Teaming Up To Catch Walleyes

Tom and Sue Brown have been fishing together for 41 years. What they have learned could help you and your fishing buddy to function better as a team. (September 2007)

When teaming up for walleyes, Tom Brown said it's not about who catches the fish.
Photo by Tim Lesmeister.

Referring to her husband Tom, Sue Brown is often asked if it was him who taught her how to fish. She replies yes, it was in fact Tom who taught her how to fish, but it was she who taught him how to "catch."

Through their 41 years of marriage, they have developed a formula for success while chasing their favorite fish, and this provides a good lesson for anyone who has the opportunity to team up on walleyes.

"It's about efficiency," said Sue when asked why a team approach is a productive game plan when chasing walleyes. "I help stock the boat, so I know where everything is. We're at the point now where I can tell by the look on Tom's face that he's going to want me to net a fish just seconds after he sets the hook."

Tom said "the zone" works both ways.

"I can always tell when it gets a little quiet in the boat that Sue is thinking we need to try something different," Tom said. "But fishing as a team is about more than just having each person use something different. It's about anticipating what's next.

"It's not like one of us will be jigging and the other rigging," he continued. "That just doesn't work. But let's say we're both using a Roach Rig. Sue might be using a minnow on a No. 2 hook with 6 feet between the weight and the bait. I will have a leech on a No. 8 hook with 2 feet between the weight and the bait."

"Finding the right trigger is not luck," Sue stated. "It's about experimenting until you hit the right pattern. Too many anglers get into a rut and use one technique all the time because they have confidence in it and because they have been relatively successful at times. But one technique for walleyes will not work under every situation, so the fishermen who aren't willing to change will have some great days, but some real bad ones, too."

"Sure, there are times when no one is catching fish," Tom chimed in. "It's just a bad bite. But for a lot of fishermen, there could be great days when they're not catching anything just because they're not using what's working. Never stay with something that is not working."

So, when someone starts catching all the fish, the other person changes to exactly that same presentation?

"Only in a tournament," Tom said. "Otherwise one of us is always . . . "

"Trying something different," interjected Sue to finish Tom's sentence. "We've been in situations where one of us is catching walleyes on what we're using, and all of a sudden, the fish stop biting the hot technique and start biting on the other's setup. Something changed and the fish decided they wanted something else. It happens all the time with walleyes."

According to Tom, the ability to work as a team means you'll miss fewer indicators.

"The stuff I'm looking at will be completely different from what Sue is noticing, and that can make a difference," he said. He noted a particular instance when the fish were suspending. "I use a Lowrance color sonar that has phenomenal resolution and I could see fish tight to bottom. I tied on a Roach Rig with a short distance between the sinker and the hook, and sent down a leech. I was sure we could get those fish to bite."

"I was using the same setup with a night crawler," Sue said. "Tom was so focused on those fish on the bottom that he barely noticed the occasional fish suspended. I raised the sinker off the bottom 6 feet and started catching fish. Of course, I didn't tell Tom what I was doing for about a half-hour, although he would have figured it out."

Tom laughed. "This just goes to show, you have to give the fish what the fish want, rather than trying to force feed those fish a presentation that you want to use. It never works."

That's a good reason to fish as a team. If one angler is locked into what they think they should be giving the walleyes, the other angler may be discovering what fish actually want.

"Here's another reason our team approach works well," Sue said. "My favorite technique is Roach Rigging."

"Mine is jigging," Tom said. "I like the jig because you are in direct contact with the bait. There's no swivel or sinker between you and the meat."

"And I like the Roach Rig," Sue continued, "because it was one of the first techniques that Tom taught me, and I believe that women have a more sensitive touch, so I can feel the fish. It is what I'm best at."

"So, the fact that we both like different techniques means we won't get locked into always using one approach," Tom added.

"It's that way with crankbaits, too," Sue said. "We both know that in late summer when the walleyes like to spread out and suspend in open water, it's a good time to troll crankbaits. We also know that it pays to cover the entire water column."

"That's why I'll put a lure down on lead-core line and run it deep off a trolling board," Tom said.

"And I'll run a lure on a long-line right straight out the back," Sue said.

"It's not at all uncommon for us to be catching walleyes on both rigs," Tom said, "but generally, one or the other is catching the bulk of the fish, and eventually, we'll both be running deep on lead core or both long-lining."

Sue did add that whichever presentation they chose to troll those lures, each of them will have a different style and color.

"We always keep the bait on that caught the last fish," Tom said, "and sometimes our presentations aren't that far apart. It might just be a color change or a little different wobble if it's a crankbait, but should the sky get cloudy or the wind kick up and the fish decide they want something else, we're ready to give it to them."

One of the factors that go into a good team approach is to forget about being competitive with each other.

"I get this when I'm fishing with someone else at times," Tom said. "Instead of teaming up on the walleyes, the person you're fishing with wants to see if they can catch more fish than you. It probably means you're both more likely to catch

fewer fish than if you were working together."

"Tom and I don't care who catches the fish," Sue said. "It's about how many did we catch. And when Tom catches a nice walleye, it's like I did too, and that works both ways."

"People think it's just about reeling in the fish," Tom said, "but it helps when someone keeps the boat in position so that the fish doesn't get dragged under the boat."

"And it's really nice to be able to have confidence in your net man," Sue continued. "We don't lose too many fish at the boat."

According to Tom, if you have planned an outing with someone you haven't been on the water with, you can still team up on those walleyes.

"You need to work out the logistics before you start fishing," he said. "Make sure your new partner understands that it is not a competition, and that let's say you're casting bobbers up to a rockpile and one spot has all the fish on it, you can both work that spot without getting tangled up if you work as a team."

"Or, let's say those walleyes are tight to the base of a dropoff and the Roach Rig on only one side of the boat is getting bites when you make a pass," Sue said. "If you're working as a team, it's not long before you are both spreading out the lines on the same side of the boat."

"One more," Tom said, "and we do this all the time. Let's say the walleyes are on a shallow rockpile and Sue is casting a Slurpies Swim Shiner jig and catching fish. Since she knows where she stashed those lures, I'll hand her my rod, take hers and fish with her rod while she ties on another Swim Shiner. She might not even take her rod back now because she probably tied on a different color pattern on mine and wants to see if it works better. She could just make me look for the lures myself and keep fishing, but we're a team."

While the Browns might have the benefit of fishing together for over 40 years, realizing that their program does result in more fish being hooked is certainly a testament to teamwork.

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