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The Leavenworth Times - Leavenworth, KS
  • Tactics for cold-water walleye

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  • I'm writing this story and looking at my thermometer outside — it reads 9 degrees.
    But, winters in this region have changed and we have many warm-weather breaks between cold snaps. A couple of 50-degree days melt ice on lakes and this is a prime time for walleye.
    Walleye fishing during cold weather is challenging and productive when you discover where to look.
    Below are possible spots for cold-water walleye in our Midwestern lakes:
    • Humps: You would be amazed how many fishermen motor over these hotspots en route to rock walls. Yes, they probably will catch walleye, but they may have zoomed over a honey hole in the 10- to 30-feet deep range.
    Walleye and many other predators suspend around submerged humps off flats. Baitfish attract to these areas and the big guys follow. The key is determining how to fish these fish-attracting humps.
    Fishing humps is better when you listen to the walleye.
    Let them tell you what they want by experimenting with different presentations.
    Buzzing a Little George is an excellent technique to start with. Make that big tail spinner buzz, let it drop and then buzz it again. Walleye will hit on both the buzz and the drop, so keep that line tight.
    Your second rod should be rigged with a jig and night crawler or minnow.
    Work this highly-productive rig by slowly bouncing it from one end of the hump to the other. Remember that walleye may either want a buzz or just a snack, and they will let you know which.
    Crankbaits are excellent over humps. Rebels, Wiggle Warts and other movers and shakers will sometimes draw strikes when all else fails.
    • Rock dam facings or rocky shorelines: A man once told me it doesn't matter what you fish off the rocks of a dam, as long as you only fish a jig or Johnson’s Silver Minnow with a leech.
    He is absolutely correct, but many only depend on one technique on any given day when another might work better.
    Crankbaits have long been favorites on rocks.  Buoyant styles that bounce off rocks are excellent. Getting hung up in rocks is extremely easy, so models that float up when you stop reeling can help this problem. Rubber bands placed on trebles in a weedless fashion are another aid to not hanging up.
    • Creek channels: Submerged creek channels have proven to be another good cold-water spot.
    A depth finder is required to find well-defined creek channel systems. This type of fishing without electronics is definitely hit or miss, and generally non-productive if you can find the creeks.
    Creek areas can be extremely productive both day and night.
    Page 2 of 3 - Fish for walleye with a crank bait by casting along a creek channel or over a drop off.
    I prefer shad colors in these areas. I also use jugs with curly tails or regular marabou jig. Another productive method is tipping jigs with minnows or leaches. I prefer a 1/8 or 1/16 ounce jig.
    • Deep water: Look for steep drop offs at the top of submerged creek channels. Most game fish species, including walleye, tend to hang out over the top of deep water close to shallow water where the most food is.
    This allows them a food source with their safety of deep water.
    Try vertical fishing jigs over deeper water when dropping a tipped jig. Drop the lure below where your depth finder shows walleye and let the bait sit a few minutes. Then start the bait back up, one reel turn at a time every 20 to 30 seconds. This extremely slow retrieve triggers strikes from suspended fish.
    A night crawler harness rigged with night crawlers or leeches is productive when dragged around drop offs. Many suspend this rigging over the top of suspended walleye. Make sure your leech or night crawler is alive. That extra motion often entices walleye to strike.
    • Shallow water: This shallow water theory may be a shock to fishermen, but fishery biologists have found large concentrations of walleye love staying close to shallows for the same reason city people hate to move far from grocery stores — that is where the food is.
    However, it must be noted you will find walleye much deeper in clear-water lakes. Sensitive eyes drive the fish deeper from light. This is a good place to look for boulders or rock cracks on the bottom.
    • Man-made structures: Many cold-weather fishermen look for old man-made structures like old submerged bridges. Walleye tend to suspend around the top of a bridge instead of the bottom, where fishermen might look for rocks.
    These types of areas are generally vertical fishing with tipped jigs or spoons.
    • Islands: Islands are excellent walleye haunts that many fishermen ignore. Submerged or exposed islands offer a variety of structure that walleye relate to.
    For example, the average island will have drop offs, feeder creeks, flats, trees or stumps, rocks or boulders and vegetation. A large island can be fished in many ways and angles with crank baits and tipped jigs.
    The key is finding what the walleye wants and what works for you.
    Many times walleye will lay up to 100 yards off an island. They move in to feed in the shallows and move back out. The key is fishing to discover what works and what the walleye want by experimentation.
    • Experiment: I remember the 1960s, when fishermen mainly tipped small jigs with small minnows for walleye. Yes, they caught fish, but variety would have made them consistently better.
    Page 3 of 3 - Don’t be afraid to change, even from a favorite, proven technique that is not producing.
    When jigs are not picking up fish, move to faster crank baits with rattles. Rat-L-Traps are good for this type of fishing.
    When deeper lures are not producing, change to shallow-diving lures like the jointed Rebel or Rapala minnow imitators. Most northern fishermen use the Rapala Shad Rap. This lure has a remarkable wobble that most game fish will strike.
    Some of you may not have the luxury of depth finders or knowledge of a lake’s submerged creek system. This is a good reason to try trolling.
    Try mid-depth crank baits alongside weed beds, where big walleye wait to ambush a passing bait fish. Shad Raps and Walley Divers are good bets to try. Remember to use the deeper diving lures over deeper water flats.
    • Night Time is the right time: Walleye become extremely active at night around the mentioned areas, but some will move into shallow sand or gravel flats to feed. Swimming beaches are also good with sandy bottoms. This is an excellent place to try crank baits.
    • Windy lakes: Wind can be a plus to catching a limit of walleye.
    Turbid conditions stir up the water creating stained conditions. Walleye will become active throughout the day because of the lack of clear water that allows the sunlight to filter deep.

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