The Problem: Abundant Baitfish
- Plentiful Forage
- Little Competition For Food
- Short Window Of Opportunity
Whether it’s a bumper crop of perch, alewives, smelt, shad or shiners, over-abundant forage makes fishing tough. Hungry walleyes feed at will and are rarely in the mood to chase bait.
It’s a tough hand, but you can play it by looking for areas where baitfish is less abundant. On large lakes, you can often find such places and, while there will likely be fewer walleyes, too, the fish you do find will be easier to catch.
For example, say you’re fishing a reservoir with five major points or reefs. Use your sonar to mark the amount of bait and predators on each, then fish the one with the least amount of forage.
In open water, don’t even bother fishing clouds of baitfish with few predators nearby. Look for smaller pods, particularly tightly schooled “balls” of baitfish surrounded by larger hooks. It’s a classic sign that predators are on the hunt, which means it’s a prime time to run cranks.
There’s a lot of talk about matching the hatch for walleyes, but it’s best to experiment with a range of sizes and styles. Start with a variety of colors, too — mainly naturals like black / silver and blue / silver, but toss in at least one clown or fire tiger pattern.
Make short trolling passes through the school and keep your baits three to eight feet above where you’re marking walleyes. This is critical, because they don’t look down in open water. When your graph goes blank, turn around and go back.
While I troll cranks or spinner rigs when fishing deep, open water and large structure, I prefer to cast a chrome-plated jig tipped with a 3-inch, soft-plastic jigworm or minnow tail when working points and reefs in shallow water.
In water less than eight feet, it’s tough to get an accurate picture of baitfish and walleye abundance with sonar, so you have to locate them with your presentation.
I search for active walleyes with a fast retrieve, popping the jig off bottom with quick 6- to 12-inch lifts, then letting it swing toward me on the drop. The trick is to make the jig look like a spooked minnow taking off. Popping takes more weight than a slow retrieve, so I’ll use a 1/4-ounce jig instead of an 1/8, or an 1/8-ounce instead of 1/16.
When I catch a walleye, I grab a rod rigged with a lighter jig and fish the area more slowly. Often, I find I’ve hit a cool piece of structure like a boulder or small slot on the edge of the reef.
One of my top rigs on a bit deeper structure is a big, lip-hooked creek chub. Even with tons of 3- to 4-inch bait around, walleyes… especially the hogs… can’t resist a 5- to 6-inch “creeker” going nuts on my hook.
Hook the chub lightly through the lips on a red, short-shank, size 1 beak hook. I generally use a 5- to 6-1/2-foot snell of 8- to 10-pound, supple mono or 6-pound FireLine (best for deep water), behind a 3/4- to 1-1/2-ounce bottom bouncer.
You can use a sliding sinker, but it’s a slower presentation that generally works best only in ultra-clear water. Then, use a 3/4- to 1-ounce weight and 10- to 12-foot mono snell.
I normally run bouncers at about 1/2 mph or so — fast enough to cover ground, yet slow enough for the chub to swim along naturally while I’m searching for fish.
You’ll know you’ve found one when the rodtip starts thumping. Immediately stop the boat, back it up a few feet and give the creeker a chance to work its magic. When you feel either a “thunk” or slight weight on the line, set the hook.
If you can’t find a shop that handles creek chubs, you can catch them yourself — either in a trap or with hook-and-line — in many streams across the Midwest. But be sure to check local regulations first.
Bouncing A Creeker
When walleyes are on structure and bait is abundant, Parsons often turns to the theatrics of a frantic creek chub. His rig: a lip-hooked creeker on a supple mono snell (except in deep water, when he prefers superline). Troll about 1/2 mph with a bottom bouncer until the rodtip starts dancing, then stop the boat and wait for the telltale “thunk” or dead weight indicating that a walleye has fallen for the act.