Aug 30, 2016
Hunting For Trophy Walleyes
By: Jeff Boutin
Last summer on a day with a good walleye chop, my clients and I caught over 50 walleye in 4 ½ hours, with 36 of the fish being over 27 inches. All these fish came on a 21 ft. mid-lake hump in 25 feet of water using crankbaits.
Sometimes in late July and into early August, the water temperatures start to reach that magic 75 degree mark. For me, this is the time to run crankbaits. I run these because I can cover a large area more quickly. If the fish get a little finicky, I may switch to crawler harnesses. This time of year, I start searching for walleye on those deep mid-lake humps and reefs. I look for humps that come up to 18 to 20 ft. with 30 ft. plus of water on the edges.
My two favorite baits to run are the flicker minnow and the 800 series Reef Runner. When running crankbaits, it’s important to check your baits to make sure they are “in tune.” I check them by letting out 20 to 25 feet of line and reeling them in really fast. If they stay straight down they are running correctly. If they veer to either side, even slightly, the eyelet will need to be adjusted slightly to the opposite side that the bait was veering. This will make the difference between catching fish or not.
Also, I always start by using my Humminbird Helix 12 to find the fish before I setup any lines. I use the Precision Trolling data app to determine how much line to let out in order to get the bait to the desired depth. One thing to remember is that speed does not affect the depth at which a bait will run. Length of line out and diameter of line are the only two things that affect the depth.
Before I get on the reef, I’ll setup with the baits running at varying depths; always staying above the fish by 3 or 4 feet. A lot of times the larger fish are on the edges of the reefs, so getting setup before you get there is important. The other thing to note on your locator is the mapping transitions lines. These lines are not only depth changes, they are changes from gravel to mud or sand to mud. Many times I find fish along these transitions. If you start catching fish as you are crossing these lines, you might want to start running along them. If you find that over time the fish are disappearing from the tops of the reef, move out to deeper water. Walleye have been known to slide out over deep water and suspend at the same depth as the reef. I have caught walleye suspended in 70 feet of water only a few hundred yards from a reef that was in 20 feet of water.
In my mind, July is the time of year when you start hunting for large walleye. This will run all the way through the month of August. By August, the bait fish are mature and plentiful. The large female walleye start to school up and the feeding frenzy begins.
This is my favorite time of year to run spinners, also known as crawler harnesses. I prefer a #5 Colorado blade with 5 colored beads and two #2 hooks. I tie all my own harnesses, so I try to keep it simple. Purple and pearl beads, Chartreuse with pearl or with an Orange bead, or gold beads. When running harnesses, I use Team Outdoors 1 oz. inline weights. These weights allow you to adjust the length of your lead to any length in just a few seconds. In clearer water, I tend to use 6 to 8 foot leads on my harnesses before I attach a 1 oz. weight to my line.
The next important key is knowing how far your bait is down in the water column. A 1 oz. weight going at 1 mph will go down 50% of the length of the lead. For example: From your inline weight put out 20 feet of line, attach your planer board and at 1 mph your bait will go down 10 feet. So how far down do you run your harnesses? Let say you are marking fish 27 feet down in 30 feet of water. Walleye like to attack their prey from underneath or from behind. It is nothing for them to swim up 6, 8 or even 10 feet to feed. I think most anglers run their baits too low in the water column, which cuts down their chances of catching more fish. In this circumstance, I would setup my 6 lines like this; 2 at 14 feet down, 2 at 18 feet down and 2 at 22 feet down. The fish will tell you where in the water column they are feeding.
If there is a nice little chop on the water, on one of my outside boards I’ll put an 1/8 oz. split shot 6 feet from my harness and put out 50 feet of line. In this circumstance, my bait will be about 5 feet down. Sometimes the walleye will surprise you. They could be up near the surface feeding in deeper waters. These are the fish you will never see on your locator, as they shy away from your boat. Once I get a few fish, I will start to make my adjustments from there.
Next, my choice of blade color. Brass, copper, gold and silver, painted or unpainted? They all work on a given day, but some work better than others. I have chosen to run blades that are painted on the inside of the blade instead of the outside. The reason why? Because a Colorado blade spins at approximately 60 degrees. From the side, the fish can see both the outside and the inside of the blade. Once the fish gets within the 60 degree cone behind the blade, it can no longer see the outside of the blade, only the inside. By painting the inside of the blade, the fish can see the colors all the time. I also choose to increase my odds by using UV painted blades. These blades pull in up to 200 times more light, and at 20 or 25 feet down the water breaks up the light long before it reaches those depths. Examples of these blades can be found at www.team-outdoors.com. This is one of the few places you can purchase Colorado blades that are painted on the inside with UV paint.
On the Bay of Green Bay, schools of trophy walleye start in the lower portion of the bay in the deeper mud flats. These fish can stretch for miles on their migration to the mid to upper Bay. There are times when literally hundreds of boats are stretched out for 5 or 6 miles along the deeper flats that hold these large walleye. Boats attract more boats, and as soon as there are a group of boats, they will attract even more boats. You can generally catch a few fish in these areas, but as the fishing pressure increases the bite generally fades to almost nothing. If you have been out there, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Here are a few tips that can help you increase your odds of getting more fish each time you head out.
Here’s what I do:
First, I get away from the crowds of boats, far away, far enough so they can’t see my net come out. I use my Humminbird Helix 12 to find and mark waypoints over fish. On the Helix 12 you can mark the actual location of a fish. Just move the cursor over the fish on the screen and hit the “mark” button.
Then, when I have a series of waypoints, I set my Minn Kota Ulterra I-Pilot Link to take me over each waypoint. When I mark a fish, I work the area from multiple directions, trolling in figure 8’s. I run over the area 3 to 4 times and then move on. I do this because of the underwater currents on the bay. I want to present my bait from different directions to find out what is natural to the fish.
My last point is that I catch most of my biggest fish by doing exactly this between 10:00 o’clock in the morning and 2:00 o’clock in the afternoon when most of the boats have left the area and I have the fish to myself.
Keep this in mind, “The greatest thing about the sport of fishing is, on any given day, any one person can out fish anyone else.”
Jeff Boutin is a USCG licensed Charter Captain on the Bay of Green Bay. He is a member of the National Professional Anglers Association, the Sheboygan Walleye Club and President of Tomorrows Anglers. Jeff’s Sponsors include Mercury Marine, Starcraft, Skipperbuds, Humminbird, Minn Kota and Churches Tackle Co. He is the owner and creative director of Team-Outdoors LLC.