Factoring Forage In The Equation For Success

Any structure may look “fishy.” However, if a structure hosts no baitfish, that spot will be as fishless as a stretch of the Mohave Desert at high noon. That’s where the “forage factor” comes in.

A lake or river map, a visit with the folks at your favorite bait shop and some basic understanding of how walleyes move through the system can help focus on areas likely to hold fish. But, the real work begins on the water where the task is to find fish as soon as we can. The forage factor can help.

Mother Nature has programmed fish with just two main goals in life. One is to reproduce and the other is to eat. As Sherlock Holmes would say, it’s elementary that but for the relatively brief spawning period, finding baitfish will give away the location of active walleyes.

Ted Takasaki

Fishing is often tough in summer because reservoirs, lakes and rivers are full of food in the form of young-of-the-year fish. Gamefish need only be active for short periods to eat their fill. But, during autumn, walleyes and other fish will be feeding often. Instinct triggers the need to fatten for the winter when their activity level will decline with the lower water temperatures. And at the same time, food becomes scarcer. Populations of forage fish fall in number from predation. Trophy fish become more vulnerable.

Look For Baitfish
But, fishing is the slowest way to find walleyes. Even when trolling, it takes far too long to cover a large structure. Since walleyes are looking for baitfish, you should, too, before you ever wet a line. First, find out what kinds of baitfish are present in your targeted waters. For example, yellow perch are never found too far off the bottom. Walleyes that want them will be deep, too. However, alewives, shad and ciscoes often suspend in search of the light-sensitive plankton on which they feed. Active walleyes will likely be suspended nearby.

Once on the water, “run and gun” from one likely spot to another. Keep an eye on a good sonar unit such as a BottomLine to search for telltale clouds of baitfish because it’s a cinch walleyes will be close by. If there’s none, move on.

Looking for forage fish instead of gamefish offers other advantages. There are times when walleyes are “invisible” to sonar because they hold so tight to the bottom only the best depth finders can tell they are there. At the same time, baitfish are easily identified. Other times, walleyes may be so high in the water column the sonar’s cone-shaped sound wave is too small to record them. Still, a wide band of baitfish holding near the surface may appear on the screen. Feeding seagulls or the thrashing of white bass breaking the surface often give clues when that’s the case.

Once baitfish are found, enter waypoints on your GPS or toss out buoys to the mark the spot. Watch the depthfinder and note how baitfish relate to the structure. How deep is the water where they are holding? Are they tightly schooled on the bottom? If so, jigging might be the answer. Are they scattered? Perhaps, trolling X-Change Bottom-Bouncers and Hatchet Blades will do the trick. Are they suspended? Maybe spinner rigs and snap weights or trolling crankbaits are the tactics to try. Are they shallow stacked up on windswept points or inside turns? Then casting jigs or crankbaits into the murky water where the breeze has stirred a mudline could be productive.

Take time to consider the forage factor. It can mean the difference in the equation for success.

For a fine assortment of Fishing Gear, click here.

Ted Takasaki and Scott Richardson write a weekly column for sportsmansguide.com. Ted has many fishing achievements, including a victory at the 1993 Mercury Nationals and the 1995 Professional Walleye Trail Top Gun award. He reached the pinnacle of both angling and business when he was named PWT Champion in 1998 and president of Lindy Little Joe, Inc., of Brainerd, Minn., a year later. (Ted’s sponsors include Ranger Boats, Mercury Outboards, Pinnacle Rods and Reels, Bottom Line Electronics, Minn Kota, Stren, Normark, Flambeau, Master Lock, Gamakatsu, Aqua Vu and Nautamatic TR 1.)

Leave a Reply

Commenting Policy - We encourage open expression of your thoughts and ideas. But there are a few rules:

No abusive comments, threats, or personal attacks. Use clean language. No discussion of illegal activity. Racist, sexist, homophobic, and generally hateful comments are not tolerated. Keep comments on topic. Please don't spam.

While we reserve the right to remove or modify comments at our sole discretion, the Sportsman's Guide does not bear any responsibility for user comments. The views expressed within the comment section do not necessarily reflect or represent the views of The Sportsman's Guide.