Working the Wind for Big Walleyes
When opportunity knocks you’d better be ready to take advantage of the situation as the good times only last so long. A big wind on a good walleye lake is an opportunity that many anglers shy away from, but it’s there for the taking. The key is knowing what to do, where to do it, and being capable of getting it done. If you come up short on any of the aforementioned you could go home empty handed, or get yourself into real trouble if you’re not prepared.
What you do will depend on where you’re doing it and can vary from trolling cranks, to live bait rigging, to even anchoring up and using a slip bobber. A big wind on a western reservoir will likely be approached differently than on one of the Great Lakes for example, although there may be some similarities.
For one, fish tend to come up shallower, as shallow as a few feet of water. It’s not always the case though, and will depend on the primary forage base. Deeper running forage like smelt will probably keep fish holding in deeper water, even if conditions are ideal for a shallow movement. Walleyes don’t make shallow migrations just for the fun of it, it’s all about being well fed and absolutely nothing else.
If perch are the main forage on the other hand, there’s a good chance that fish will move up into shallow water when conditions are right. The right conditions include a heavy wind blowing consistently from the same direction, although you can get too much of a good thing. Shallow running open water bait like alewives can also trigger a shallow move right up to the surface, and is a condition that could be easily overlooked.
Depending on the body of water you’re on, too much wind and the accompanying wave action can rile things up so badly that visibility is reduced to the point that walleyes shut completely down. Prime conditions include something in between clear and pure mud and is a situation that can be difficult to recognize, but there is a rule of thumb that I’ve found to work on a variety of bodies of water and is extremely simple. The “rule” is based on being able to see the prop on my main motor in the down position. If I can see the stainless on the big 250hp Evinrude E-TEC it’s not too muddy to catch fish, at least not yet. If I can’t see the prop I’ll start looking for clearer water and won’t stop until I do. Even if you know you’re on fish there’s no way you can make them bite if they’re not in the mood and there’s no sense beating your head against the wall if there’s better conditions somewhere else.
That could mean a move of a hundred yards or more, or even picking up and trying another lake if you have the option. When you do get the green light on visibility it’s time to get down to business and try to put together a productive pattern. One of the best search methods available to today’s walleye anglers includes trolling crank baits and will depend on the situation. Long slow tapering break lines or extensive flats that are both covered with fish cry out for a crank bait to be trolled right through the middle of them.
Shad Raps and Jointed Shad Raps are a top pick, especially during the early summer period of June. The key is trolling a bait at the level of the fish you’re marking, which means just over the bottom if they’re holding tight. Another key is matching lure color to the available forage base like Firetiger if it’s perch, or Shad if it’s white bass, etc. If in doubt you really can’t go wrong running silver and black at least to start with, which has actually become one of my most productive color patterns.
Smaller structures like underwater points or off shore reefs and humps may be better worked with a bottom bouncer and a spinner if there’s enough ground to cover. With a bouncer and spinner tipped with a crawler you can work tight to cover without hanging up all the time, and is a great technique for working fish that are a little spread out. The key is achieving a productive speed (somewhere in the 11/4 to 2 mph range), and what you do will depend on just how hard the wind is blowing. Heavy winds by themselves can produce enough speed to produce fish and may even be too much at times. If you need to slow down a bit a drift sock can usually get the job done and can make all the difference, especially if the fish aren’t all that charged up. If more speed is required an electric trolling motor like the MinnKota Autopilot might be all you need. A small kicker motor like a 9.9 hp four stroke Johnson can cover all of the required speed ranges, and can do it quietly and efficiently.
If you run into tight concentrations or are working the smallest areas you may be better off using an anchoring and slip bobber approach, but you better be prepared. Being prepared to anchor in a stiff wind with big waves requires a big safe boat and a heavy anchor with a lot of rope. A twenty-eight pound navy style anchor has enough bite to keep my Crestliner 202 in place, as long as I let out enough rope. That means letting out a hundred feet or more if it’s really rough, and really rough is when some of the hottest action takes place. If you’re prepared and can do it safely, anchoring up can produce incredible results and is when some of the largest fish are caught.
Taking advantage of natural peak conditions like heavy wind and big waves can be your ticket to the heaviest catches. If you can be there when you should be and can do it safely, you’re fish per hour ratio can go off the charts. Once you find out what can be accomplished you’ll probably seek out the roughest stuff, and do so when just about everyone else has already run for cover.