Catching Walleyes In Clear Water

The Problem: Clear Water


  • Spooky Fish
  • Deep Fish
  • Tough Daytime Bite

    Gin-clear water is one of the toughest situations to catch walleyes. Truth is, though, many clear lakes hold excellent walleye populations — including some real monsters. Learn the quirks of their behavior and this mother lode can be yours — all yours.

    One of the main reasons anglers struggle on clear water is the fact they fish the wrong places at the wrong times. Hitting shallow structure hard during the day is generally not the answer.

    Walleyes see well and hunt very effectively during low-light periods. Because their eyes are so sensitive, they also avoid bright light and, in clear water, often take cover in thick vegetation or retreat to the depths during the day.

    That means nightfishing is the first choice on clear lakes. Prime areas vary depending on the season, lake and forage, but I start with typical feeding areas like points, reefs and breaklines near deep water or cover.

    A good plan is to scout these areas during the day, mark them with a GPS, then come back and raid them at night.

    That said, one of my favorite clear-water walleye patterns has less to do with actual structure than it has with bugs, specifically, mayflies like the hexagenia variety common in many waters.

    I know what you’re thinking.

    Hordes of mayflies or “fish flies” can be a major pain in the neck. Walleyes key almost exclusively on insects, quickly eat their fill and become hard to catch.

    Fair enough. But bug hatches also can work in your favor, if you fish them right.

    Here’s how it works. Clouds of juvenile mayflies emerge en masse from soft bottom sediments, rise to the surface and morph into winged adults.

    Under the cover of darkness, walleyes often gorge on mayflies on or near the surface. Get in the middle of it with a floating minnow bait and you’ll have a ball. If the action is deeper, say four feet or so off bottom, try a lively leech under a slip bobber.

    Most hatches occur during summer over soft bottoms such as mud, in depths of up to 50 feet or more (but often less). Key clues include flotillas of shed skins; a surface dimpled by feeding fish; and newly emerging clouds of mayflies.

    The bad thing about bug hatches is that they’re typically short-lived. Most last a day or two, three at most. So you can’t count on ’em all the time, but they sure are fun while they last.

    If you must fish clear water during the day, look for walleyes in deep water; weeds and areas where wind, mudlines or stained inflows reduce light penetration. Plan to use thin-diameter, low-visibility lines, light-wire hooks, live bait or natural-colored lures.

    If possible, get the bait away from the boat with long rods and / or planer boards. And be quiet. Clear-water walleyes are spooky customers.

    A one time-proven tip I gleaned from North American Fishing Club friend and walleye fanatic Scott Fairbairn — learned while guiding on northern Minnesota’s shield lakes — involves slip floats, leeches and savvy.

    “During the day, I fish deep reefs with slip floats. Everybody in the boat sets their bait at a different depth (typically along the break, but don’t overlook the top) until we start picking up small fish at a given depth. Then, all stops are set to that depth and we cast about 60 feet off the reef, where the bigger fish suspend.”

    Deep weeds also hold daytime walleyes, offering a place to hide from the sun and ambush prey. The best seem to be in 15 feet to 25 feet, but it varies. I run a diving crank like a Bomber 25A or 14A — something that just ticks the weedtops. Or, use a split shot to take a nightcrawler and small spinner down to the weeds. Metallic finishes such as gold, silver and bronze usually work best.

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