When the walleye action slowed down late in the summer many anglers thought the fish lost their teeth. It made sense; some of the walleyes that were caught had red looking gums and there had to be a reason for the lack of success. Even though it sounded good the old wives tail wasn’t accurate, in fact walleyes keep of feeding and downright heavy at times. It’s just that they do it where most haven’t gone before, out in the middle of nowhere. Those that stick with what they know and are afraid to try something new are the ones that need an excuse for poor results (been there done that), but if you’re willing to give the great unknown a try you might be surprised by what you’ve been missing.
By mid-summer; walleyes that have been holding on deep humps, reefs, and even transition lines will head a little deeper, out in the middle of nowhere. Ok; it is somewhere, it’s just not where you might expect. Flats in the twenty-five to fifty foot range are what we’re talking about where there are no drop-offs, breaklines, or so-called structure of any kind. Charter captains on Lake of the Woods picked up on the pattern years ago and now it’s the norm to see hordes of boats trolling back and forth over deep featureless flats all summer long. Mille Lacs has a growing population of flat fishing anglers who are doing quite well thank you late in the summer and into the fall. Same thing goes for Lake Oahe which is a huge reservoir in South Dakota that is chock full of walleyes that can’t keep their lips off of crankbaits cruising through their summer haunts.
The key to it all is fish (or the presence there of) and the best way to find them is with electronics. Professional angler and Humminbird Pro Mark Courts of Harris, Minnesota has found a short cut to finding fish: “High speed marking is critical for finding wide open walleyes I can actually see fish running flat out with my Humminbird 1198c. That’s with a 620 Ranger powered by a 250hp Evinrude. It’s effective down to maybe thirty-five feet. When I mover deeper I may need to slow down to 20mph or so which still allows me to cover a lot of water. What you don’t see is the perfect hooks or marks like you may be used to. Instead you’ll see vertical bars or “spikes” and if you’re picking them up in a likely area you could be in luck. If you’re spiking fish it would be a good time to slow down and take a detailed look at what’s below. You’ll probably see schools of baitfish which will look like a ball or a cloud, along with the predators (walleyes). On the 1198c they’ll be the heavier red marks which indicate bigger fish. Not monsters necessarily, but large enough to necessitate a trolling run.” To give you an example I made a trip to the NW Angle last August and stayed with Sportsman’s Lodge on Oak Island. Upon arriving I managed to secure some local advice and headed for a deeper reef off of Little Oak. On the way there as we cruised across the bay and I marked spike after spike. I decided get off of plane and take a good look at what I was running over and saw fish after fish after fish and new some of them had to be walleyes. In fact I was never out of them, all the way to Little Oak. We fished Little Oak and did well but decided to hit the bay on the way back and put down the downriggers and leadcore and started catching fish (lots of ‘em), all the way back to Oak. And best of all we were the only boat trolling the big wide open bay and had it all to ourselves for the next five days. It was literally like shooting fish in a barrel and we all had a ball.
There’s more than one way to get a bait to run at a proper depth and includes the aforementioned leadcore and downriggers. Downriggers are by far the fastest and most efficient way to keep a lure running at a specific depth. Just let out some line, attach it to a clip on the back of the ball and drop the ball to a specific depth. Courts on downriggers; “I’ll use longer leaders in clear water to help reduce the spooking factor of the balls which means I’ll let out thirty to maybe fifty feet of line before I attach it to the ball. Another thing I’ll do is use a heavy braid like 85lb test instead of the wire which makes a singing noise when you’re running and may spook fish. I’ll also use a diving bait like the Shad Rap which dives below the running depth of the ball instead of a stick bait which doesn’t achieve much for diving depth. I like to use heavier balls like 8lbs if we’re trolling slow to maybe ten or twelve pounds if we pick up the pace which will help keep them more straight up and in the cone angle of the graph so I can see just exactly how deep they’re running. ” Mark uses Cannon Mag 10’s to get the job done which are electric downriggers that have adjustable booms. The electrics get you to the right depth fast and which is accomplished by the touch of the button. When it’s time to bring them back up just hit the button up and they’ll automatically return to their original position. When you do hook up the release should let the line go and then it’s just you and the fish. Small fish will have a harder time pulling the line free and you may have to check the lines from time to time to make sure you’re not dragging around small fry’s.
This mid depth flat pattern can last right into the early fall and can be your best bet for finding and catching numbers of walleyes of all sizes. The key to the whole thing is confidence and is a matter of spending a little time on good water and getting you’re pole bent, time after time after time. See you on the water.