By Mike Gnatkowski
Summer finds walleyes transitioning from their shallow spring haunts to deeper locations where they’ll spend the balance of the summer. There are multiple techniques that will tempt summer walleyes, and it pays to be proficient at several.
Big water bodies like Lake Erie, Saginaw Bay, and the Bays de Noc typically demand covering water. Trolling is the best option, but you have to choose between trolling with crawler harnesses, meat, or crankbaits.
On inland waters there is always a population of walleyes that live in the weeds. Slip-bobbers excel at dropping live bait in the openings in the weeds or probing the edges.
Walleyes are also known for hanging near structure in the form of gravel bars, humps, rocky points, or boulders. Casting is often the best option.
Trolling is a go-to tactic on larger water bodies because you can cover water and present multiple lures. In-line planer boards are an integral part of a trolling program. Planers take your lines out to the side of the boat to increase your trolling swath and to put lures in front of fish that have not been spooked by the boat. Generally when trolling with meat you want to go slow, in the 1.0 to 1.2 or 1.3 mph range.
When trolling crawler harnesses behind boards you have a couple of options for getting them down. You can use either in-line weights or bottom bouncers. The general rule of thumb is one ounce of weight per 10 feet of water.
Rods run directly off the side of the boat can be productive, too. Rods using disc divers, jet divers, Tadpoles, in-line weights and bottom bouncers often take as many fish as the boards, especially in progressively deeper water.
Another alternative when using in-line planer boards is to pull crankbaits or spoons. Dive curves and data from a trolling app can be helpful for knowing how deep your lures are diving to replicate productive patterns. Cranks with elongated lips can easily dive 15 or 20 feet eliminating the need for added weight (depending on how far you let them out behind the board). You can get smaller, shallower divers down by adding weight. It’s common to hear a term like 50/50, which means letting out the lure 50 feet before adding the weight and then letting out another 50 feet of line before attaching it to the board.
Generally, you troll crankbaits faster than you would crawler harnesses in the summer, which facilitates covering more water. Between 2.25 to 3.0 mph is a good speed for pulling crankbaits. Spoons are compatible with crankbaits because you want to pull spoons at a faster speed. You can add weigh to get spoons down behind boards or run them off divers. Outrageous colors with combinations of pink, orange, purple, and chartreuse tones work well, but they don’t resemble anything a walleye eats regularly.
There’s a population of walleyes that stay in the weeds all summer. The water there is well oxygenated, has shade, and the weeds harbor lots of forage.
We were headed out the other day and stopped in 14 feet of water. The graph lit up with fish so we decided to try trolling. We caught a couple fish quickly, but we caught more weeds and decided to leave. I wish we had some rods rigged with slip-bobbers. The fish we marked were hovering just above the weeds.
Slip-bobbers are ideal tools for fishing weeds. Bobbers or floats allow you to suspend a bait at the right depth in front of walleyes taking refuge in or along the weeds. You can use floats to work the edge of the weeds or on inside turns where walleyes may be cruising.
Floats that have a metal grommet on the top are best because the line slips right through. Tie you main line to a barrel swivel and add a 2- or 3-foot leader. Pinch a couple spit shot on above the barrel swivel. You can use a plain hook or a jig. A jig will get your offering down quickly and keep it there. A plain hook allows your crawler or leech to move more freely if the walleye are finicky.
Another way of fishing weeds is to troll or drift with a pretty simple rig. Slide a 1⁄8- or ¼-once bullet-shaped sinker on your line, a barrel swivel and a 4- to 6-foot leader. You can run the rig just above the emerging weeds using in-line boards or by just drifting if there’s enough wind. Walleyes will be sitting on top of the weeds or in deeper pockets and will come up to slash a crawler injected with some air or a leech.
A recent tactic for fishing structure is to rip-cast or vertically jig lures like Rapala’s Jigging Rap. This category of jigging lures is perfect for actively targeting tapering points, isolated rock piles, and gravel when walleye schools move in to forage.
Cast the lure way out, then work it back in exaggerated sweeps. Walleyes will chase and take the bait as it falls. The lure also performs when vertically jigged for walleyes suspended over deep water. Rip the lure up, then let it fall on a tight line. Watch for any hesitation on the fall or weight when you pick it up.
A carpenter has more than one saw or hammer. Be prepared to use more than one technique or lure when you target walleyes this summer.