When it comes to unique destinations for walleye fishing, few are as unique as North Dakota’s Devil’s Lake. While this body of water has always been North Dakota’s largest natural lake, in the past decade it has more than doubled in size and with that has become one of the most interesting and diverse walleye fisheries in the country. This is definitely one lake that a walleye angler can go nuts on trying to find the best pattern on a given day, because it seems at one time or another all techniques will work!
From trolling open flats to casting cranks in the flooded timber, Devil’s Lake walleyes can at times be a handful to figure out.
When I rolled in to the town of Devil’s Lake for a TV shoot a couple seasons back, it was mid May and the word was the best walleye bite was happening in the flooded timber. Now with all the flooding and rising water Devil’s Lake has experienced over the last several years, an angler is faced with miles of flooded cover, most of it the form of trees. All of the flooded wood was once shelter belts and groves of trees, but have now proven to be very popular areas for walleyes to hang out..
I hooked up with friend and fellow PWT angler Jim Carrol for this trip. Jim calls Devil’s lake his home water and I was confident he’d know the right game plan to make this shoot a successful one. Jim said the bite had been really good and the casting bite was going good. I was pumped because this could make for some exciting video. I was envisioning having a blast casting cranks for walleyes, then throw in the element of casting amongst the trees and this could really get exciting. One problem however … a common one when you roll in to shoot a TV show it seems … the weather was threatening to throw us a curve ball. And it did.
Over night a nasty cold front rolled through dropping the water temps five degrees. Now that may not sound like a huge change, but when it comes to walleyes, it really is. The next morning as we launched the boat we were faced with cool temps and blue bird skies; text book cold front conditions. This was going to dramatically change the way we’d have to fish for these fish. Forget about fishing fast and covering water. Now the name of the game would be “How Slow Can You Go?”
So now we needed to come up with a presentation that would allow us to target walleyes in flooded wood and do it as slow and methodical as possible. The solution was to go with slip bobbers. Most of us as anglers started off our fishing staring at a bobber.
Whether as kids, or adults, there are few things that get the heart pumping more than seeing that bobber twitch, then sink out of site. Slip bobber fishing is a bit more technical, but still has that “Bobber Down” excitement factor that the old red and white clip-on bobber fishing gave us as kids. The advantage to slip bobbers is that they slide on the fishing line and use a bobber stop, in this case a knot of thread tied on the fishing line, that can be set to what ever depth you want the bait to be at and still cast the rig out.
In this case, we were targeting walleyes that were located on flooded wood flats in about six feet of water. While the walleyes were relating to wood, it had to be the right wood. We weren’t looking for large stumps or tree trunks lying in the water. Rather, the flats that were covered with scattered brush and smaller trees were the preferred cover. Finding just the right sweet spots on these large flats was a bit of a challenge too. Basically we’d pull into an area we were confident was holding walleyes and tie the boat up to a tree or stump, then fan cast the slip bobber rigs all around the boat trying to pinpoint where the fish were lying. If you got your bait close to a fish, they’d eat it, but it might take a few moves before you’d hit the right spot.
This kind of bobber fishing sounds simple enough, but when you’re doing this in the middle of a flooded forest where the fish can grab your bait and wrap you up in a tree before you even know what happened it quickly becomes obvious that this is not your normal slip bobber fishing situation. This is “Combat Bobber Fishing” and it calls for some special rigging.
While slip bobber fishing is typically thought of as a light line – finesse technique, we were beefing up our presentation a bit to handle fishing in the wood cover. For our main line on the reel we were spooled up with fourteen pound test Berkley FireLine. The bobber stop and slip bobber were then added, then we’d tie on a small snap swivel. This served to keep the bobber from sliding all the way down to the bait, as well as give us a point to which to tie on a two foot length of fifteen pound test Berkley Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon for a leader. The fluorocarbon leader is both tough and has very low visibility, ideal for this application. On the end of the leader we tied either a sixteenth ounce jig or an eighth ounce jig (which worked better in windy conditions) tipped with one or two lively leeches.
Slip bobber fishing is one technique that really benefits from the use of long rods like the eight foot six inch Bass Pro Shops Walleye Angler Slip Bobber Rods. Long rods help the angler to cast the light presentation good distances and also aids in getting good hook sets when you have a lot of line out. In our case on this trip, the longer rods were also helpful in maneuvering the rigs around all the brush and wood we were fishing.
What doing this show did for me was to remind me just how effective and exciting slip bobber fishing is under tough conditions. And it’s not a presentation strictly for fishing walleyes in wood cover. Slip bobber fishing is a great technique for targeting walleyes anytime they are relating tight to specific spots, be that humps on rock reefs, points and inside turns on weedlines or other isolated cover. It’s a tactic that is effective from late spring right through summer and can very often be an over looked presentation by way too many anglers. Not every slip bobber scenario will be under the “Combat” conditions we found our selves in on Devil’s Lake this trip, but if you haven’t added slip bobbers to your walleye arsenal, you may very well be going into combat out gunned and not fully prepared for your Next Bite.
Note: This episode of The Next Bite Tv is available on the Season 3 DVD Set available from The Next Bite On-Line Store.