Establishing a Winning Walleye Pattern

All too often, we tend to fish walleyes the same way, day after day. But if you match your tactics to the conditions, you'll put more fish in the boat.

Have you ever left the dock with the same rig tied to your line simply because it worked yesterday? Never mind the fact that a cold front has moved in since then. Nor does it matter that a hard rain has turned the water into something that resembles chocolate milk. This system worked yesterday, so why shouldn't it work today?

Guilty on all counts? Through habit, personal preferences or sometimes just an unwillingness to try something new, we often short ourselves on the number and size of walleyes we catch. We have all the necessary gear, but can't seem to put the maze of alternate angling techniques into practice.

The difference between our gear and skill is that gear can be purchased at the nearest tackle shop, while experience is needed to develop the skills to use them. Knowledge is gained each time we leave the dock, cast a lure, net or even lose a fish. It's important that we process each piece of information learned on the water and apply it to the different circumstances that we're faced with today. Forget about the fact that a particular system worked yesterday. Unless all the controlling factors are the same, chances are, something will need to be changed.

Establishing a winning fishing pattern begins the moment you leave the house. You begin with a series of established factors such as the time of the year, weather conditions, water clarity and the particular body of water you plan on fishing. These facts will determine much about the how, where and why you do the things that are necessary to take walleyes on a given day.

Successful anglers, often veterans of the sport, will make a number of decisions based on circumstances without realizing that they are actually putting together a game plan. Say, for example, you drive your boat to a channel break and tell your partner that you'd suggest he use a crawler along the dropoff. Sounds simple enough, but there were several factors that led up to that plan. Based on previous experience, you choose a particular section of the river, a general range of depth, a type of structure, and a specific presentation. The bait determined the hook size which, in turn, established line weight. The presentation decrees boat control -- in this case, backtrolling (where legal) or drifting. And backtrolling or drifting means that the presentation will be slow and methodical.

A simple game plan sent a series of actions into motion, all based on experience and a willingness to adapt to the conditions at hand. Then, once you locate fish -- or fail to locate them -- other decisions will have to be made. Decisions like: should you change presentations, switch types of cover or depths, try another area or just call it a day. Of course, then these lead to even more options, and so on.

Photo by David Morris

Considering how many choices an angler must make during a day on the water, if he or she is willing to look at the conditions presented with and react accordingly, odds are, most choices will be good.

There are certain things that will apply in all conditions. The presentation, however, will be determined whether you're fishing open water or structure, channel edges or flats, and if you're going to be covering a lot of water or saturating a single spot.

Structure such as weeds, rocks, timber and manmade cover will attract and hold fish, both predators and prey. Walleyes will often relate to their choice of structure, holding along the outer edges while feeding on baitfish. They'll continue to maintain this position as long as they're not overly pressured. As angling activity increases, the fish will usually drop back within the heavy cover and become inactive.

Some structure, like rock, is fairly snag-free unless the lure becomes wedged between them. Other types like timber or weeds may require modifications to the lure. For example, to permit penetrating and working within the structure, hooks may need to be made weedless or partially protected from hangups.

The position of fish in cover will often determine their aggressiveness and the approach needed to catch them. Active walleyes holding along the outer edges are relatively easy to reach with a variety of presentations. However, when they drop down into the thickest areas and are reluctant to strike, slow and careful finesse-style probing techniques will become necessary for bites. Live-bait presentations are generally a must in these cases.

If walleye anglers have a weak point, it's normally a reluctance to work thick cover with snag-resistant methods. I know because there are times when after determining that walleyes are holding deep within cover on a given day, often I too have to force myself to abandon easier techniques and pursue these entrenched fish. It would have been much simpler to work in deep, open-water areas where locating walleyes on electronics becomes easy and snagging frustrations are forgotten.

Walleyes that suspend in open water or are relating to deep humps, points or other types of structure are easier to locate than those tight to cover. Most moderately priced electronics today are capable of detecting the presence of suspended fish. Furthermore, open water is easier to work and is less restrictive due to fewer snags.

To make open-water angling even more attractive, almost all standard walleye-angling techniques will work at one time or another. Vertical jigging, live-bait rigs, jigging spoons, bottom bouncers, trolling, casting or any of your favorite methods will, on certain days, take an abundance of walleyes from open water.

The key here is, once again, forget what worked yesterday and begin to decipher the best plan of attack based on today's conditions. Let's say that yesterday you took a limit of walleyes on jigs tipped with plastic while drifting humps in the middle of the lake. Today, however, the water is churned up a bit and isn't nearly as clear as it was the day before. First of all, forget using the plastic today and, unless you plan to add a rattle or other attention-getting device, forget the jig, too. I recommend forgoing the use of plastic because it gives off no scent of its own and will likely go undetected. If you still prefer to use jigs, I'd suggest that rattles are added to gain the attention of walleyes in the murky water and that live bait is tipped on the jigs for scent. Anything that can be done to gain the walleye's attention and direct it to the offering will be a plus.

A decisively better presentation in the previous scenario would be slow-trolling large crankbaits with built-in rattles. The lure should be trolled slowly to allow fish to home in

on it in the dirty water while the rattles add to the vibrations normally given off by crankbaits.

Channel edges attract walleyes along particular and precise paths. They will hold tight along the edges and have a definite purpose for being there. They may hold along a break awaiting nature's signal to move shallower to spawn, or may simply be there because of an abundance of baitfish that are using the edge as well.

This can be good news for anglers. When walleyes are located holding along a particular edge, presentations can be precisely focused parallel to that edge rather than scattered from side to side. Staying in the strike zone is as simple as using your electronics to follow the contour of the break.

On irregular or unrecognizable edges, walleyes are more likely to be spread out. This will make locating them a bit harder, thus, rather than focusing along a line, presentations will need to cover wide areas. Tactics designed to cover large areas quickly such as trolling with planer boards or fancasting are best.

First, locate the approximate depth of the fish on your electronics and set lines and lures to the appropriate depth. To accomplish this, reference can be made to manufacturer's guidelines for running depths of particular lures or anglers can use one of several books on the market that aid in placing lures at the chosen depth.

Imagine, for a moment, a baseball pitcher or archer who didn't compensate for the wind. Or the deer hunter who hunts all day at a spot simply because deer used to be there. It doesn't matter how sharp your knife is if you bring it to a gunfight. Similarly, it also doesn't matter how adept you are at using jigs if all the fish are suspended and hitting crankbaits.

When fishing, always use your head and apply common sense to the tactics needed for today. Each time you take to the water, use your experience to put together a working game plan. Don't unnecessarily rule out those tactics that worked yesterday, but rather compile information based on the conditions you're faced with today.

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