In this, the hottest part of the season, a walleye’s metabolism is running as high as it’s going to run all year. That’s what makes now such a great time of year … aggressive fish that are eating all the time. For years we have heard old tales about how tough fishing can be during these “Dog Days”, but in reality, if you’re not catching fish, it’s because you’re either not in the right place or you’re using the wrong approach. To find them, find their food source. Most of the best summer walleye fishing will key on either Open Water Basins or Deep Structure. While these are vastly different locales, your best choice of presentations will be the same for each … trolling crankbaits.
Open Water Basins:
Waters such as the Great Lakes or large natural lakes like Wisconsin’s Lake Winnebago, feature immense areas of open water in the lake’s basin area and fishing walleyes over these vast areas has become increasingly popular over the years. Open water walleyes relate to baitfish roaming these basins in the summer. In most cases fish will be suspended in the water column, but will occasionally be found hugging bottom. No matter where they are, keep in mind that these fish feed in an upward direction. This is important, because when running your lures, you’ll need to target depths at the same level, or above where the walleyes are located. Experimenting with lure depth will zero-in on the walleyes’ “feeding zone”, which is the depth at which they will most likely attack your bait. Many anglers make the mistake of marking fish at a particular depth, say 20 feet down over 35 feet of water, and run all their lures at 20 feet. The actual “feeding zone” of those walleyes may be at 15 feet, thus, by putting the baits below that level, they go untouched.
This style of fishing calls for covering vast amounts of water, so it only makes sense that by spreading your lures out as you troll would greatly increase your chances of contacting more walleyes. For this reason, in-line boards like Off Shore Tackle’s OR-12 Side Planer are considered essential gear for trolling. These boards are well designed and work flawlessly pulling deep diving crankbaits under the toughest of conditions, whether that’s bouncing through rough water, or trolling at higher-than-average speeds. The fact is, if you’re trolling open water without boards, you’re severely handicapping yourself.
Walleyes that inhabit large reservoirs like those found from the Dakotas to the hills of the Ozarks are occasionally caught in open water, but are more likely to spend the late summer period relating closer to deep water structure such as the old river channel, main-lake points, or deep flats. These fish may be sitting tight to structure, or hanging in what we call “the fringes”, where they’re suspended just off structure. Although considered to be “structure related”, these walleyes tend to be scattered, calling for techniques designed to cover water in order to contact good numbers of fish. Contour trolling is a deadly tactic for these fish, yet, as with the open water trolling scenario, it’s important to be reminded that these are aggressively feeding fish, and finding the fish’s “feeding zone” in relation to their location is key. Again, plan on running your lures just above the fish for best results.
The Right Baits:
The warm waters of late summer call for crankbaits that can really draw attention to themselves. Lures that exhibit a lot of “wobble” and vibration, as well as plenty of flash are the ones that will serve you best. The Berkley Flicker Shad has all these traits along with a great rattle system and has proven itself a great late-summer walleye producer in both open water and deep structure trolling situations. Trolling with no-stretch Berkley FireLine in 10 pound test will enhance your depth coverage, allowing you to add as much as 30% to a crankbait’s maximum depth range.
Color can be a big factor for success, and one key color stands out no matter where we troll in late summer … aggressive walleyes like seeing red! A splash of red on the head or bill of a lure has proven to be an effective attractant, as has adding red to the belly of a lure. Red is a color very visible to walleyes, and since you are presenting the bait above the fish, in his “feeding zone”, it makes sense to give him something he can easily see from below. As the crankbait wobbles back and forth, the red belly also gives a good contrast to the lure’s side color (be it silver, chartreuse, etc.) adding to the bait’s appeal.
Don’t get caught thinking that the “Dog Days” of late summer mean slow walleye fishing. This is a hot time of season, calling for aggressive trolling tactics. Cover water with a bevy of high action lures trolled in the walleyes’ “feeding zone” and you’ll have some scalding action on those hot summer fish.