Across the Walleye Belt, from the Great Lakes to western reservoirs and countless fisheries in between, options abound for a hot bite. The trick is tapping the best patterns, as walleyes shift from shallow spawning grounds toward their summer ranges, often stopping at forage-rich feeding areas along the way. To help you cash in on the action, we queried some of the walleye world's finest sticks on noteworthy and lightly fished patterns they use on their waters this season.
Bi Water Patterns
Veteran guide and tournament competitor Jason Muche notes several key patterns develop on Wisconsin's share of Green Bay, and in the state's legendary Lake Winnebago system. "In Green Bay, walleyes spawn in the Fox and Menominee rivers when the water temperature is 42[degrees]F to 46[degrees]F," he says. "It typically wraps up by mid- to late April, as fish transition out of the river and begin following shorelines up the east and west sides of the bay."
This sets up May patterns including a near-shore trolling bite in 7 to 9 feet of water, just off the first break and old weedline. "My favorite stretch is between Sua-mico and Oconto, where schools of shad, shiners, and other baitfish gather in fast-warming water," he says. "There also are a few notable reef bites going, such as Geano's Reef and Oconto Shoal."
A boulder-studded structure rising from 9- to 14-foot depths to within several feet of the surface, Geano's attracts baitfish and also hosts a crayfish buffet, Muche explains. "Keep your boat over 10 to 12 feet, and run your boards along the 7- to 9-foot break line." Oconto Shoal, which offers an abundance of sand, similarly concentrates forage and walleyes.
A diehard worm fan, he leans heavily on the 72-inch Lindy Crawler Harness, which is tied from 14-pound fluorocarbon and brandishes twin #2 octopus hooks. "I typically run #5 Colorado blades, in golden shiner and perch finishes," he says, "although #4 willowleafs are hot when there are a lot of alewives, and Indianas have come on strong the past few seasons."
Rigs trail weightless on 10-pound mono mainline 50 feet behind the planer boards at 1 mph. "I pinch the last inch to 11/2 inches off the crawler's tail," he says. "This shortens the distance between the end of the bait and the last hook, and increases the amount of scent dispersed into the water. Just be careful not to trim too much or you kill the bait's action.
"University Bay, a 9-foot-deep bowl just outside the Fox River mouth, is a great place for big numbers of 15-to 22-inch eaters in early May," he adds. "Some fish stay through June, but as the water warms, most fish move deeper." In the bay, Muche runs #5 Lindy Shad.lings 25 to 30 feet behind boards at 1.5 to 1.6 mph. He doesn't shy away from shore, either. "Sometimes, running just 100 yards off the docks is best," he says.
Into June, Green Bay walleyes gravitate toward deeper water and softer substrate. Muche tracks the transition into 14 to 20 feet of water, especially off Geano's Reef, and follows the deep break from a firm mixture of rock, gravel, and clay down into the mud, where he focuses on 20- to 30-foot depths. "The mud bite lasts through September," he says, "as the fish move progressively north."
Early in the migration, he remains faithful to crawler harnesses, adding 1-ounce in-line sinkers ahead of the spinner rig for ballast. A trolling speed of 1 mph triggers walleyes and helps him calculate letback. "With 10-pound mono, going 1 mph, you get one foot of depth for every two feet of letback," he explains. "Once walleyes get to the mud, they tend to start the day near bottom, then rise 3 to 6 feet above it," Muche says, noting that a crawler harness shines for both scenarios. "But the past three years especially, the fish suddenly disappear from sonar and rise within 3 to 5 feet of the surface, even on glass-calm days. When this happens, I burn a #5 Shadling at 1.8 to 2.2 mph." To target these high flyers, he staggers letback from 25 to 100 feet, with lures farthest from the boat running closest to the surface. "Letback on the outside line may be 25 feet, which gets the bait 4 to 5 feet down, while the inside line is 100 feet behind the board, running 9 to 10 feet deep."
On the sprawling Lake Winnebago system, which offers a variety of riverine and lake-run options, Muche zeros in on several seasonal transitions that work on other fisheries across the Walleye Belt. One of the most productive--yet often overlooked--hinges on shallow near-shore vegetation.
"From the end of May into June, you start seeing big fish move into the grass," he says. "Walleyes drop out of spawning rivers like the Fox, and follow shorelines up both sides of the lake. Many move into beds of coontail and other vegetation in 4 to 6 feet of water. You can catch 4- to 6-pounders all day long, and it's the one time that tournament weights consistently top 20 pounds."
Top tactics include trolling nightcrawler harnesses over weedtops at 1 to 1.3 mph. "Run a #5 Colorado in perch or golden shiner 25 feet behind a planer board, weightless," he says. To limit fouling, he pinches a #2 split shot just ahead of the leader. "Keep your boards close," he adds. "My inside line is just 15 feet from the boat, and they're all within 45 feet."
Jigs are another mainstay of Muche's weed-whacking arsenal. "I pitch 1/16- to 1/8-ounce leadheads into circular pockets and elongated 'hog troughs,' then slowly drag and pop them along bottom," he says. He favors a plain Lindy Jig, in shades of chartreuse-green or chartreuse-yellow, tipped with a leech, or a grub-bodied combo like the Lindy Watsit, tipped with half a crawler. "In sparse vegetation, pitch to isolated stalks," he says.
While Muche is largely a mono fart, he spools with superline for salad jigging. "You can rip the jigs through better, and it cuts the plants when you're fighting a fish," he explains, adding that this pattern extends well into June. "But when the water temperature approaches 78[degrees]F, they're outta there."
His other Winnebago transition focuses on deep mud farther offshore. "It starts in. early June, just off the edge of reefs and other areas where the bottom shifts from rock, sand, or clay, to mud," he says. "One of my favorite areas, one of the first mud bites to take off, is just outside the Fox, in 14 to 17 feet of water." Here, scads of troutperch, gizzard shad, and other forage draw hungry 'eyes for a feeding frenzy. Once again, a crawler harness weighted with a 1-ounce in-line sinker is Muche's method of choice.
In-Fisherman friend, noted guide, and decorated touring pro Scott Glorvigen has chased spring into summer walleyes on waters of all stripes, but one of his favorite seasonal settings is small natural rivers. "In my area, the Upper St. Louis, St. Croix, Mississippi, Prairie, and Big Fork rivers are perfect examples of places I love to fish this time of year," he says. And you can find similar options virtually anywhere there are walleyes."
Such rivers feature corner holes typically maxing out at 5 to 8 feet deep, and mixes of riffles, runs, rapids. and chutes. Here, a lack of angling pressure and the emergence of predictable patterns combine to create fine fishing.
Given the shallow conditions, an eye for reading the water trumps electronics for identifying prime lies, where walleyes stalk seams joining swift and slow flows, nabbing baitfish and other forage swept past. "People forget walleyes love current," he says. "But it's key to the river dance."
Also important is heeding the underlying theme dictating fish location. "Rising water shuffles walleyes up the system, tighter to shore," he says. "Falling water pushes them down into holes or chutes."
Matching lure size, shape, color, and action to predominant forage is also key. "Chubs and river shiners are predominant," he says. "Choose baits that mimic them." Top picks include the Original Floating, Jointed, and CountDown Rapalas, plus CountDown and Minnow versions of the new Scatter Rap. Black and silver or gold, along with orange and gold, are good colors, though firetiger gets the nod in murky water. He also likes dark orange patterns of Smithwick's iconic Rogue, in suspending and floating options, which resemble redhorse suckers and shine on breaks in deep, clear water.
Whichever bait he's using, the goal of the retrieve is matching the movements of real minnows navigating the flow. "Spend time watching minnows from a pier or bridge to learn how they hide, drift, and swim in the current, and imitate those movements during your retrieves," he says.
Toward that end, his presentation is less of a robotic chunk and wind than an orchestrated series of cranks, pulls, and pauses performed in concert with the lure's angle of attack to the current and relation to eddies, seams, cover, or structure.
Seasonal Small River Tactics
Noted Walleye tournament organizer and longtime guide Dan Palmer has seen it all when guiding clients on Lake Wisconsin, the Chippewa Flowage, and other fine fisheries, and during travels from New York to Colorado with the Cabe-la's Masters Walleye Circuit. "In so many systems, May into June means going from shallow spawning areas to the next deep feature that offers forage," he says.
"On the Chippewa Flowage, walleyes move to channel edges and into cabbage and coontaiIbeds starting at 8 to 10 feet," he says. "There's no trolling allowed, so we drift slow-death-style rigs and fish a lot of jig-and-minnow and jig-and-plastic combos.' One of his favorite tippings is a 3- to 4-inch softbait in shades of chartreuse, such as Berkley's Gulp! Fry or Northland Tackle's Mimic Minnow.
An often-overlooked pattern centers on the system's migratory bog islands, which drift hither and thither with the wind and current. "These moving shade structures attract all kinds of food and predators," he says. "You can pitch jigs or bobber rigs to the edges, swim cranks along the perimeter, or tie up and 'ride the bog,' vertically jigging in the shadows."
On the Great Lakes, where Palmer has fished and run a host of tournaments at notable destinations from Lake Michigan's Bays de Noc to Lake Ontario's Henderson Harbor, he sees similar depth trends. "Patterns change, too," he says. "On Erie, the bite for eastbound walleyes headed into deeper water switches from predominantly cranks to crawler harnesses." He adds that fishing deep water doesn't necessarily mean fishing farther from the surface. "The harder the wind blows on Erie, the higher walleyes are apt to move. Don't be afraid to fish two feet down over 50 feet of water. But I always keep a bouncer on bottom. I've gotten burned chasing high flyers while other guys got 'em dragging bottom."
In impoundments such as Lake Wisconsin, Palmer employs tactics ranging from casting windswept banks With jigs or hardbaits to speed-trolling crankbaits such as #7 Berkley Flicker Shads and Jointed Shad Raps at 3 to 3.5 Mph over 8-to 12-foot mudflats and gravel bars. From May into June, walleyes also frequent the lake's extensive stands of flooded timber, the best of Which consist largely of broken off trunks and stumps rising perhaps 5 feet off bottom in depths of 15 feet. Palmer targets timber by trolling the same cranks 15 to 20 feet behind planer boards on 10-pound Berkley Trilene mono at 2 mph. "Don't chicken out and keep your baits too high above the wood; you have to make contact with it," he says. "The baits should just tick the treetops."
Tale of Two Fisheries
Minnesota guide Jon Thelen bounces between Mille Lacs and Lake of the Woods, and identifies distinctly different May into June patterns for these two giant fisheries. "On Mille Lacs, which warms faster and is farther south, this period signals the first move onto offshore structure," he says. "Conversely, on Lake of the Woods, you're usually not seeing the main-lake bite this early. But you do see fish slide onto the first deeper break offshore, often into 17 to 19 feet of water.
"Mille Lacs starts with a predominant livebait rigging bite, then spinners come on strong in June," he says. "Bobbers get better, too. Some people think of floats as spring options only, but to me they get better as June progresses and packs of walleyes prowl offshore structure. These fish are easily pinpointed with electronics and targeted with a jig and leech beneath a bobber, a spinner, or a Lindy Rig."
On Lake of the Woods, Thelen notes tactical transitions from anchor-and-jig approaches to pulling spinner rigs parallel to fish-holding breaks. "Once you find them, they're easy to fish with a 1 1/2-ounce bouncer, spinner, and crawler setup," he says. "Another option is Lindy's new hybrid rig, the Lilt Guy, which has the benefits of a spinner, I ivebait rig, and crankbait."
Shield Your Eves
Canadian Shield lakes can be walleye nirvana during the post-spawn-early summer transition, and Lac Seul, Ontario, guide Ben Beattie has a pattern few anglers fish. During years with normal to late ice-out, water temps in the mid-40[degrees]F to 50[degrees]F range signal him to start the season fishing spawning areas such as necked-down, hard-bottom areas between islands and the tips of current- or wave-washed points.
As water temperatures rise, the spawn quickly subsides, but shallow patterns persist through May well into June. "Look for shallow bays and main-lake shores where the water warms fast," he says, noting that pitching jigs tipped with softba its to windblown rock-rubble banks with slow-tapering bottoms and a bit of emerging vegetation can yield stellar results.
Still, one of his favorite seasonal standouts remains overlooked by the masses. It emerges when the water temperature climbs into the 60s, and hinges on insect hatches in shallow, mud-bottomed bays. "When mayflies hatch in muck bays, big walleyes move in for the feast," he says, admitting that clients roll their eyes when he pulls into such backwa-ters--until their rods start bending.
His go-to tactic entails anchoring in 5 to 8 feet of water over hatching areas, and dead sticking a jig-and-plastic like the Lindy Watsit just above bottom. "Hold the rod perfectly still--the bait's quivering arms and tail mimic mayflies and juvenile dragonflies," he explains, adding that buggy colors rule. "Stick to choices like green pumpkin, black with gold flake, and brown-and-orange."
High Plains Patterns
Longtime guide and In-Fisherman friend Jason Mitchell of Devils Lake, North Dakota, has shared many fine strategies for this High Plains paradise over the years. When it comes to tackling spring into summer bites, he notes that numerous tactics work. "The amount of in flow from meltwater often determines how far walleyes run into upper areas of the lake to spawn," he says. High water and strong flows send fish far up creeks and ditches, while bridge causeways and other current boosters shine early in low-water years.
"Four out of five years, the fish push into the ditches to spawn, then pull out to the first major basin with depths of 6 to 12 feet or more," he says. "Protected, fast-warming bays are particularly good, and many such areas produce fish through the Fourth of July. There are always some fish in shallow timber, pencil reeds, and other cover on Devils Lake all summer long."
For shallow fish, Mitchell fancasts jigs tipped with paddletail softbaits such as Northland Mimic Minnows. Crankbaits including #5 Rapala Shad Raps, #4 Salmo Hornets, and #5 Lindy Shadlings also are top options. After pinpointing a pod of walleyes, he anchors and fishes with a slipbobber and leech.
"Wicked cold fronts that drop the air temperature by 30[degrees]F, the water by 5[degrees]F, and churn up the shallows shut this bite down," he says. "When that happens, I 'fast-forward' to deep structure like roadbeds or points that typically produce in July."
To find fish, Mitchell drags a snell and leech, then vertically jigs a 3/8-ounce lead-head tipped with a leech when fish are found. "Devils isn't like other lakes in terms of bait progressions," he adds. "We start with leeches."
Reaping the rewards of the spring-into-summer transition is all about understanding how each system's basic structure, cover, and forage affect postspawn walleye movements, then factoring in weather and water conditions. Put it all together and you're well on your way to your best season ever.
RELATED ARTICLE: Prime Small River Lies
Following are Glorvigen's casting calls whether afoot or afloat in a canoe or small boat. Note than he always positions himself in the slackest near-shore flow available, to avoid spooking fish from shallow current-washed areas.
1) Dams--tailwaters below darns concentrate fish.
2) Chutes--necked-down areas strengthen current; focus on the first wide spots downstream.
3) Inflows--confluences are hot zones; cast upcurrent into the inflow, and work your lure back to the main river.
4) Corner Pockets--walleyes feed on the upper and lower lips.
5) Fallen Timber--target walleyes holding in woody snags and laydowns by letting lures swim in place, parallel to the cover's outside edge.
Dan Johnson, Harris, Minnesota, is a frequent contributor to In-Fisherman publications and director of All Creation Outdoor Media. Guide contacts: Ben Beattie, 807/738-1114, benbeattieoutdoors.com; Jason Mitchell, 701/662-6560, fishdev-ilslake.net; Jason Muche, 920/210-0181, walleyeadventure.com; Dan Palmer/ Grand Pines Guide Team, 715/462-4006, grandpines.com; Jon Thelen, 612/7203837, proanglingprornos.com.
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|Title Annotation:||TOP PATTERNS|
|Date:||May 1, 2014|
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