A buddy of mine says it more as a defense mechanism when his late-summer calendar fills up with at-home chores and social gatherings rather that fishing outings, but it also suggests that walleye fishing at this time isn’t that great anyway. However, this isn’t strictly true. It’s more that anglers aren’t catching fish in the same ways that produced earlier in the summer. Simply put, the fish have moved.
Water temps have reached a stasis and are the highest they’ll be all season. This—combined with the effects that a decrease in dissolved oxygen and the presence of a thermocline has on walleyes’ prey—typically pushes walleyes deeper than they were a few weeks back. They’re also doing different things, and their preferred forage is potentially changing as well. They can still be caught in the shallows and along weed edges or breaks off major structure, but usually only during short feeding windows at dawn and dusk.
Young-of-the-year perch, tullibee, shad or whatever minnow species is preferred forage are larger than they were in early summer, too. Baitfish become pelagic roamers, sometimes relating just off the edge of structure, other times occupying no-man’s land far from any rock bar, main-lake point or mid-basin hump. It messes with anglers’ usual structure-oriented approaches. We glue ourselves to the sonar while passing over spots that simply don’t have fish. To bring in fish that have pushed deeper or are suspended, consider a new bag of tricks and some riffs on old ones.
Get the Lead Out
The idea of using lead-core line is unappealing to many traditional walleye anglers, but it’s really a simple crankbait concept that any tackle shop can help assemble for you. Start with an average medium-heavy, moderate-action trolling rod around 7 feet or so. Attach a good line-counter reel to it and have a shop spool on some backing and 100 yards of lead core. As the name suggests, it’s a braid with a solid lead core running through its center. The braided coating typically features differently colored 10-yard segments. The idea is that with a heavier line, your bait will plunge deeper at reduced trolling speeds. Typically, a leader between lead core and a crankbait runs anywhere from 3 to 30 feet, depending on water clarity. Use a snap to connect your favorite crank.
For walleyes near bottom, the setup is easy. Put the motor in gear and start your line-counter at “0” as you let out a few 10-yard sections or “colors.” Travel along a consistent depth at a rate of 2.2 to 2.8 miles per hour at first to get a feel for the amount of line and speed necessary to connect you with bottom. You’ll probably need to crank the handle a few times to either just “tick” bottom or be continuously above it. Then the real science experiment begins.
First, make sure you’re pulling through fish on your graph. Then, start offering them different looks. Vary crankbait style (shad, long minnow, deep diver, shallow diver, etc.), color and speed—preferably in that order—to dial in what’s successful. More rods mean more simultaneous experimentation, but the potential for tangling increases. Lead core is prone to tangles, so don’t dredge bottom continuously or try to contour troll around tight corners. Keep the boat pointed straight and your speed consistent to get the most from this technique.
While lead core is great for covering big water, pulling spinners behind bottom bouncers off long linear breaks and targeting fish spread out in the system is a real ’tweener technique. It’s for slightly smaller cover or structure, or for fish that are moderately schooled while feeding on bait. Think areas a few hundred yards in size rather than a few miles. Bottom bouncing can also be a complementary technique to trolling lead core once the fish are located.
Bottom-bouncing spinners will help target walleyes in slightly smaller pods, but during August these fish are often suspended just off the bottom—both relating to it and ready to shoot up from it to chase prey. It’s a perfect time to incorporate floats into your spinner rigs, fill crawlers with air to increase bottom separation and/or pull with larger blades to mimic larger bait. Larger blades produce more vibration and higher drag, which aids with lift off the bottom. It might surprise some, but I’ve caught walleyes on No. 10 blades reserved for pike and musky spinners. In big wind and rough water, larger spinners reduce the herky-jerky motion the boat imparts as it crashes into caps and rides down swells.
Experiment with putting rods in rod holders versus handholding while trolling over fish at 1 to 1 1/2 mph. Some days, rod holders and the steady forward motion of the boat put more hooks in fish; others, you need to feel the bite and drop the rod back before steadily sweeping forward for the hookset. Faster speeds are trickier at the depths late-summer walleyes inhabit. However, if you have big bouncers, the fish usually don’t make you slow down.
An exception is a cold front when fish prefer slower speeds. Some of the polycarbonate butterfly-blade spinner systems allow you to slow the boat to even 1/2 mph and really stick it in their face. Those blades will swim at both fast and slow speeds, and during cold-front situations they provide the flexibility to speed through areas with no fish or drop back the throttle when fish are on graph.
This defies the logic of covering water with trolling applications for dispersed walleyes. However, bouncing big jigs deep, with various forms of live bait or plastics, can be extremely effective in late summer. Staying vertical can also mean aggressive fishing with Jigging Raps or even rattle baits like the Rippin’ Rap. Generally, in late summer, the technique employs the use of minnows of some kind on deep structure for schools of walleyes. Dropping jigs straight down requires prior knowledge of fish locations, good electronics work and some precision feel.
In structure-rich areas, the process can start with lake mapping and identifying the deepest areas near main-lake reefs and humps. Scan them with electronics to reveal the best locations for your drop. You’re looking for schools of fish, not one or two. In basins, vertical jigging can be used when walleyes in a broad area refuse the lead core and bottom bouncing techniques. Again, start in an area you know has fish. Then, use a combination of 2D sonar with down- and side-imaging to pinpoint schools. Drop waypoints on them and start after the biggest school or a cluster of nearby ones.
A quality jigging rod helps here, and I prefer braid with a 3- to 6-foot leader of 10-pound fluorocarbon for its low stretch and feel. We’re talking jigs in the 3/8-ounce category and above, depending on the wind and how difficult it is to keep the line vertical and maintain direct contact with the jig. With live bait, this technique often encourages some duration of stay, with bits of broken-up minnow and scent drawing more fish throughout your endeavors. Give each spot at least 30 minutes before moving. If the graph still shows activity, you might find fishing improves the longer you stick around.