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Monthly Archives: September 2016

FALL WALLEYE – IN THE ROCKS

imagesCAI0OI51Though it can get cold – make that, very cold – during the fall, you don’t need rocks in your head to chase late-season walleyes. Even more than spring, autumn can be the best time to hook the trophy of a lifetime. The fish are big and hungry and unlike spring when they are spawning, eating is the only thing on their minds in fall as they fatten up for winter. Weather and water levels can also be more stable later in the season than earlier in the year.

But, whether we’re targeting rivers or lakes in fall, we certainly should have rocks on our minds. The biggest walleyes (and highest concentrations) will be schooled around places with hard bottoms. Take the time to find rocks, then locate the spot-on-the-spot and hold onto your rod. That chill in the air just might signal the hottest bite you’ve seen all year.

Many walleye fishermen will head to Wawang Lake in spring when the spawning instinct sends huge numbers of walleyes and saugers to their regular, shallow spawing beds. But the savviest walleye anglers know the spawning migration actually begins in fall. The fish that were scattered and hard to find all summer begin schooling and traveling toward hard-bottom spots where they’ll spawn when the combination of temperature, daylight and current is right, come springtime. Conditions can be better in August to November than they are in May and June.

27" walleye

27″ walleye

You’re also not dealing with the crowds you see earlier in the year. By this time, many anglers have set aside fishing rods and picked up their guns or bows to hunt deer. If they head to the water, it’s only to down geese or ducks. Points and where current strength lessens offers fish places to rest, are key. But where inside bends were best in spring, outside bends may hold fish in fall. Check for places where hard bottom areas feature gravel and clam shells.

Hard-bottom areas at the mouths of bays and narrows are also key spots.  As colder nights lower the water temperature and kill vegetation in the shallows, baitfish move toward the main lake.   Predators station themselves at the openings and make a killing – literally. The mouths of creeks or inlets offer the same scenario.

Keep it simple. Slip jig with a Fuzz-E-Grub jig just heavy enough to maintain bottom contact. Lindy’s new X-Change jigheads allow you to change the weight to match the depth, current and other factors like wind. They also let you change up colors to see if walleye show a preference, and they often do. Use braided line to increase sensitivity, so you can feel transition areas from mud to rocks. Turn up the gain on your sonar. When you see a double bottom (‘second echo’) appear on the screen, you know the bottom is hard.

Pull three-way rigs as an alternative. Use a Lindy NO-SNAGG sinker with a dropper and enough weight to keep the line at a 45-degree angle while slowly moving or hovering with your trolling motor. Use a floating shallow diving crankbait or plain hook tipped with a lively minnow. Add color with a bead or a floating jig.

Shoreline points and islands that feature fast drops to deep water are key spots on Wawang Lake. Walleyes in areas like that can hold in deeper water for security and swim to shallower water to feed without much effort. Use Lindy Rigs with big chubs and NO-SNAGG sinkers to move up and down the dropoffs. Keep your bait fresh and tail hook it so it struggles to attract nearby walleyes. Try using 10-pound braided line, like Power Pro, for your main line, with a fluorocarbon leader on a rod rated for 8- to 14-pound-test line. The rod must have enough backbone for good hooksets in deep water but have a limber enough tip to vibrate when the forage reacts to an approaching walleye. Be ready when the chub starts to struggle a walleye is close by.

imagesCA9GUKSFA soft tip also lets the rod absorb the shock of a big fish, a must when using no-stretch braided line. Don’t overlook rock piles. But, it’s important to realize the impact of turnover on fish location. Lakes stratify in summer with walleyes and other fish trapped in the water above the thermocline when oxygen content below it drops too low to support life. But that changes when water temperature drops down into the low 50s F. Water becomes heavier at that point and the water on top sinks and allows oxygen to mix at all depths again. Fish are free to travel downward as water near the surface dips below their comfort zones.

As a result, rock piles at ever-increasing depths start to hold walleyes. If you aren’t catching fish on rock piles that held walleyes in the warm months, go deeper.

It’s not all about hard bottoms in autumn. Walleyes will converge on mud flats if an insect hatch occurs. But at the same time, turn up the gain on the sonar and watch for places where a double bottom appears, signaling a transition to harder bottom. Travel around the area slowly. You might stumble across a peak (slightly higher point) in the rocks, where walleyes are gathered as if they were invited to dinner.  Just because it’s cold and deer season is open doesn’t mean that fishing in autumn requires rocks in your head. But, you sure should have rocks on your mind.

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Deep-Water Tactics for Monster Pike

NORTHERNPike head out for deep-water areas for various reasons.

  • Weather conditions
  • water temperatures
  • food availability
  • fishing pressure.

All of these can all play roles separately or in combination as to why they leave the shallows. Successful anglers that troll, have ways of dredging up those deep-water fish, however, they run a variety of lures into the strike zone.

Crank Baits And Wire Line Trolling over, around and through schools of suspended baitfish is also effective when it comes to locating deep-water pike.

Once again, the angler should use a fish finder with depth to find schools of suspended forage fish, and to determine how deep to run the lures.

Deep-diving crank baits are excellent for working depths of 15 feet to 35 feet. If you use wire or lead-core line, you can work at even greater depths. There is no doubt that deep-diving lures work. The drawback to these giant deep-divers is that you need arms like an Olympic weightlifter if you plan on trolling for more than a few hours. A set of high-quality rod holders can be invaluable in this situation.

They make deep-water trolling more comfortable and fun, extending the hours you’re willing to devote to trolling. In most cases, the boat’s forward movement will even set the hooks. Of course the hooks must be honed to perfect sharpness so the barbs will penetrate the pike’s bony mouth. Wire line is the choice when the fish are holding deeper than the trolling lures will reach.

pike2Deep-water weed beds or the deep edges of shallow weed beds are perfect examples of this type of situation. Using a depth finder, you can maintain trolling position along the edge, and allow the wire to take the lure to the proper depth. Another advantage wire line has over monofilament is that it will slice through vegetation. If you’re line is caught in vegetation, you need only give a good jerk or two on the rod. You don’t have to reel it in. This saves time and energy. If wire-lining doesn’t suit you, a simple three-way swivel, rigged with a heavy sinker at the end of a 6-inch drop line, will sometimes suffice. The three-way rig works much like a downrigger, except that you’ll have to fight the sinker’s weight, as well as the fish. Normally, you’ll fish a three-way rig in the 20-foot or 30-foot depths. The 4 ounces to 8 ounces required to sink a small lure to the desired trolling depth is not enough to hinder an angler who is using heavy tackle.

RapLate fall is prime time for using a three-way rig to take trophy northern. Weather transitions and falling water temperatures push pike into deeper water. The fish will be feeding, but you’ll have to reduce trolling speed and run the bait right over them. Baits such a: • Fat Raps • Rat-L-Traps • Rattlin’ Raps • No.13 Floating Rapalas -often work best. Colors varydtfatsuch as chartreuse, fluorescent orange, bright yellow or combinations of these colors really turn on late-fall pike.

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Spoons For Walleyes

When using spoons for walleyes, most anglers assume the method is vertically fishing heavy jigging spoons in deep water. With apologies to the heavy-metal brigade, when it comes to trolling spoons, thin is in.

spoonsFlutterspoons–thin, lightweight, flexible spoons commonly used by trout and salmon anglers–have superb applications for walleyes. Their use for walleyes originated among Great Lakes trollers pursuing salmon and trout, whereupon anglers began stumbling upon excellent catches of lunker walleyes. From there, the technique evolved into full-fledged systems for giant ‘eyes.

Flutterspoons have three main characteristics separating them from other lure families commonly used for walleyes: (1) they’re thin, lightweight, and have no diving characteristics of their own; therefore, some type of weight, diver, or diving lure is needed to take them down to the desired depth; (2) spoons run at higher speeds than most walleye presentations, with many performing admirably from just over 1 to about 3 mph, sometimes faster; and (3) spoons feature attractive combinations of wobble, flash, and color to trigger walleye strikes while quickly eliminating unproductive water.

Unlike wide casting spoons or thick casting spoons, flutterspoons are thin and flexible with little weight. Most are also relatively narrow. Minor size, shape, and thickness variations give each manufacturer’s models a unique blend of attributes.

While trout and salmon anglers frequently use a range of flutterspoon sizes, walleye fishermen tend to prefer the smaller sizes. For example, the standard size Michigan Stinger (Advance Tackle) is 3 3/4 inches long x 3/4 inches wide; the smaller Scorpion, a popular walleye lure, is only 2 1/4 inches long x 1/2 inches wide. Pro King Tackle offers the standard Pro King and smaller Pro Spoon. Wolverine Tackle’s Silver Streak features numerous models including the standard 300 series and the smaller Mini Streak 200 series. Day in and day out, the smaller versions of these spoons seem to trigger walleyes best, although, at times, slightly larger spoons, like the Silver Leaf Spoon now marketed by Erie Dearie, can be dynamite.

spoon2Flutterspoons also come in an extensive range of colors and hues with exotic names as colorful as their patterns. Two of the current rages on Lake Erie are Monkey Puke (green and gold) and Kevorkian or Dr. Death (a purple-pink combo considered deadly in deep water). Other areas, like Saginaw Bay, might favor different combos. As always, hot color patterns change throughout the seasons according to available forage, water clarity, and weather conditions.

Delivery Systems
Spoons allow faster fishing than spinners and most crankbaits, and they easily cover larger areas and at varied depths with the same rigging. Directional divers like Luhr-Jensen’s Dipsey Diver are perfectly geared to spoons. Angled divers tied in-line to your main line, with a 5- or 6-foot leader, will dive down at a preset, adjustable angle, either straight below the boat or at some angle to either side. This allows you to set out numerous rods, with planers set to dive down and out at different angles, to strain the water column.

illustration Wawang Lake

Anglers also troll small spoons on a three-way rig, removing the traditional sinker and replacing it with a deep-diving crankbait like a Hot’N Tot. This takes the spoon down to the desired depth. Different crankbaits sizes can be used to target different depths. And obviously, it provides the chance to simultaneously trigger fish with two different lures and to experiment with different lure styles, colors, and actions. Some folks even squirt or rub a little scent on the spoon to, in their opinion, enhance its effectiveness.

illustration2 Wawang Lake

Obviously, any weighting system can be used to take spoons down to desired depths, though some form of diving system–be it a three-way crankbait rig or a directional diving planer–seems to be the method of choice when trolling lightweight flutterspoons for walleyes on the Great Lakes.

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Fall Rigs for Late Walleye Fishing

From late summer though fall, live-bait fishing catches walleye every day in Wawang Lake. Other methods may catch more, but don’t count on it.   Especially when that weight sliding on your main line is perfectly in tune with depth, wind, bait type and size.

A leader separates a struggling live bait from that weight, giving it room to swim, squirm and attract fish. Simple. Beautiful. Deadly. But the key is putting that living minnow, leech or crawler on a target below the boat. Like a bombardier, rigging experts know how to triangulate their targets and allow for current, velocity and depth.  But being a rigging bombardier doesn’t require magic or genius. Triangulating, in this case, is simple. As you move deeper, use a larger weight. As the wind picks up, go with a larger weight. And as the size of the bait increases – well, you get the idea.

There is no doubt that it’s a proven system, and the most efficient live-bait delivery system possible.  Success is really about location, followed by time of year and bait selection. Carefully considering these ups your odds. The key to success with rigging is placing live bait precisely on a small target below the boat, and to do that it’s better to use a weight that is too heavy than one that’s too light.

  • What are bass anglers good at – Accurate pitching to visible targets.

  • What are walleye anglers good at – Putting a sinker in a 12-inch circle 25-feet down.

  • That’s why sinker size and type is critical.

Leaders testing 4- to 8-pounds and 4 feet long (from swivel to hook) are optimum most of the time. Some anglers primarily rigs with two types of sinkers from late summer on: Lindy Walking Sinkers – the most popular rigging weights ever – and Lindy Rattlin’ No-Snagg Sinkers.

Lindy rigs really shine on main-lake points and humps from late summer through fall.  They maintain bottom contact to cover those critical transitions from hard to soft bottom that attract baitfish. Transitions are classic rigging zones.  Transitions show up on sonar – the hard bottom showing bright and dense while soft substrates return a weaker signal.

Use a sensitive, medium-light, 7-foot rod with braided line on the reel.  Braid doesn’t stretch, so it transmits vibration and feel much better.  You can tell when your bait is almost to that point where the bottom changes, helping you visualize exactly where it is.

During late summer, walleyes move out on main-lake points and humps to depths of 20 to 25 feet. By late autumn, it’s common to find them 35 to 55 feet down.  Follow them down through fall with heavier sinkers.  If it’s windy, go even heavier. Again, it’s better to go too heavy than too light. If you can’t feel bottom, go up a notch in weight.

vertical

Weekend anglers often forget that rigging isn’t just dragging baits around on bottom.   Criss-cross transitions, moving from shallow to deep and back again.

When marking walleye on the edge of a break at 25 feet, snake from 27 to 23 and back down.  When the bait’s moving away from them, going shallower or deeper, they react as if it’s trying to get away.   vertical-jigging-1Also lift the rig off bottom as it approaches a marked fish.  Using the Rattlin’ No Snagg Sinker, shake it. Raising it off bottom can trigger a reluctant fish. It’s that escape trigger – making walleye think the baitfish is moving away.

Which brings up another important point, after every bite, try to remember exactly what you were doing before it happened – what direction you were going, how fast you were moving, how high or fast you lifted the bait. All those factors become pattern identification. That’s how you go on to catch four, five or a dozen more. And once you catch a few fish off a point or hump, try to find the same kind of spots. That’s how you create patterns with Lindy rigs in the fall.

When a fish bites, feed it line for at least 10 seconds while slowly maneuvering the boat toward the fish.   Sometimes wait up to a minute.  If they really whack it, it’s 10 seconds.  If they barely pick it up, let them take it longer and point the rod right at the fish and move the boat over it, slowly picking up slack. When you feel tension, set. If you miss,  let them take it longer next time.

The sinker selection is the key element that many anglers overlook for late-summer, early fall walleye rigging.

It’s all about striking a balance between wind, depth, and bait size. You want to stay relatively vertical in deep water. Mostly use 1/2- to 1-ounce weights late summer through fall because walleyes are 25 to 45 feet down. And use bigger minnows in fall, lip hooked on size 4 to size 1 octopus-style hooks. You want to be right below the boat when you’re on fish, but you have to keep moving to find them, so you have to strike a balance that way, too. Once you start marking fish, zero in on that depth.

IMG_4006

Sometimes it helps to pulse your trolling motor and change direction and speed.

That’s what triggers strikes when Lindy rigging – slight variations in speed and direction. And if using that Rattlin’ No Snagg sinker, lift, drop and shake it a lot to activate those rattles. That triggers strikes, too. But choose the shape and type of sinker based on bottom type, cover and conditions to be efficient.

  • The classic Lindy Walking Sinker is perfect for sand, gravel and subtle transitions in clear water.
  • The No Snagg shines around broken rock, wood and boulders, and the Rattlin’ No Snagg is right whenever the water is cloudy.

Another bonus is that No Snagg wobbles a little bit, which moves the bait. It twitches a leech, crawler, or minnow just a little bit. That’s all it can take to trigger a walleye.

But don’t forget to zig-zag. And pause when you mark a fish. Lift the bait, too. And shake it. Just dragging bait around won’t cut it most days.

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