddiest water, and especially in the springtime, it might also be necessary to eliminate the clearest water. Clear water can be 2 to 3 degrees colder than muddy water. The key is a continual check of the surface temp on the graph. We know that fish are cold blooded, so they will seek out the most comfortable temperatures on many occasions.
So, if we eliminate clear water and muddy water, what is left?
Stained water is what remains. Stained water often holds fish because it is not as cold, doesn’t keep fish from feeding due to mud and debris and may hold actively feeding fish. Areas of the lake lying behind points where the muddiest water is blown past are high on the list to check.
Now that the right type of water is found, it’s time to look back at the graph. Marking fish is a great starting point.
If the graph is showing a full, nice hook like an upside-down smile, it means the fish is not extremely nervous and is staying under the transducer and allowing the boat to travel over top without moving. Fish are more apt to do this with greater depth or when there is some available structure that offers protection nearby. If fish are spooky, the graph will only show pieces of that hook, and sometimes the screen will show just tiny pieces of fish high tailing it away from the boat.
That should tell anglers a lot. The first is the depth at which the fish are holding and then how spooky the fish may be. Are most marks running at 15 feet or are more on the bottom?
Then, utilizing lure dive curve charts will greatly enhance the ability to box a few fish on tough bites, as fish will not chase a bait far if they are in a negative feeding mood. A dive curve generally relates to crankbaits and tells anglers how far back to run baits to achieve a certain depth at a certain speed. Dive curve charts are a valuable tool to get baits in front of fish.
THREE TOP PRESENTATIONS FOR ADVERSE CONDITIONS
The Lindy Rig
A live bait presentation is usually the top pick of most experienced anglers. And one of the top live bait presentations that consistently shines in tough bites is the Lindy Rig.
A Lindy Rig is a finesse setup consisting of a No. 6 Octopus hook that utilizes a bead or even a floating rattle bead on a 3- to 5-foot leader. The leader is attached to a swivel with a walking sinker or egg sinker, which gets the bait to the bottom, before the swivel and leader.
Anglers run these out at a 45-degree angle and troll very slowly, usually with the electric motor. Leeches, minnows or pieces of crawlers are the live bait commonly utilized in a Lindy setup. Trolling slow doing s-curves allows this presentation to be pulled across small areas the boat has not disturbed to get this presentation to those fish that move away from the boat. Anglers must ensure there is no slack in the line, so they will feel the well-known “tick” of the walleye sucking in the bait.
When the fish takes the bait, it becomes important to find out if the fish has taken the entire bait or is just sucking and expelling the bait. Many experienced Lindy Rig anglers will then allow some slack in the line after the take, allowing the fish to swallow the live bait. They will then slowly reel up to remove the slack, then set the hook. On extremely tough bites, it might be necessary to create distance between the boat and the fish by utilizing the slack line, then turn the boat and come back on top of the fish to set the hook. Patience is the key when fish keep expelling the bait. Lindy rigging is a top method used by experienced walleye anglers in extremely tough bites.
Slip-bobbers also come into play for live bait rigs that shine on tough bites. Slip-bobbers allow the line to run through the bobber and easily adjust to move up and down between bobber stops attached to the line. They allow anglers to cast to areas holding fish and keep the boat from spooking them. Waves create great action on the bait.
Slip-bobbers work well for areas with a concentration of fish. Rockpiles, emerging weed beds, reefs and even underwater logs are where this presentation shines.
Anglers can utilize jigs, plain hooks or even ice-fishing teardrops on super-tough bites. Slip-bobbers are not a good option when anglers need to cover water to find fish.
Crankbaits can still offer a great option in adverse conditions. There are, however, specific points to consider when fishing crankbaits in tough conditions.
Smaller shad-type crankbaits are a useful tool for covering water fast to find the biters. Most anglers will try to match the hatch but only until the water gets muddy. Then it becomes necessary to break out the mud baits.
Crankbaits featuring chartreuse and orange, orange and gold, or pink and black are combos that do not match any baitfish colors but draw the most attention in stained water. Choose baits that also have a rattle so that bait quickly becomes a visibly loud target in the water. Shad-type baits are a great choice, as many minnows in the system held over from last year are now this size.
One extremely effective way to run shad-type baits in weed-free circumstances is to bounce them right into the bottom. It mimics a crayfish or a minnow escaping danger, makes the bait swim and rattle erratically, and walleyes love this technique. This method is highly effective on gravel and rocky points, clam beds and harder sandstone bottoms.
Some of these baits are tough to get down to the bottom, so anglers have developed ways to easily get a bait designed to dive 8 feet down to 20 feet. Inline or snap weights added 5 feet ahead of the bait do the job nicely. Let the line out until the weight hits the bottom and close the reel, allowing the boat to troll forward and pull the weight and lure up from the bottom. Repeat one more time, dropping the weight to the bottom. When the boat surges ahead, the weight will run just a foot or two off the bottom, but the lure will be banging into the bottom.
This method is much more manageable than trying to let 200 feet of line out trying to get the lure on the bottom.
It is important that trolling speed is set first and maintained throughout this process, as any change in the trolling speed or even drastic turns will cause the entire setup to drag on the bottom and invite snags. It is also important to see how the fish are engaging with the bait once they hit it. If it seems like fish are hitting the bait but not hooking up, utilize some scent on the lure by applying a piece of crawler to the front facing treble hook, or try using one of the many scents on the market.
In a tough bite, fish often hit the bait but quickly let go before the treble has a chance to set in the jaw as the boat moves forward. Adding scent will sometimes make the walleye hold the bait for a second or two more, thus allowing the hook to set.
Catching walleyes in adverse conditions is one of the most difficult but rewarding aspects of the sport. Patience is key. Consistently eliminating water and finding out what triggers fish in tough bites will make every fishing trip more productive and enjoyable.