By Jason Mitchell
Trolling can dominate many mid- to late-summer walleye-fishing strategies because trolling crankbaits enables anglers to cover water and to fish fast. When walleyes are suspended, scattered across basins or flats, or dispersed along a deep contour, trolling allows anglers to fish effectively through vast areas to find fish.
But there is one particular pattern that’s emerging this summer and that’s trolling for walleyes in weeds. There’s are good reasons for that.
Weeds will always hold walleyes throughout much of the summer, but this summer is different. There’s been little precipitation across much of the Midwest, along with heat little wind. These conditions have conspired to change fishing patterns. Walleyes can still be found in deep, rocky locations, but when conditions get hot, weeds do offer good oxygen and shade that will hold fish, even when the surface temperatures are cooking.
This time of year, however, weeds often are quite tall. In many locations, they’re reaching the surface, sometimes in 10 feet of water.
Trolling crankbaits inside basins or bowls surrounded by expansive weed flats is extremely productive for catching walleyes during the fleeting summer days of August. Many of these large weed flats have troughs or bowls that are slightly deeper. It could be a 12- or 14-foot hole or bowl surrounded by weed-choked water that’s less than 10 feet deep.
If the spots are small, you can fish a slip bobber or jig, but for the bigger locations, trolling crankbaits can be a better option.
The trolling program can depend on the weed profile. In some cases, it might be as simple as running crankbaits down to 8 feet of water and tracing the inside perimeter of the bowl.
On Leech Lake, the technique might be the same, but the weed edge may not be so defined. Cabbage might be dominant in 8 or 9 feet of water with a 15-foot trough. That means you can run cranks 5 to 6 feet down, just above the weeds in the troughs.
Water clarity will have a big effect on how weed growth, which in turn will affect your trolling pattern. Stained water typically results in shallower weed growth with much more distinct edges. Clear water offers deeper weed growth and lingering weeds into the deeper water.
When trolling for walleyes in weeds, the best advice is generally the shortest amount of line possible to reach the trolling depth. However, clear water might mean you must get the lure farther from the boat or use a planer boards. The reality is that we seldom can catch fish close to the boat anymore on water infested with zebra mussels.
Excellent water visibility might also require running crankbaits farther behind the boat in less than fifteen feet of water. Abundant green weeds will hold fish, but prepare to run lures higher as the summer progresses.
These weedy locations can be extremely productive, but many anglers overlook troughs and bowls. They tend to look for structure – something protruding or sticking up from the bottom. Those things attract a lot of attention right now. But a long trough or bowl that is merely 2 to 5 feet deeper than the rest of the flat or bay is much more subtle, thus overlooked.
Walleyes tend to pile into these weedy locations this time of year. With a good contour map and some investigating, these locations can be surprisingly easy to find and to fish. Your lures will get “weeded up” at times as you learn the spot, but as you fine-tune your presentation, these locations get easier to fish.
From week to week you might have to adjust your crankbaits and amount of line to run the lures higher as the summer progresses and weeds start to creep up and out of the deeper water. When in doubt as to where to run the baits, run them high and make the fish come up for them. When walleye fishing gets tough, trolling through weeds often saves the day.