In the early part of summer, walleyes begin to fan out, heading toward the places they’ll call home during the warm season. And while it’s still absolutely possible to locate pods of fish that are susceptible to jigging and other pinpoint approaches, you’re more apt to face scattered walleyes than you were just a couple of weeks earlier.
When you do, it’s time to change tactics, says Chip Leer, walleye specialist, and Team Northland product manager. “That’s when you should break out the spinner rigs, cover some water and put your bait in front of as many fish as possible.”
Though it sounds like a shotgun approach, the choices he makes are far from random and are meant to help him locate pods of walleyes that are separated from one another, and elicit reaction strikes from individual fish that may be dispersed over a large area. Here are some tips that will help you.
Water temps have yet to reach their peak, so keep trolling speeds in the 1 to 1.5 mph range. Later on, when temps rise and the fish’s metabolism heats up, you can accelerate, too.
Pay attention to water conditions. If the water is fairly clear, offering a few feet of visibility when looking into it, Leer opts for holographic blades, such as those on Northland’s Baitfish Spinner Rigs. “They give off a more natural-looking flash,” he says. Water with any color at all calls for brightly painted blades, or those in the Pro Walleye lineup that offers an optically brightened UV finish. No. 3 or 4 Colorado blades are the overall best choice this time of year, though Leer sometimes goes with an Indiana blade when trolling minnows at the upper end of the speed range.
When choosing bait, the generally accepted practice is to start trolling minnows, then transition to leeches and nightcrawlers. While that’s true overall, it can depend on where you fish, according to the angler. “Walleyes in some lakes react better to ’crawlers than minnows, even in the early summer,” he says, “and some respond best to artificial baits like the Impulse® Rig’n Leech or Nightcrawler.” Bring a variety of baits, he advises, especially if you’re unsure of the fish’s tendencies.
Optimize your chance for success by using the right gear. When fishing a hand-held rod, Leer uses a 7 to 7½ footer, with a limber tip, strung with a braided line and weighted with a Slick-Stick® Bottom Bouncer. “The no-stretch line and bottom bouncer combination lets me feel everything on the bottom,” he says. “I can tell whether I’m over rocks or sand, or if the bottom transitions from hard to soft.” When he employs rod holders Leer says monofilament line and Rock-Runner® Bottom Bouncers are preferred. “This system offers enough ‘give’ that walleyes tend to hook themselves.”
Finally, remember that you can turn the boat around. “Too many fishermen get into a mindset that they must troll from point A to point B along a contour, or around a point or hump,” he says. “If you catch a walleye or two in one spot, turn around and go back through it.” You may have simply run across an area where scattered fish are at a higher density, or it could be a pod. In that case, switch to a pinpoint delivery with jigs or slip float rigs.