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By Richy Harrod
Walleye are probably my favorite fish to catch and, most definitely, the best eating of our freshwater fisheries. Late winter and early spring is a great time to go walleye fishing on Washington lakes.
The number of fish caught may not be as great as in late spring and summer, but the average size is greater and the fish are in great condition. There are many techniques for catching walleye, but these methods have worked well for me from year to year.
There really isn’t one type of fishing rod that will fit all of your fishing needs when targeting walleye because you’ll want to try trolling and casting to see which yields the most fish. Trolling allows you to cover the most water to find elusive fish.
You are allowed to fish two rods in most walleye lakes, so with four to six rods in your boat, it’s a good idea to have a mix of short and long rods to spread out your fishing gear. A 7’ to 7’6” moderate action, medium power graphite bait casting rod works very well for the front side of the boat. In the back corner of the boat, I like to run a 9’6” steelhead rod to get the trolling gear out as far as possible, as to not interfere with the front rods. If you find concentrations of fish, I like casting jigs or blade baits with a 7’ spinning rod with fast action and medium light or medium power.
Braided line is a must for me. Each of my walleye rods are spooled with 20-lb., green-colored braided line. Braided line doesn’t stretch, thus it allows you to feel every bite extremely well. If you have never fished with braid, you have to learn not to set the hook as you would with monofilament. You can literally rip lips with braided line.
Some of my friends prefer to top shot their spool with fluorocarbon to lower line visibility. My kokanee and sockeye rods are top shot, but I’ve never worried about it while walleye fishing and it doesn’t seem to matter, in my opinion.
The selection of lures first depends on whether or not you’re jigging or trolling, obviously, but more importantly on walleye forage. Walleye feed on small fish, particularly perch or crappie fry, leeches, crayfish or insect larvae. Lures that match the forage color will improve your success whether trolling or jigging for walleye.
Checking out the gut contents of any walleye you catch early will help you determine what forage walleye are targeting during a particular day or time period. Tipping lures with nightcrawlers is preferred by most anglers, but live or artificial worms or leeches are preferred by some, as well. Scents, too, can be used, but I personally think nothing beats a big nightcrawler.
I troll, almost exclusively, Mack’s Lure Smile Blade lures because of the large range of color options and due to the action the offset mylar blades provide. Dark colors on cloudy days or early in the morning work well, while lighter colors work well in bright sunlight. If I were to pick some go-to colors, those would have to be the Smile Blade Mirror UV Glo Burst, UV Copper and UV Purple Haze.
In the winter or early spring, small profile lures, such as the Smile Blade Slow Death Rig or Smile Blade SpinDrift Walleye are perfect for slow-trolling for lethargic fish whereas the Double Whammy Pro, Cha Cha Crawler or the always-dependable Wally Pop Crawler work better when the fish are aggressive.
Regardless of my lure selection, I always run long leader lengths of at least 4’ to keep the lure back from the bottom bouncers and to allow the Smile Blade to move the lure more freely.
Walleye are gregarious and groups of fish will locate on bottom structure, so jigging for walleye can work well, especially as summer comes. A lead head jig with twister tail plastics and tipped with a nightcrawler is very effective. However, my favorite jigging technique is to use a Sonic BaitFish rigged so that it behaves like a blade bait. Perch colors or silver and blue have worked well for me.
Plugs can also be very effective for catching walleye. Fish move into shallower water after the spawn and as the water warms. Therefore, plugs that imitate small fish work perfectly, especially when pulled at higher speeds, such as 2 or 3 mph, along weed lines.
Walleye are largely found near the bottom, so I use bottom bouncers or lead weights to keep my lures close to the bottom. In the late winter and early spring, you want to troll slowly at speeds of 0.4 to 0.6 mph. As the water warms, faster speeds up to 1 mph work better when walleye are chasing bait.
Walleye can be suspended at times, so don’t be completely focused on the bottom. Spring storms create the “walleye chop” and fish and move into the shoreline or along rock walls to find baitfish. I have run bottom bouncers on one rod and another rod of my downrigger to position my gear in the middle of the water column. Watch your electronics and position your gear where the fish are.
Rod position is important when trolling with bottom bouncers. The rod tip should be low and near the water. Your main line should be at about a 45-degree angle into the water, so choose a bottom bouncer weight that will allow you to achieve the proper angle for your speed and water depth.
A hook set should be a sweep of the rod tip, parallel with the water surface. If you jerk the rod tip away from the water, you often will pull the gear away from the fish and you’ll miss the hook set.
Walleye jigging technique is very important, as well. Lead head jigs should be dropped to the bottom, then lifted slowly and dropped back to the bottom without putting any slack in your line. I like to lift the jig about two feet before I drop it. Walleye will oftentimes hit the jig on its way back down.
Jigging for walleye with a Sonic BaitFish, as previously mentioned, is similar, however the lift from the bottom should be short and quick so that the jigging spoon will produce its incredible vibration, as well as flutter on the way down. A walleye’s bite on a jig is often aggressive and, unlike a crawler harness, they often set the hook themselves.
Use a GPS to mark spots where you catch fish and troll back over those spots. Alternatively, you can mark them with a small buoy and jig those spots. I find that my marked sport consistently produce walleye year after year. I see lots of anglers trolling all over the place rather than focusing on any particular spot. My saying is “troll with purpose.” If you want to catch more fish, target the spots where the fish are!
I hope these tips and tricks help you put more fish in your boat. The most important aspect of any type of fishing is to let the fish tell you what they want. Pay attention to the details. If you start catching fish on the outside rod when you turn, then consider speeding up your troll. Likewise, slow down if you catch them on the inside rod. Shorten your worms if you’re missing bites. Constantly be a student and you’ll become a better angler.
For more tips, recipes and more from Richy, visit HarrodOutdoors.com.