Walleye can aggressively feed on may fly nymphs as they’re recovering from the stresses of spawning and from the long winter. Although, walleye binge-feeding tapers come summer, they still target nymphs when available as not all hatches are the same and not all lakes are affected the same at the same time. Catching walleye during summer mayfly hatches can be more challenging than in spring, but can still be accomplished.
In the summer, the early stages of a mayfly hatch can produce good fishing as walleye will feed aggressively, competing for the small number of nymphs. However, when large hatches occur lakes can become overrun with food, and walleye tend to become extremely selective feeders.
Anglers need to downsize presentations to fool summer, nymph-feeding walleye. The particle size of nymphs tends to be a bit smaller than what people think the average-sized, adult walleye is going after. People may be fishing with presentations that are too large or don’t mimic emerging mayfly nymphs. Depending on the species, nymphs can range in size from 0.5 to 1 inches in size. Aside from downsizing lures, anglers also need to fish exactly where walleye are feeding in the water column.
Anglers also need to move to where hatches happen. During the mayfly hatch, walleye are generally up shallower. You will find walleye in water as shallow as three feet, even on sunny days. When choosing where to fish flats, concentrate on breaks and holes and remember walleye always like to have deeper water adjacent to their feeding flats.
Small jigs can be productive if walleye are bottom-feeding on nymphs during hatches. cocktail or Baraboo jigs are particularly deadly, as feathers and hair pulsate in the water. This can be the subtle movement that is needed to trigger finicky walleye. Evans finds deadsticking a cocktail jig can be effective for neutral or negative mood ‘eyes. What this does is give inactive walleye a chance to come over and examine the bait – this may get you a few more strikes on those really slow days.
When walleye are aggressively feeding on nymphs during a hatch in weedy areas, go to bait would be a bucktail jig in black, with either a red or white strip on the side. In the weedy flats be sure to fish aggressively and jigs these baits. This causes the feathers and hair to expand and contract giving the bucktail a life-like appearance.
To fish hatches, starts with small, jointed minnow baits, fished on a stop-and-go retrieve. It’s important to mimic the action of the larva in the water as it floats up from the bottom, so a slow up and down cadence of your presentation is key. If these baits do not produce, switch over to jigs and also to swim jigs and be sure to scale down to using two to three-inch piece of worm, leech or small minnow with 1/8 and even 1/16oz heads. Work these baits along weed edges and over weed tops, searching for where walleye are located in the water column during a hatch.
Another productive bait to target walleye during a hatch is a weighted, single-hook spinner rig, featuring a small #3 Colorado or Indiana blade. Colorado and Indiana blades allow the lure to be retrieved slowly, matching a nymphs’ speed, while producing vibration and flash. Widely used on Lake Erie during hatches, it is often called a mayfly rig.
A more subtle variation of the mayfly rig (resembling a live-bait rig) is a No. 2 or 4 octopus hook tied below a sinker. Tip rigs with a small piece of live bait, anywhere from a half to two inches in size.
Dragging mayfly rigs along the bottom or slowly swimming them to the surface will imitate nymph activity. Other elements of the retrieve should include frequent pauses, stalls, and lifting the bait up again. Rigs can also be counted-down to target suspended walleye feeding on emerging nymphs.
During summer walleye feed on vulnerable mayfly nymphs during hatches. Using small baits and imitating a nymph’s erratic movements will take fish when traditional baits won’t get a sniff. Integrate the above strategies into your repertoire, and you’ll be turning mayfly hatches into opportunities for increased catches.