Summer walleye tactical question: triggering versus feeding?
Freshwater Fishing Hall of Famer, Mr. Walleye Gary Roach, was out on a large mid-lake structural element just prior to a tournament trying to develop a pattern, and I was in the boat with him researching some story ideas and shooting photos.
After getting all the information and images I needed I grabbed a rod that had a Northland Whistler jig attached to the line and tipped it with a leech and sent it down. I began snap jigging and hooked into a decent walleye. A few minutes later I hooked another. Roach asked to see the lure and when I swung it over to him he cut it off, tossed it in his tackle box, and handed me a rod with a Roach (live-bait) rig on it.
Roach had decided his game plan for the tournament was going to be feeding the fish and my presentation with the jig was triggering bites. He didn’t want to change plans so he had me swap rods to stay on his program. It was a good move because he placed second in the event.
It’s always a question when taking to the water whether to put together a strategy to feed the fish or trigger them to bite. My brother always has a wealth of bait in his boat when fishing and rarely ties on anything but a plain hook to the end of the line.
I, on the other hand, will be snapping jigs, burning bucktails, ripping crankbaits, and buzzing buzzbaits to get a fish to crush that lure, even though they aren’t hungry.
Since I started using underwater cameras during both summer and winter months I have noticed that both triggering and feeding presentations work well, but only at certain times.
It’s obvious that when fish are hungry and feeding, like right before a front moves in or when the weather has been stable for a while, you cannot beat a leech, nightcrawler or minnow on a hook or a jig. But, when conditions shut down the feeding urges, then the only way to get fish to commit is to trigger that bite.
Last summer I had the underwater camera out and was watching a school of smallmouth bass on a rock pile lethargically swimming or just suspended over the rocks. We anchored and tried slip-bobbers, drop-shot rigs and straight-down vertical jigging with sucker minnows. No bites. I finally tied on a rattling lipless crankbait and burned it through the fish and hooked a half dozen in two hours. Not a great bite, but we caught fish that wouldn’t eat.
Just a few weeks later I was with my brother on a lake in Iowa just before sunrise and we were watching for shad explosions on the surface that signified a school of hybrid striped bass feeding. We would motor to where the bass were herding the shad and toss a shiner minnow on a bare hook with no weight on the line right into the feeding fish. This produced incredible action until the feeding stopped. I tried shallow-diving crankbaits, but those hybrids wanted an easy meal of real meat.
One other thing I’ve noticed with the underwater camera is sometimes the fish will hit the camera. Actually bite it. I don’t think they want to eat it. It’s just that fish don’t have hands and they want to test out what this foreign object is and they accomplish that with their mouth. There might be a big shiner or sucker right next to the lens, and they still choose to grab the camera instead of the bait.
Sometimes a day on the water creates more questions than answers, but I always enjoy the learning.