Summer Surprise Walleyes

You might be surprised at how your walleye fishing picks up when you follow the advice of these select walleye anglers.

By Gene Hornbeck

July and August on the walleye front can often mean poor fishing for the glassy-eyed gamesters, particularly for anglers who haven't done their homework.

Eric Naig is a tournament fisherman who says learning about the walleye and its seasonal habitats is paramount to catching fish.

"I don't think catching walleyes in July and August is much different than catching them at any other time, except that the fish are likely going to be deeper," he said. "Walleyes are basically lazy fish. They don't like to chase bait very far and are always looking for an easy meal, so I find out what the main forage species is in a given lake and then find them.

"If fishing a natural lake, I begin by checking the edges of the weedbeds with the finder," Naig said. "The yellow perch is one of the main forage species for walleyes in many of these lakes, and the schools tend to follow the edge of the weeds. If I don't find them there, I look for them in the transition zones - off the edge of weedbeds along structure such as creek channels."

Naig said he likes to troll deep-diving crankbaits and also uses bottom-bouncers with a spinner-crawler rig.

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

"There are times when the forage fish are suspended in the lake and the walleyes are normally not far away," he said. "A crankbait that will get down into the 15- to 20-foot range is one of my favorites for midsummer walleyes. If the forage and walleyes are deeper, I go to a bottom-bouncer or drop-shot rig. Live bait offerings such as crawlers, leeches and minnows all work."

Resort owner Tolly Holton has been fishing for walleyes for more than two decades. She says fishing in midsummer can be better than it is in spring or early summer if you know your walleye water.

She says a lot of her fishing time is spent on large lakes where she sees a significant movement of walleyes as the water gets warmer in July and August. The fish are seeking cooler water and often head for the deeper parts of the lake. The forage base in these lakes is small baitfish, and they, too, prefer cool water. Find the baitfish and chances are good that's where you'll find the walleyes.

"We do most of our summer fishing with deep-running crankbaits, as well as bottom-bouncers baited up with either leeches or crawlers," said Holton. "My favorite spots are the old river channels where there is easy access to deeper, cooler water."

Jim Randash is a 60-year-old certified financial planner, and he admits to being an analytical walleye fisherman. It has paid off for him over the years. He is a tournament fisherman and won the nationals in 1987 and again in 1996.

"I'm a nut for paying attention to detail," he said. "I think the depthfinder is the all-important tool for the successful walleye fisherman. I do not fish an area unless I mark fish there. I might run an hour or two just looking for fish. I believe in the old adage that 10 percent of the water in any given lake holds 90 percent of the fish.

"I also try to make sure that my lures are tuned up to run the way they are supposed to, and the hooks are sharp," Randash said. "If I'm fishing a crankbait I know how deep it's going to run on a given amount of line. I do believe the lures perform best with small-diameter line. I also like to use scent because I believe fish have a good sense of smell. I think it's especially important if the water is turbid. If things are slow when I'm fishing clear water, I will add a pinch of night crawler to my crankbait just for the scent.

"Midsummer walleyes are normally going to be deeper," Randash said. "If I locate fish in the 30- to 40-foot range, I add lead to my crankbaits using a drop-sinker on a three-way swivel at least 8 to 10 feet ahead of the lure. If the water is turbid, I want the crankbait down there bumping bottom. I think the vibration - the sound of the lure, as well as the disturbance it makes digging along the bottom - attracts walleyes. If the water is clear, I think a lure running close to the bottom will work, and if I find fish suspended I'll try to run the lure at the same depth.

"In a natural lake, I firmly believe in fishing the edge of the weedbeds," said the avid walleye angler. "First, the baitfish prefer the weedy areas because of the shade and cover. The secondary factor is a higher oxygen level around the weeds.

"If fishing a reservoir, I look for the baitfish and structure," Randash said. "Look for suspended fish on the big reservoirs too.

"When choosing lure colors or patterns, I normally try to match the forage base. There are some exceptions, such as turbid water, and then I often use fluorescent colors."

Pat O'Grady has guided walleye fishermen for years and he also enjoys designing lures. "My favorite method of fishing summer walleyes is with crankbaits and 'offshore' planner boards," he said. "I usually run the lure 75 to 125 feet behind the board and 25 to 50 feet off the side of the boat.

"If this approach doesn't produce, I turn to jigging spoons and vertical fishing," O'Grady said. "I have experimented with a variety of jigging spoons and have designed my own, - the 'PK' (Pat's Killer) spoon - which I feel out-fishes most others on a given day. I normally use silver spoons that imitate shad or smelt, but if the day is dark and I have to go down 30 or 40 feet for the fish, I'll use my 'glow-in-the-dark' models."

Kent Hutcheson, another veteran walleye guide, says successful summer walleye fishermen must key in on the habits of the baitfish as well as the walleyes.

"When the water begins to warm up in July in our deep-water reservoirs, the baitfish move into deep water and the walleyes follow them," he said. "It's not unusual to find them in 40 feet of water.

"I like to use bottom-bouncers baited up with a crawler or minnow when I have to fish deep," he said. "I also try to use fairly large bait because it's dark down there and the walleyes can see it better if it's big.

"Sometimes a 1/2- to 1-ounce rattling jig baited up with a crawler will produce fish," said Hutcheson. "I think any of the bait rigs should be fished slowly - that's why back-trolling for walleyes became so popular many years ago, and I think that theory is still very true today."

Fishing deep water during the summer has its drawbacks. All of the veteran walleye fishermen agree that most of the fish take

n from really deep water will have a hard time surviving even if released immediately.

"When you take any fish from deep water, it can't adjust its airbladder to the change in pressure," said Hutcheson. "If I'm going to fish deep, most of the fish caught will have to be put in the livewell for dinner or they will just die and be wasted. This is especially true during the hot summer months."

Hutcheson and the other walleye veterans also agree that fishing the nightshift can be very good at times.

"I don't do a lot of night-fishing, because most of my customers would rather fish during the day," said Hutcheson. He said most baitfish would spend the day in deep water, but come evening they begin to move up in the water column. Once it gets dark you can start marking them on your depthfinder. You can also be sure that the walleyes won't be far away from their food source.

Choosing the right tools for the job is important in taking dog-day walleyes. In addition to crankbaits, bottom-bouncers, jigging spoons and jigs, some anglers swear by lead-core line. It opens up the option of using just about any lure you want to. The line is color-coded every 10 yards. Thus, for example, when using 18-pound-test line it will run about five feet deep for each color - four colors would equal 20 feet.

Remember these tips from some longtime walleye anglers - and walleye catchers! Their expertise can help you put fish in the boat this month.

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