Break line Basics for walleyes

The key to finding and catching big walleyes is quite often
found along a change in depth or drop-off (a.k.a. breakline).
Breaklines can concentrate fish, and concentrations are exactly
what you’re looking for about 100 percent of the time.

The idea is to keep the bait in front of as many walleyes as you
can for as long as you can. The end result should be more fish in
the boat by the end of the day. By getting a bait in front of the
heaviest concentrations of fish, you can greatly improve the odds
of finding the willing.

Within a large school of walleyes there will almost always be a
few that will be active enough to take a bait, even if the rest of
the pack is not. The fact is, they don’t always do the same things
at the same time, even when they’re stacked up in schools. Finding
said concentrations often starts at the breakline, wherever that
may be.

You can refine the activity along a breakline even further and
try to determine whether the walleyes along the top, the middle, or
at the base of the break are the biters. Quite often there will be
a group of fish spread out up and down a breakline, but only
certain ones are feeding at any given time. A good rule of thumb is
that the shallowest fish are the most likely to take a bait.

A deep-to-shallow feeding movement is a classic one, and occurs
both in deep water and shallow water. For example, walleyes holding
on a deep off-shore hump often will hold along the break of the
edge and move up on top during peak times of activity. The same
thing happens on shallow rocky bars and reefs where walleyes hold
along an edge that might only be five feet deep or shallower, but
then move up into super shallow water when the timing is right. In
either case the break is where you’re likely to find the heaviest
concentrations, but not necessarily where you’ll locate the heavy
feeders.

Breaklines by themselves are not enough to pull in active
walleyes, but a breakline combined with a good feeding opportunity
certainly is. Breaklines or drop-offs that lie next to a big
feeding shelf is the stuff that quality time on the water is made
of. Breaks next to shelves, rocky bars, or even flats are what
you’re looking for, and where and when will depend on the
characteristics of the lake system you happen to be on, and time of
the year.

A breakline next to a big deep hump might be holding absolutely
nothing if you get there too early, or if the water is too dark, or
if it’s below the thermocline. Time spent where they’re not is time
wasted, and a situation to try and avoid. There will be some time
wasted in the search for the mother of all schools of walleyes, but
you can try and keep it to a minimum.

Finding likely breaklines begins by gathering a little basic
knowledge about a system, and then taking a hard look at a good
map. A detailed map with latitude and longitude markings can be a
big help, especially if you have an accurate GPS to help exploit
the information.

By transferring breakline readings into the GPS, you can take a
direct heading for potential hot spots. Most GPS units can get you
to within a few feet of what you’re looking for, and a GPS can be
critical for finding off-shore breaks on big water.

After the right spot is found, take a good look with the depth
finder to see if anything is around before dropping in a line. If
you’re marking fish, try to find the tightest groups or
concentrations, and take note of exactly where they’re located. Try
looking up and down the breakline and even up directly on top of
accompanying structure. A good plan would include going back and
working the shallow fish first.

Don’t let the first fish you mark stop you from investigating
thoroughly before you get a line in the water. Even if you mark
what looks like the mother lode, take a little more time and check
it all out before trying to put a few in the boat.

How you approach a breakline will depend on the time of year,
and the type of structure, and just how tight the fish are bunched
up. Fish that are spread out require a different presentation than
those that are piled into a tight area. Tight schools likely call
for rigging and jigging techniques, while loose groups may be more
efficiently worked with trolling methods (where legal) like lead
core and crankbait combinations. Lead core can allow you to run a
bait at an exact depth, and do so quickly, resulting in more water
covered (and explored).

Lead core has little stretch, and transmits the rhythmic
vibration of a properly running crankbait back to the rod tip. You
can literally see how a bait is running by concentrating on the
tip. If it’s consistently twitching, you’re running clean. If it
pulls back hard and pops forward, you’re digging into the bottom.
Reel up a little line and watch the tip. Keep picking up line until
it runs free. It’s OK to occasionally bang into the bottom; that
can help trigger a fish strike. But a bait that’s constantly
grinding into the bottom will hang up. Also, a small change in
depth can get you back digging into the bottom, or put the bait too
high to be in the zone. Constantly monitor the rod tip; that’s one
key to successful contour trolling.

It takes some time to get comfortable with the whole affair, but
once you do you’ll be in control of a tool with an unmatched level
of precision.

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