August traditionally is a tough time to get a good bite going for most walleye lakes I fish, but there are definitely options and ways to fish for late summer walleye. Each lake has hatched, bloomed, or otherwise reached its peak productivity, and fish have been taking full advantage of the flush of forage that’s been pumped into the system. They’re fat and happy, which can mean disinterested fish over deep water, especially during the high sky, and elevated temps of August. Still, there are some great walleye bites going on right now, you just might have to seek moving water to get your fix.
My buddy Brandon Eder is a fisheries biologist, and one of his favorite places to fish is the Mississippi River reaches from Brainerd, all the way down to the north metro. Knowing his affinity (and my own) for small rivers, we usually find some time each July and August to get back to some “roots-fishing” down on the river. I call it that, because growing up in the Driftless Region of the state where I’m from, rivers were the only game in town, at least locally. Especially during late summer when typically low water levels stack fish in tighter and tighter locations, I’d spend many a day pitching jigs and crankbaits for walleyes. Then and now, some of the best river fishing of the season can be found when people have all but given up on the fish.
Brandon and I a few years ago now headed out to target a particularly rocky stretch of river that we’d found success at before. As in, before, when there was more water to make navigation around said rocks a bit easier. Although it means we have to watch the electronics a bit closer and hug the deeper outside turns more often, low water usually makes the fishing better. Better it was as we started off drifting jigs through 6-8 foot holes with some immediate action. The general program was to find these holes on the outside bends of the river, drift them with jigs, and then pull up through the exact same locations with crankbaits. Traditionally it’s been a pretty solid one-two punch, with current-facing walleyes loving that jig in their face, and those same fish being willing to sweep over and grab a crank that’s slowly traversing up-current from behind them. Of course, the day wouldn’t be complete without a pass or two pulling crankbaits downstream as well. The smaller the river, the better this seems to work for some reason, as many a canoer or kayaker heading in the direction of the current will tell you.
Most fish that day were healthy eater-sized fish, but there were a good number of over-zealous bigs that went back too. Slower stretches yielded some nice smallies too, but the bulk of our targets were walleyes in rocky current areas. In those places especially, it’s amazing what a difference a foot can mean for your jig when either staying in the zone or way up and above these fish. They were holding in some decent current, and they literally have a split second to eat your bait…or not. Quick pops catch current, so you simply won’t get bit if it’s riding too far over their head. This effect can be nullified by holding your rod tip straight up in the air during shallower stretches and fishing “down” to the fish, then continually dropping it back down or letting out more line to achieve greater depth during the deeper parts of the run.
I started off with a smaller jig fished and dragged away from the boat, tipped with a crawler, then a leech, then a minnow, in that order. It’s a great technique that I’ve used successfully in several small rivers, but not this day. Too much current wouldn’t allow it in the zone as long as using a bigger hunk of lead closer to the boat. Like almost right below it. Minnows proved to be a clear choice, primarily due to their compact size in my opinion. The other bait would get hit, but not engulfed, leading to poor hooking. A braided line is nice for this, as you’re going to wedge some jigs in a rock or two along the way. It’s all part of the program, so bring plenty of jigs in that ¼ – ½ oz size.
Fishing in a small aluminum boat with a gritty old motor imprints a nostalgic feel to the days of fishing, yet we do it not just for sentimental reasons. These tools and this method of fishing remain entirely efficient, and wildly successful during a time of year that most people have a built-in excuse for. I love a large-lake adventure in a big-water boat like the next angler, but nothing re-charges the batteries like slowing down and fishing simply.