You can always tell when walleyes are in summer schools and the bite is at its peak. Every walleye angler is walking around with a smile on his face and at least two good stories. (July 2008)
This lucky angler's stringer proves that it doesn't take a rocket scientist to catch a bunch of walleyes when they're in summer school.
Photo by Windigo Images.
It is known as the walleye peak. Schools of walleyes have finished transitioning to their summer sanctuaries and now these tightly grouped pods of fish are huddled near deep structure where they can be easily found and caught. Even when the weather turns unstable, the ability to catch walleyes only requires a little added finesse to generate a bite.
Gary Roach admits it doesn't take a rocket scientist, or a walleye pro for that matter, to catch a bunch of walleyes when you stumble onto that summer school of fish.
"The walleyes during the peak are pretty predictable," he said. "This is the only time of the year when you can get onto some good fishing by circling back on some past memories."
Roach describes the term "fishing memories" as the pattern that most anglers follow because all fishermen are born with hope.
"When you discover a spot where you catch a lot of fish," said Roach, "it gets stored in your memory and the next time you are on that body of water the first place you go is where you got lucky that one time. It could be 10 years ago and you've been to that spot 15 times since without a bite, but you'll fish that memory hoping for another day like that glorious one you had before.
"Now the reason fishing memories can work during the peak," continued Roach, "is because a lot of the best fishing days you have will be during the peak, so conditions could put those walleyes back in the spot you caught them at before, so checking out a spot where you had great luck in the past is not a bad idea."
Does Roach fish memories? Not often.
"I catch up to the guides at the local bait shop and get them to put me on a starting point and then I adjust," Roach said. "If they tell me the walleyes are on the sandbars in 22 feet of water, then I know where to begin my search."
And if the fish aren't there?
"They'll be close by. Stable weather might have moved them up to the edge of the vegetation on that bar," he explained. "That might be 16 feet deep. Or a cold front pushed those walleyes out to suspend in 27 feet of water. Use the information you gather as your starting point and then move according to the conditions of that day." During summer school, Roach said that his sonar is the most important piece of equipment in his boat.
"You have to find them to catch them," he said, "and the only way you know there are fish under the boat is to see them with the sonar.
"I won't even put a bait in the water until I've spotted fish. Those walleyes are grouped in deep water, so they're easy to see on the graph. Motor around a spot with your eyes glued to the screen and when you find fish, catch some. If you don't see any fish, move to another spot. Anglers waste way too much time fishing spots where there are no fish. Not me. I target them when I see them."
What about baits and lures?
"I designed the ultimate lure for catching walleyes when they're in summer school," Roach said. "It's my Roach (live-bait) Rig. You can adjust the distance between the weight and the bait on the Roach Rig and get the bait right in the face of those walleyes. I have harness setups for night crawlers and colored and glow hooks for leeches. The Roach Rig is the go-to lure setup for walleyes when they're in this peak phase."
Crankbaits are also a great option during this peak-bite period, according to Roach.
"This time of year you want a crankbait with a color pattern that matches the forage base. If the walleyes are feeding heavily on perch, you better be using a perch pattern," he said. "This is why those Fire-tiger crankbaits are so effective this time of year in most of the lakes in Minnesota."
Roach said it doesn't matter if you're fishing a classic walleye lake like Mille Lacs, Leech or Otter Tail, or dragging bait in a southern pothole like Lake Sarah, when the fish are in summer school, anglers get to join in on the lesson. Let's look at some lakes where class is in session.
Without any mid-lake structure, if you want to find the walleyes on Lake Reno, you have to cover some water and search for the subtle bottom changes that might hold a school of fish. For that you have two options, according to Roach.
"One is the crankbait, but then you don't want to rule out a spinner rig, especially in a lake like Reno," he said.
Big, shiny blades are the spinner of choice if that's your option. Separate the weight and the bait with 30 inches of fluorocarbon leader and use a No. 4 hook for a leech or a harness setup with night crawlers.
One of the drawbacks to the spinner rig on Reno is the population of deep panfish in the lake, although some of those sunfish are large, so they can be fun to catch. However, if walleyes are the species of choice and the bluegills are dominating the action, a perch-colored crankbait is a great choice.
"When running your crankbait," Roach said, "you have to have it in the zone. Your sonar will tell you right where the walleyes are sitting. Is it one foot off the bottom? Five feet? Wherever those fish are is where that bait needs to be. If you are 2 feet above or 2 feet below those walleyes, you decrease your chances of a bite by a lot."
Lake Reno is located almost directly between Alexandria and Glenwood. For more information, contact Fish On Bait and Sport at (320) 634-3667.
Lake Sarah is your typical Minnesota prairie lake. It is about 10 feet deep, gets through the winter with the benefit of an aeration system and walleyes flourish there.
"Of all the pothole lakes," Roach said, "Sarah has always been my favorite to fish."
Roach said that the only two heavily sought species that do well in a prairie lake are crappies and walleyes, and they don't usually hang around each other.
"One of my favorite ways to fish the walleyes on Sarah," Roach said, "is to
drift and drag a 1/8-ounce fireball jig tipped with a 3-inch twistertail."
Roach admits that boat control is no factor on this lake, until you find the walleyes.
"There is no structure that you have to strain to find the fish," he said. "It's just a matter of moving along until you connect with a fish. Then you mark the spot with a floating buoy and cast or continue to drift through the spot."
The walleyes on Sarah tend to group by size, and every year there will be huge schools of small fish that will hungrily devour that jig. Roach's tip for this situation is to stay on the move until connecting with fish in that respectable range, mark that spot, and hang in there.
Lake Sarah is right on the northern county line just about in the center. For information, contact the Currie Mini Mart at (507) 763-3778.
Humps, points and inside turns are what Roach said he dreams about and Lake Plantagenet, a 2,500-acre jewel south of Bemidji, is where he frequently drifts off to.
"No matter how much pressure anglers heap on the sunken islands and breaklines on this lake, the walleyes just keep showing up there and they never stop biting," he said.
Plantagenet is where the Roach Rig shines. Because of some experienced anglers pressuring the lake, Roach said a minimum of 6 feet should be between the weight and the bait. The hook size for the leech you will use should be no bigger than a No. 6.
The extra room between the leech and the sinker will negate any conditions that may create a shy biting fish and the lighter hook lets a leech swim, which triggers bites.
"It is important that you use a lively leech for bait," Roach stressed. "The better the bait, the better the bite, I guarantee it. Whenever I'm fishing with someone that never checks or changes their bait, I know I'm going to catch at least twice as many fish as they do. You use a leech that is moving and you'll convince those fish to bite."
For more information on Plantagenet, contact Bluewater Bait at (218) 444-2248.
Some anglers have been whipped pretty good by Deer Lake and they never return. They either fished it early, around opener or during the dog days of August when fishing for walleyes is tough. Deer Lake is like a fine wine. It should only be enjoyed at certain times by those that are connoisseurs of textbook walleye lakes.
Deer sits in a beautiful setting, surrounded by the northwoods and shadowed by many other productive bodies of water, but if it's a structure-laden lake full of hungry walleyes that drives you, this is a good option.
"Sonars are now available that can utilize map chips," Roach said, "and Deer Lake is the perfect body of water to test it out on."
Roach said Deer is loaded with structures like sunken islands, points, sharp-dropping contours and much more.
"You can save a lot of time with the map chip because you can drive right to a spot and then use the sonar to find walleyes."
Roach looks for fish that are a foot or more off the bottom because he knows that it is the negative walleyes that stick tightly to the bottom and any fish that is suspended will be more susceptible to his bait.
"Lakes like Deer Lake are loaded with chunky walleyes that get eager to bite when the fishing is at the peak," he said. "It's also a structure lover's paradise, so this can be one of the most enjoyable fishing trips I take all season."
For more information, contact The Bait Shop in Deer River at (218) 246-2087.
There's a pretty good chance you'll catch a walleye on Round Lake, a 1,000-acre body of water southeast of Worthington. Round is a southern Minnesota prairie lake that has what some would term an "abundant" population of walleyes. While Roach can't recall ever fishing this lake when the characteristics were described to him, he came up with what he thought was a good game plan.
"You would be hard-pressed to find 10 feet of water in this lake, so I would likely drift and cast a crankbait," he said. "There's a pretty good population of channel catfish in Round, so I would want a lure that runs at about 6 feet deep. The occasional catfish will hit it, but more often than not, it will be a walleye. And there are white bass, sheepshead and crappies in Round, so I would use a lure that is silver sides with a black back. This is how you will catch walleyes during the peak on Round."
And if this doesn't work?
"Bobber and a leech," shrugged Roach.
For more information, contact Lakefield Bait Tackle & Furs at (507) 662-5736.
"Fishermen that live near Alexandria have it good because there are lots of lakes surrounding that community that are very good walleye lakes," Roach said. "My favorite, well, I have lots of favorites over there, but an awfully good walleye lake is Miltona."
Roach describes Miltona as one big saddle. The center of the lake is shallow and both sides drop off into deep water.
"There is enough mid-lake structure in Miltona to keep anyone busy on the sunken islands alone," Roach said.
Roach touts Miltona as a lake that was designed for the Roach Rig and a leech. He said that muskies and big pike push panfish into the vegetation and walleyes out to the deeper water.
Locate a school of fish in water over 18 feet deep and you are likely sitting on a school of walleyes that will be looking for an easy meal.
For more information, contact Christopherson's Bait at (320) 763-3255.
BIG CORMORANT LAKE
Some lakes are just suited for trolling. Big Cormorant, west of Detroit Lakes, is one of them.
"There are no big shallow flats," Roach said. "So the walleyes will suspend just over the tops of the deep weeds and wherever you find a bottom transition, like muck to rubble or sand to clay. On a lake that has a lot of hard bottom, wherever you find a little mud transition line, you'll find walleyes."
Crankbaits are the lure of choice for Roach.
"I use mainly perch and Fire-tiger patterns, but sometimes I toss in a blue/green color scheme because there are a lot of rock bass on that deeper structure and walleyes will eat them too," he said. "Walleyes during the peak can be so prone to suspend that I don't even pull my lures when I'm going to move from one spot to another if they're close by. I just troll over to
For more information, contact Quality Bait at (218) 844-2248.
NORTH LONG LAKE
Crow Wing County
When Roach was a Nisswa guide, his No. 1 go-to lake in that Brainerd area was North Long Lake. He said that Gull and Pelican lakes seemed to get all the press for fishing; the Whitefish Chain was touted as a weekender's playground and North Long was just ignored. These days, North Long gets a little more word-of-mouth attention for the outstanding walleye fishing that can be found there, and Roach still considers it his No. 1 go-to lake in the area.
"During the peak, I stick to that middle basin and work around the sunken islands in 18 to 24 feet of water with a Roach Rig and a leech," he said. "It's not that this lake doesn't get any fishing pressure. It does. It's just that there are a lot of walleyes in this lake, so you can always find some that are going to be hungry."
For more information, contact Lake and River Bait at (218) 829-0987.
Roach said you can always tell when walleyes are in their summer schools and the bite is at its peak. All the walleye anglers are walking around with a smile on their faces and at least two good stories -- one about the big one they caught and the other about the world record that got away.
"There are a lot of great walleye lakes in Minnesota," Roach said, "and right now they're all providing some great fishing. School might be out for the kids, but for the walleyes the bell is still ringing."
Find more about Minnesota fishing and hunting at: MinnesotaSportsmanMag.com