If you want to up your game a bit and try to weed out the smaller eater sized fish and specifically focus your efforts on the largest mature fish on any given body of water, there are some things you can do help put the odds in your favor. Yes, you will be sacrificing catching high numbers, but I will gladly do this in favor of a few big fish with large numbers of their own…inches and pounds.
Probably the best thing you can do is to resist the temptation to rush right into the middle of areas where the “bite” is on. When we see a consistent and aggressive bite going on it is typically small to medium sized fish, as mature fish are more of a solitary nature and only group loosely and generally this is around a major food source. The smaller fish will school more tightly and therefore become competitive in feeding situations and hence the hot fishing. If you are to pull a good fish from amongst the hordes of little guys, I would venture to say this is a luck deal and most likely a female who quickly slid in to take advantage of what the smaller fish were feeding on and fell victim to one of the many presentations dangling about.
Walleye’s of size are rarely found in any numbers mixed in with their more diminutive brethren. But they will often hang off to the edges suspended over deeper water at the same depth the smaller fish are feeding, waiting for the optimum time in which to slip in and feed quickly (generally based on wind and light conditions) and then return to their lounging about. When they are present, they actually run the little fellers out. This is often confirmed if you are on a decent big fish bite and then begin catching nothing but little fish. The wee ones have simply returned to the food source once the big gals leave.
This should also immediately tell us something as well. The big fish are often within a long cast of where all of the smaller fish are and largely overlooked or not even noticed. If you were to have only one area to begin your search, I would recommend just outside of any structure that numbers of walleye’s are known to be feeding. This is easily accomplished by running your boat just slightly off of the first major break into deep water and paying close attention to your electronics.
Over the years I have come to rely on the incredibly high definition of the units offered by Raymarine. What you see is exactly what you get. The target separation is so distinct that you can literally mark gamefish within balls of bait such as smelt or shad. I can even run at planing speeds and still be assured of seeing everything I need to in complete clarity.
By using GPS and background mapping such as provided by Navionics, you will quickly notice that the larger fish are quite often located just outside of shaded breaklines on your screen and more can be located in multiple areas by staying on the same break. Drop waypoints and return in full confidence knowing darn well that you are fishing amongst what you want to catch and not simply guessing or hoping. Now that we have a starting point, we need to decide what will be some of the better options to trigger them.
Bigger is indeed better and this applies to oversized walleye’s nearly all of the time. If a walleye reaches maturity, it has beaten all the odds in eluding us and pike alike. They have become highly efficient and fine tuned feeding machines and rarely snatch just anything that comes their way. Although not consciously doing it or running a calculator to count calories-every single decision to feed is a cost benefit analysis for them. If it takes more energy to run down and consume a prey fish than they receive in return…they simply will not do it. Ever.
So we want to present them something that they identify as being of considerable size and they feel is vulnerable. The actual physical dimensions of the bait can be essential, but I feel what the walleye perceives the bait to be of greater importance. Meaning not just what they can see with their eyes, but rather what the whole package represents to them, including sound and feel. Their lateral line is super sensitive and I feel something we need to concentrate more effort on. This is why very hard shaking baits such as 800 Series ReefRunners have a well deserved reputation for taking larger than average fish. This combined with the internal rattles and the amount of water displaced sends out several unmistakable signals of “big baitfish” and the irregular motion spells vulnerability. You will also notice just how hard the walleye’s will hit and how deeply they take a bait such as this. They seem to be almost excited at such good fortune coming their way and do not want to take any chances of letting it escape.
There are a number of baits whose dimensions are smaller, but still present a large profile. Salmo’s number 4 Hornet comes to mind and the just released ReefRunner 100 Series MINI-RIP has quickly proven itself to be a go to lure. We must always keep in mind that we can employ some livebait into our trolling spread by using specialized spinners. I rely on a 6 foot hand-tied version with a number 5 JB Lures Ventilator Blade and a number 6 treble for the end hook. The large and unique blade has two vents in it that help to displace more water-thus the enhanced perceived profile we want. The treble on the rear helps to hold heavy fish and ensure they stay hooked up on the initial and often violent strike.
The smaller baits and spinners will not achieve much depth on their own to get down to Summertime walleye’s, but by using Leadcore, Snapweights, or other Diving Aids, we can easily put them right on their snouts.
What has been discussed so far revolves around trolling as it just so darn effective at covering ground and putting our carefully selected baits in front of just as many walleyes as we possibly can. Now, that is not to say this is the only way to go nor is it always the best choice. If you have a decent sized group of walleye’s that you are confident are of a higher weight class in a specific location-then by all means- switch gears and go into a methodical livebait mode and pick ‘em apart.
Quality equipment is key here as I am absolutely convinced that there are a lot of folks who don’t even realize they are getting bit as the fish often just engulfs the bait and swims along with it. With superior rods such as the models in St.Croix’s Legend Tournament Walleye line up and no stretch line such as Fireline or Nanofill you can detect an ever so slight “mushy” feel to indicate that this is happening. With inferior rods and mono, you will feel nothing at all. On many of the biggest fish I have caught I was not completely sure if I had picked up a tiny piece of cabbage or leaf until I drove the hook home. This is not an area not to be skimped on. If you want great results, use great equipment.
When livebait fishing for a trophy model walleye; Creek Chubs are probably always going to be one of your best bets…if you can get them. No need to make things complicated by using stinger hooks and the like. It’s the action of the chub that get’s their interest and we don’t want to mess with that at all. I go with a 6 foot leader of a limp 8 pound mono and a Mustad Ultra Point hook in size 1. Fish it slip sinker style and drop line if you feel even the slightest change; might take a bite or two to figure out how much time to give ‘em, but 30 seconds is a good starting point.
Let’s not rule crawlers out of the equation here. Big fish love ‘em and rigged properly, present a larger profile and can be downright deadly. Most are familiar with just how effective the Slow Death presentation is with a half crawler. We can get a similar but distinctly wider action by going with a 2 hook rig and a whole crawler. We want a #4 Mustad Slow Death first and a #4 Sickle hook on the end. Dress this up by using a 4mm bead and a 6mm bead in contrasting colors up against the hook and then small propeller blade. Note: JB Lures will be offering a commercial version of this exact same set up in the near future.
Run just enough nose of the crawler onto the Slow Death hook so as not to get onto the snelled line and then stretch out the rest and impale it with the Sickle hook. Notice how you have an expansive undulating roll to the much larger package than the more tightly spinning half crawler. So, its length and width that counts in this scenario. The splash of color the beads give us coupled with the water displacement of the propeller and this now appears to be something of substantial size and very easy to catch from the walleye’s perspective.
Fish this rig in the same slip sinker manner as the Creek Chubs. A great feature of this rig is that you can go incredibly slow and the little propeller will still turn freely. Therefore we can watch our electronics and stick the tantalizing package right in the face of every individual fish that we mark.
These are just a few of my thoughts on the subject of making big fish a common part of your fishing and not just an occasional happenstance.