Extreme Sports, or “X-Games” are all the rage these days … from Snow Boards to Rock Climbing, folks are taking their favorite pastimes to the limits. Fishing is no exception. When you talk about fishing “Extreme”, you’re talking about the hunt for big walleyes. That’s our passion, and we take it seriously. You hear it all the time…”The lake I fish has plenty of big fish in it, but other than spring or fall, no one can catch them … Where do they go?” The answer to that question could take volumes, but we’ll try to lay down some key factors that should help with locating and catching the biggest walleyes on your favorite water all year ‘round.
Extremely different forage:
Trophy fishing experts will tell you, what catches the most fish will rarely catch the “Big Boys”. That’s because usually the largest fish in a body of water feed differently than the larger population of smaller fish living there. Their nutritional needs are different and they’ll exhibit different behavior patterns when it comes to searching out food. Competition rules the habits of walleye populations, but when those same fish reach trophy status, there is usually not much competition to deal with. Big fish have bigger appetites. They also get smarter with age, and learn that there are certain food sources that allow them to fill up with less expenditure of energy. Where a 17 inch walleye may be content with chowing down 2 to 3 inch minnows, a 30 inch fish will search out 6 to 10 inch prey. Other critters such as waterdogs, frogs and panfish also enter the picture as prime candidates for a trophy walleye’s diet. Because of this difference in prey preference, larger walleyes will be found in areas often much different than the rest of the walleyes in a body of water.
Deep structure is always a prime location for good sized walleyes. The depth will be relative to the particular body of water, but we are primarily talking about fish that will be found in 30 to 60 feet of water. The key, as in all fishing, is to locate the fish first. A good quality depth finder is essential for this. Units like Lowrance’s LCX-111CHD and LCX-110C are “top-of-the-line” and feature 600 vertical pixels and 4000 watts of power to give you the resolution necessary to separate bottom hugging walleyes from structure. These are color units, which if you haven’t looked into yet, really increase your ability to interpret signals on the screen. Maybe interpret is the wrong term … but for sure you’re going to notice more on the color screen than a monochrome screen.
On units like the X-110, everything that’s not the bottom shows up as a different color (in this case things show up as shades of red). Boulders, stumps and fish may all show up the same when on the bottom, but for sure you’ll know there’s something down there worth investigating. With the scroll speed on max, and the ping speed on these units turned up, an angler can search likely structure at speeds up to 25 mph allowing you to cover a lot of territory in a hurry. With the color units, you’re much more likely to notice changes and marks near the bottom as you glance at the locator now and then, as opposed to looking at a monochrome unit. That’s not to say that there aren’t good monochrome units out there … there are … they’ll show you the same information the color units do … it’s just that you’ll notice minor changes more on the color screen than the monochrome screen.
Typically, deep fish are going to be related closely to structure, hanging on points, inside turns or humps. Precise presentations like a bottom bouncer and live bait set-up are ideal for targeting walleyes in this situation. Try running a 1 1/2 oz bottom bouncer with a 6 to 9 foot snell and a hook appropriate for the bait you are using. Especially if you’re targeting big walleyes, a big minnow is tough to beat. A red Mustad #2 Live Bait Hook (LB10546NR) is a good choice in this scenario.
You can move along fairly quickly with the electric motor as you work this rig, but as soon as you spot fish on the locator, slow down and work ‘em hard.
On the other end of the spectrum, big fish can move into very shallow water in search of their favorite forage. We’ve seen this on many occasions on reservoirs like Fort Peck in Montana and Lake Oahe in South Dakota. The best shallow water spots are where erosion has created banks with a “stair step” look to them. Walleyes will push baitfish up against these banks and corral them for an easy meal. Shallow weeds can also attract walleyes on many bodies of water. Here the fish react much as other predators, lurking along the weed edges in ambush of unsuspecting prey. In either case, pitching small jigs (1/16 to 1/8 ounce) tipped with either a piece of nightcrawler or a plastic tail such as a Berkley GULP! 3 inch Minnow or GULP! 3 inch Crawler will be your best tactic. Locating shallow fish is difficult with electronics. You may spot fish in nearby deep water, which would be a good sign that there could be shallow fish available, but in order to pinpoint those fish you must fish an area quickly and thoroughly in order to contact them.
Suspended walleyes are not a phenom solely of the Great Lakes. Most any walleye water can harbor a population of suspending fish if that water contains forage that utilizes the open waters. In many so-called “dishpan” lakes, this is where you’ll find the lake’s largest walleyes spending a good deal of their time. A perfect example is in our own backyard, Lake Winnebago in eastern Wisconsin. While Winnebago has lots of walleyes utilizing structures like rock reefs and weeds, many of this lake’s big walleyes roam the open basin like wolf packs foraging on everything from insect hatches to schools of white bass. Even though the average depth of the basin runs about 20 feet, most of these fish are caught by anglers trolling crankbaits that are only going down maybe 3 to 6 feet. In-line planer boards like Off Shore’s OR-12 Side Planer are important tools for getting those lures off to the sides of the boat to help eliminate the “boat-spooking” factor and enable you to cover a wider swath of water as you troll over these shallower open-water walleyes.
Big walleyes didn’t get big by accident. They’re the ones that have lived up to the law of nature “survival of the fittest”, both physically and mentally. These fish are smarter, whether it’s through genetics or just sheer experience. If you want to consistently catch extremely big walleyes, fish extremely different than you would if you’re just looking to fill a limit.