By James Lindner
What had been the brave, new world of summertime fish following suspended food sources over basin areas has become a predictable producer of whopper walleyes, muskies, pike, and even bass. It’s not necessarily easy to zero in on these predators, because the prey fish they seek are always moving to stay with their food.
It’s a pattern dictated by wind, current, water clarity, temperature, oxygen, and more.
It comes down to big fish tracking the movements of smaller fish.
Throughout the summer months, some of the largest supplies of forage in our lakes are ciscoes, rainbow smelt, tullibees, and other cool-water species that roam deeper open-water basins. We see it on Lake Erie, Green Bay, Saginaw Bay, the Missouri River lakes, and big natural lakes such as Mille Lacs and Leech.
The logic is simple: There is a tight connection between prey and predator. Find one, you’ll find ’em both. What we typically do is zig-zag around basins watching a 2D sonar display, looking for schools of baitfish. As we find prey, we look for the marks of big fish.
From there it’s a matter of figuring out what depth most of the big fish are holding at, and trolling baits slightly above that depth (within 5 feet).
It can be important to troll lures that closely match the length and shape of predominant prey species. Consult apps and charts with data showing how deep given lures run when trolled behind a specific length, diameter, and type of line. That can let you choose a lure in the right size and get it accurately into the fish zone. (Line-counter reels make it easy to repeat a productive pattern.)
Beyond that, lure color can make a difference. It isn’t always a match of prey color, so experiment with multiple colors to see what draws the most strikes. Boat speed is another important variable, so pay close attention to your speed when you catch fish.
Planer boards get lures out to the side of the boat’s path, which is important for several reasons. One, in the event that some fish react to the boat passing overhead and slide out to the side, you have lures operating in a wide swath.
Two, it lets you use more lines. A spread of four (or more) lines lets you experiment with lure size, color, and depth to dial in what the fish want.
We like long, soft-action trolling rods (my favorite is St. Croix Eyecon 8-foot, 6-inch trolling rod, with the Daiwa 300 Lexa Line Counter reel). Once you hook a fish, fight it in by reeling slowly and steadily. Don’t pump the rod to gain line, because that can help a fish tear free.
This approach can catch you the biggest fish of each species that hunts open-water prey. It takes time and attention to detail to develop a solid pattern, but when the catching starts, it makes for a memorable day.