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The Walleye Bite Is On

It was a strange spring from anglers to gobbler chasers. The later spring temperature, teamed up with rain, then some more rain has many local sportsmen shaking their heads looking for answers.

The good news is that June looks to start off with more traditional weather patterns. This will increase anglers’ chances to fill their freezers with fresh walleye fillets. In our part of walleye country, we are blessed with many great fisheries to choose from for chasing these tasty critters.

Lake Erie offers a deep, mainly clear fishery, while inland bodies of water such as Chautauqua and Cassadaga lakes offer little more cloudy water with, for the most part, well-defined weed edges and beds.

The cooler water temperature has kept walleyes shallow after a fairly late spawn. As daytime temperatures begin to increase so will water temperatures, which will put the walleyes in their first post-spawn staging areas and heading for slightly deeper water. For inland fisheries like Chautauqua and Cassadaga lakes these seem to be areas of emerging weed beds and edges, the jungle which holds forage for the ravenous ‘eyes. With that well-known information, where does a hungry walleye angler start? Let’s discuss some tried-and-true techniques to target walleyes that are cruising flats of emergent vegetation and weed line breaks.

Sure, you can pitch a jig and plastic or plunk slip bobbers and live bait but, oftentimes, covering more water leads to a more successful outing. Here is where trolling or casting “walleye plugs” come into play.

When fish move onto the flats with good weed growth in areas of 6- to 14-feet and the breaks where the flats terminate into deeper water, you can get ready for a classic post-spawn bite. As water temperatures increase and the weeds grow taller, an effective tactic is trolling shallow-running crankbaits right over the tops of the weeds. If you have a 6-foot flat and the weeds are coming up 2- to 3-feet, it’s time to tie on a shallower-running crankbait like the Rumble Shiner by Northland. The 2 § inch #7 dives 4- to 6-feet and the 3 ™” #8 dives 5- to 8-feet, perfect for those shallower flats. If the weeds are slightly deeper, like on clear water bodies, I’ll go up to the #10, which is slightly longer at 4-inches and dives 6- to 10-feet. Simply run the cranks right over the top of the weed stalks on long-lines with the rod in hand.

Besides weed flats, the other common post-spawn scenario is walleyes holding on the bends, points, and curves of a weed line break. These areas typically have deeper water nearby, but the weeds yield comfort for walleyes to cruise and duck in to feed on available minnows, young-of-the-year perch, and even small bluegills. For shallower water, crankbait trolling in less than 10 feet of water a spinning rod is your best bet. With a spinning rod I can get in and out of the water quicker. It’s a hands-on deal and you can feel if the bait is fouled up. It takes a while to learn each spot and you can spend a lot of time cleaning lures off. We have found recently that a 10-pound braid works, but if the water’s clear, tip it off with a 4-foot piece of 8- or 10-pound fluorocarbon. While some use a moderate action rod for trolling, trying a faster-action graphite rod helps you feel every shake of the bait. When it comes to colors, matching color with forage fish and water clarity is the key.

Color selection doesn’t have to be difficult; it is fairly simple: bright colors in dirty water and ones with a dark back and light belly after dark in clear water. I prefer more natural, subdued colors in clear water, like silver, blue, and gold and black or gold and orange when the sun is out. But you can catch a lot of walleyes on the wrong color if you’re in the right place at the right time.

Northland’s Rumble Bug is quickly gaining popularity because of its versatility. Anglers are finding the Bug will troll and cast with great success.

It’s great in long-line trolling, with either mono or lead core. We have even had some success with pitching the Bug in select areas. The Bug will dive down to 4-to 7-feet, so it makes a great bait for trolling over the weed tops. It’s got a buggy action — hence the name — but what people aren’t talking about yet because it’s so new is that it has a great young-of-the-year bluegill profile.

The Rumble Bug is the perfect bite-sized snack for walleyes feeding on small gills. We have been running it on long-line in 10- to 12- feet of water over weeds and crushing fish so far this season. You can slow it down to 1.1 or 1.2 mph and it still works its magic. The plain perch color is working great on Chautauqua, but the gold perch worked great during the dog days of summer bite last year.

Keep the trolling setup simple. You can use just about any bait caster or spinning rod with longer line leads out on clearer water. On the topic of line selection, the clear waters at 10-pound fluorocarbon works well. What we found, though, is if you have muskies in the area go with a 20-pound fluorocarbon. This setup works as water begins to stain as the season moves into the summer months.

With water temperatures rising and fish transitioning from post-spawn staging areas toward emerging vegetation, now is the time to get on the crankbait program,which we will discuss in the coming weeks. There is one thing that I would like to leave you all with: there is an old tried-and-true formula for any angling success: fish plus location plus presentation equals success.

Sometimes, you just don’t know why fish are in a certain spot. You might have worked 15 other perfect areas and got blanked. This is when it’s time to tie a walleye plug and start casting, working areas and keeping your bait on top of the vegetation.

Here is one thing I have discovered during the first part of the season on how walleyes relate to vegetation. If you’re fishing an area of the lake with milfoil that has hardly any bass, you’ll find walleyes doing “bassish” things, like relating to milfoil mat edges. But if you have a lot of bass in the lake, the walleyes will probably be abiding by more traditional walleye-like behaviors.

Over the years I began to notice something worth mentioning. Maybe some of you have noticed it also. I’ve noticed with walleyes and weeds that they prefer areas with a lot of openings and lanes. They’ll be around thick weeds, but there better be an open lane nearby. Walleyes like openings and edges, whereas bass will hold right in the thick stuff. When walleyes are eating, they’re cruising like those open lanes, edges, and transitions that they can run up and down on.

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