Weed-bound walleyes are a worthy adversary given the traditional means we often use to pursue that species, and one option is slick-rigging. A few hours of playing in the weeds send most anglers to the relatively snag-free depths, where the worst hang-ups are caused by snail shells or clams. Rocks at least stay put, and typically only come up a few feet off the bottom. For these reasons and others, many anglers, and I included, have a hard time preferring to switch to weed bites. It’s seemingly so much simpler to fish bare hooks, keep your sinker off the bottom, and stay away from the stringy stuff that can plague your tackle.
Ignoring weedy walleyes however is a mistake you can learn to correct over time, especially when there’s a good wind headed for well-developed patches of the walleye-favored cabbage. Coontail beds are a close second, with both weed species holding resident walleyes nearly year-round. When the wind kicks up, walleyes get the best of all circumstances in being shallow with more meal choices, along with the competitive predatory advantage of reduced light levels and mixing water.
Always curious about how other anglers tackle weedy’s eyes, we recently chatted up Brett McComas, editor of Target Walleye and competitive walleye angler in his own right. We traded a few nuggets, as he detailed his favorite weedy walleye bite that’s put him at the top of the heap in a few recent events. The beauty of it is the simplicity, and similarity to how so many live-bait rigging fans prefer to chase walleyes already.
Brett mentioned a few keys to the bite, however, and the first starts with location. “This is a shallower pattern, usually anywhere from 9’ – 14’, with emergent or barely submerged cabbage beds all around and shallower. You’re looking for a complex of weeds that hold bait and inactive walleyes, but also for the areas just off of the “wall” where cabbage comes up anywhere from 6-8’ below the surface,” says McComas. These areas hold fish that are actively eating, and maybe hiding just below the tops of those weeds.
Brett also highlights the other major component to the tactic, which is good wind. Shallow fish present an interesting opportunity in that they’re typically more willing to eat than be resting, especially with a bit of wind. That said, cabbage thrives in relatively clear water lakes, and walleyes directly under-boat will spook without that very wind that both kicks the bite in gear and helps to hide your craft. McComas says, “One way to get away with borderline conditions is to simply let out more line and put your presentation further from the boat. It requires a bit more finesse to keep from tangling and snagging, but gives you the best opportunity to put your bait in front of fish that haven’t been pushed around.”
Ultimately, this technique is all about rigging. Start with a 1/8 oz. tungsten bullet-nose sinker (1/4 oz. if really windy), then a bead, tied off to the smallest swivel you can find. “This sounds ultra-light, but remember that this is a shallow-water deal, so you’ll need plenty of line out behind the boat to keep from spooking fish,” mentions McComas. “A thin, braided mainline lets me snap the rig out of cabbage leaves if it gets stuck, and feel bites with lots of line out. If your hook snags the stalk of the weed, you’ll likely have to pluck the whole thing out of the bottom.”
McComas continues, “This is one of the few techniques where I think it’s important to use a monofilament leader instead of fluorocarbon, simply because fluoro sinks and I don’t want my bait dragging on the bottom if I drop down to super-slow speeds. I like using a 48″ leader (usually 10-lb, not less), as anything longer seems to get wrapped up in the cabbage stalks too often.” As for hooks, it’s time to downsize a bit. “I drop down to a #6 or #4 Octopus Hook, or a #8 or #6 Walleye Wide-Gap Hook for the great hook-up ratios, yet streamlined shape that pulls through the weeds better than you might expect.”
As for the business end of the rig, life-like leech and night-crawler imitations from the Northland Impulse series can be more productive than live bait, especially when trolling speeds are bumped up. “You almost have to fish them in areas with lots of ‘gills,” says McComas, adding that “otherwise you’ll spend a great deal of time and money constantly putting on live bait.”
Soft plastic leeches and crawlers can also be rigged in a variety of ways, from nearly weedless Texas-rigging options to slow-death styles that cause the bait to spin seductively in the water. Whether you use live bait or soft plastics, this is a pattern that’s the prime time right now, but as McComas says, it “targets a certain population of fish that will be in the cabbage all year round, which are usually your better fish in the lake.”