Once the spawn is over, walleye are all about feeding as they move shallow into warm water where the food chain is in high gear. Banks and shallow flats are loaded with minnows, small pan fish—all sorts of prey. Many will use crank baits and jigs tipped with bait or artificial to work that zone, but at times a spinner bait can be more effective.
Since spinner baits are snag-resistant, they work better than just about anything else around standing timber, flooded bushes, and brush. Walleye use that cover when feeding on baitfish, lake herring, and minnows. Rocky shores can be good, too, especially when a modest wind is blowing in. Fish the tops of shallow flats and along drop-offs where the flats breaks into deeper water. Prey fish must be present to get walleyes hunting shallow. In spring and early summer, some days they’re shallow and some days they’re not. You need to experiment, be patient and not give up on this technique. Like anything else, it doesn’t work all the time.”
Use bass tackle for spinner baiting—a medium-heavy bait casting outfit 6 ½ feet long and a reel spooled with 10- or 12-pound mono or braid of similar diameter. Fish shallow, but you still need to be aware of structural elements, so you need sonar, unless you’re familiar with the lake’s layout. The unit also helps pinpoint baitfish when you’re deeper than 5 feet or so.
Use spinner baits from 1/8- to 3/8-ounce. You’ll want a true-running bait with good components and use various models from Stanley Jigs of Huntington, Texas. A tapered-wire shaft enhances vibration that may be a key component of the spinner bait’s attraction. The Stanley Salty Boss is hard to beat.
Some days, blade color matters so switch among silver, gold, white, chartreuse, and key-lime-green blades constantly throughout the day. For the skirt, baitfish colors work fine in clearer water—silvers, golds, smoke-sparkle, and so on. In murkier water, chartreuse and white do well.
Wear top-quality polarized sunglasses as they are vital, since you often are sight-fishing and most favorably are those that block out light from the sides, such as the Wiley X models with a foam insert that seals the glasses around your face. Look carefully and you can spot walleyes in water as shallow as 6 inches and keep your distance, approach cautiously, and you can catch those fish.
When they’re holding shallow and tight to the bank, cast right onto the edge of the shore. It’s common to have fish bite in the first five feet of the retrieve. In deeper water, make the retrieve smooth and slow, so the spinner bait moves along near bottom. If you’re fishing a sloping area, slow down as the water deepens, to keep the spinner bait down—what the bass guys call ‘slow-rolling.’
Use the lure’s snag resistance to saturate shallow cover, easing it among boulders, weed clumps, brush, and stumps. Make it bump the cover on occasion, as that momentary change in direction can trigger bites from less active fish. A spinner bait works well when retrieved parallel to a rocky bluff. Once you figure the prime depth, you repeat the presentation.
At times it pays to experiment with more erratic action. Pause the bait and let it flutter. The blade on a good spinner bait lets it helicopter down, and that can be deadly on walleyes.”
Tips for Success
A spinner bait is essentially a simple lure and at times there’s no wrong way to work it. Like other lures, it doesn’t always work, but when it’s on, it can load the boat with big walleyes.
Bait: At times, it pays to tip the spinner bait with a night crawler or minnow. There’s something about the look, smell, and taste of real food. Make sure the lure continues to run perfectly straight when bait is attached. Baits will often turn on the hook and ruin the presentation. So keep it straight and natural looking.
Short strikes: If you get bumped and don’t hook up, try a trailer or stinger hook to nail short strikers. Some days, the stinger gets most of the fish. But it can be a pain around brush and grass, so don’t use one until you start missing fish.
Other species: It’s common to catch walleye as you move along a bank—pike as well. But if you start catching nothing but pike, it’s time to move, unless you’re just fishing for fun, and then it’s hard to abandon a fast bite regardless of the species.
Tackle care: You’re working through cover, and the line takes a beating, even heavy mono or braid. Moreover, walleye really slam these things. Check the line and retie to keep from eventually breaking off by a lunker. After catching some fish, the lure may get out of balance. Bend the overheard wire back into shape so it runs true. Sharpen the hook, too, and replace skirts when they get threadbare.”
Spinner baits are at their finest around shallow cover and on shallow banks in spring and early summer, but they can also be used deep. Again, the presence of cover often is the key. Slow-trolling one-ounce spinner baits on a long line through the tops of the vegetation: trees, weeds, etc. can be deadly. Anglers also use lead core line to get spinner baits down.
Another option is a teaser ahead of a trolled spinner bait. Before you tie on, string on a couple beads—-a favorite color, key lime —then a clevis with a tiny Colorado blade, then four more beads. It looks like multiple baitfish being chased by a smaller predatory fish.
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