Lay Over Walleyes

Anglers love to follow cliches. Many of these cliches get taken as truths and get repeated until nobody ever questions what them. A lot of information is regurgitated and repeated until we get to a point where people just don’t question something. There are a few cliches that get thrown around a lot regarding walleyes, such as  how they relate to structure.

There is a general belief that walleyes move on top of structure or slide up a break when they become active or aggressive. Or that they will move onto a point to eat.

That’s not always the case.

Do walleyes move in on structure to eat? Absolutely. But there are also situations in which walleyes move off structure to eat. We see this happen more as summer progresses. As summer wears on, the abyss of open water often comes alive with life. The baitfish roaming this open water could be shad, shiners, smelt, ciscoes, tullibees, or even young-of-the-year perch. Whatever the baitfish, there will be a slice of that water column over the abyss that has the preferred water temperature for a particular baitfish. 

What I find incredible about walleyes is they have no problem pushing out into water that is technically much too warm or much too cold in order to get a meal. In some regards, walleyes are a more versatile predator than salmon or even big northern pike. A walleye will temporarily move out of its own comfort zone to eat much more so than some other predators. 

The are some situations in which walleyes slide off the structure or deeper when they are running down their meal. And there are times when these fish become inactive and simply want to rest, and so they slide up the structure and use shallower water. Sometimes, it even appears the fish simply want to rest their bottom pectoral fins on something firm when they shut down. We have seen this upside-down pattern repeat itself on many fisheries.

If you can grasp this concept, you are on the fast track to catching a lot more walleyes this summer.

Now, if aggressive walleyes are over open water chasing baitfish, and the inactive fish are shallower resting on the structure, why not pursue the active fish over open water and leave the inactive fish alone?

Which fish to target is a double-edged sword. Open-water fish can be unpredictable and hard to pin down. But the lay-over locations where walleyes come home to roost are often very specific. An example is a large main-lake point that sticks into deep water. The fish that use these prominent structures during midsummer often don’t hang out in open water and then swim onto the point to eat. Rather, they loaf on the point and swim into the abyss to eat.

These lay-over fish that use structure like this often require some persistence and patience.  When these fish are off, they are off. They can be difficult to mark and even more difficult to trigger. Imagine resting fish tucked tight to dips and breaks in the bottom. As these fish become active prior to their next open-water stroll, they start to ride a touch higher off the bottom and you start to mark fish separating from the bottom. This increased activity often creates a window in which you can do the most damage each day. The trouble is that you often have to wait out this window. 

The power of repetition

When fish are shut down and tight to the bottom, I don’t know any better way to catch them than repetition. When I troll crankbaits on these fish, I don’t spread the lures out, but rather run them in a tight formation. Regardless of presentation, the best strategy is to keep repeating the same pass over and over. Pound it down their throats.

Wait out the windows of activity and be in position when the fish make a move. 

I don’t have all of the answers, but it seems like you can actually will the fish into biting at times with persistence. A pass or two over the fish might not do much when the fish are off, but it often seems like you can sometimes get the fish going by just going back and forth over them multiple times. 

Repetition is one strategy that works well on these lay-over walleyes. The other ace in the hole is the clover leaf. When you mark a fish, go past it until the presentation is also past the fish. Then turn back over the fish so the presentation goes past the fish at a different angle. When you keep going past the fish at different angles and turn again to repeat the process, the GPS plotter will look like a clover leaf. Often, I think what happens when we go over fish that are on the sonar is the presentation might indeed be going past the fish, but not in front of the fish. So by turning around and hitting different angles, sooner or later you are going to land in front of the fish.

This game is often dominated by either live-bait rigs or bottom bouncers fished below the boat. While a plain snell with a plain hook can at times be the ticket, one of my favorite rigs is a 3- to 5-foot snell with a floating jig. With either a leech or crawler, the floater will wobble as it is pulled through the water. It really seems to trigger fish via a huge swing in speeds without snagging or fouling up so much on inside turns or stalls. Typically, I have had the best luck experimenting between plain shells with a plain hook, a bead, or the floater. 

With this type of rigging, I believe less is more. With less hardware, you can turn sharper and get back over a fish or icon. Blades and cranks take some water resistance or speed, whereas with plain rigs and floats you can stall out the inside rod completely and still catch a fish on the inside turn and not get hung up so much. The other factor is that these fish are not in this location looking for a meal, they are simply passing time until their next meal. 

At the end of the day, you just never know what the trigger will be. Sometimes bigger and more is better, while sometimes subtle and less is best. You just have to go through the channels until something works. With that being said, I can’t stress enough how unpredictable these fish can be. This is definitely a situation where you want to experiment with different baits and colors. Don’t assume the bait of choice will be crawlers, or minnows, or anything else. You just never know. 

While the trigger and timing can be unpredictable with these patterns, what is predictable and what makes this locational pattern so successful is the fact that you have pulses of fish coming and going off these locations, and these locations are often limited. The spots are often obvious and they just get a lot of fish traffic and boat traffic.

The key is the understanding and strategy involved in attacking this pattern. You have to be confident in the system, as well as methodical and patient, and grasp what these fish are actually doing. When you have the understanding, that gives you the confidence to go over the same break or work the same location for an extended period of time. These situations usually require you to put in the time. You sometimes get windows where the fish open up and you catch several fish in a short amount of time. But usually, unless you just got really lucky, you have to put in the time and gather some clues through the day so that every fish adds up and the pattern comes together.   

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