When looking for walleyes in the summer, I am often reminded of what every real estate salesperson is taught—location, location, location.
Where are the walleyes? The three-step approach starts out with location.
The very first way to find out where the walleyes are, and what they are biting on, is to ask. The information you can pick up just by asking can put you in an area where somebody caught a walleye. This is a good place to start.
A good contour map is almost a must but again these are just starting points. Today, of course, GPS co-ordinates are an essential tool while most local fishermen won’t part with them, they will show you on a map. The map seems to jog their memory and when they tell you about a specific spot, you can use your electronics to find the little nooks and crannies that will harbour the mother lode of walleyes.
So even before you’re on the water, you’ve learned something about where to look for the fish.
Looking at the lake also can give you some tips on walleye location. Swamp, bulrush shores usually indicate mud-bottomed, shallow bays; high cliffs indicate deep water near shore; narrows indicate current.
But the most important thing to learn at the lake is the water’s clarity. Don’t even think about fishing walleyes shallower than 15 feet. Start at 20-40 feet. Off-coloured or muddy water, or water discoloured from tamarack drainage, with clarity down to two-three feet, will have good population of shallow water walleyes.
Bear in mind that this is true most of the time. There are exceptions to all rules of location. The fish can be anywhere.
Locating walleyes in dishpan or prairie lakes can be fairly simple. The first thing I look for is any sign of a weed line. The stained colour of the water in this type of lake will not provide oxygen beyond the weed line, and many prairie walleyes relate to weed lines from early June to at least mid-July.
These weeds may end in two-three feet of water. You’re not going to see the weed line end in the classic deep water break, where the weeds end in 14 inches and then the water drops to 30 feet.
Lake without weed lines require you to check the bottom’s changes. Fish will relate to bottom change. Where sand meets gravel, or rock meets mud, are a couple of areas you might want to concentrate on.
Water clarity also will tell you something about weed line depths. If the water is dark and stained, there may not be much of a weed line at all. Clear water could indicate a weed line ending in 20 feet of water, and dirty water may mean a weed line that’s deteriorated to the point where there are just clumps left.
I usually begin fishing a new body of water by weaving from shallow to deep, keeping one eye on the Lowrance LMS 350A. All I’m doing by cruising in and out is finding out if there are weeds, where they end, and if the weed line is irregular.
Fingers of weeds that project are always hot. Sometimes the fish will be heavily concentrated on one small part of the weed line, maybe in a point or a cut in the weeds; sometimes they’re scattered all over the weed line, but irregularities are usually your best bet.
Bait fish are usually the key to location as the big walleyes are never too far from them. Whether it’s shad popping or panicked bluegills, bait fish bear watching. As the bait fish go, so go the walleyes.
I had a chance to watch the summer migratory pattern of a large school of walleyes I’d stumbled across in mid-June. I found a school of active walleyes hanging out on a small weed line. They were there for three days, then they moved to a rocky point 50 yards away. They remained on this gravel flat for two weeks, maybe three; then they moved off slowly down to another gravel flat 300 yards away.
By this time, most of the people fishing the original gravel point had given up. In a two-month period, they moved 600 yards.
Time of day can play an important part in solving the location puzzle since some spots turn on at different times of the day. You can fish over a huge school of inactive walleyes and never get a hit, then come back two hours later and find that they’re going nuts.
Always double-check a good-looking area. If you keep checking these locations, eventually you will find active walleyes on one of them.
A good method of finding the active walleyes on a location is to troll. Many times, when I am on a strange lake, I will set up a trolling pattern. Selecting an artificial bait that resembles the local forage and deciding the active depth, something that should be asked before you get your boat wet, can provide a wealth of knowledge.
Trolling is a good way to check long weed lines or large gravel flats. Good trolling requires lots of attention to detail but it can pay off big. Once I locate walleyes this way, I get back over them and work down some live bait on either a jig or livebait rig.
There’s no one way to locate walleyes. But a simple three-step approach starting out by asking, looking, and reading the water you are about to fish will give you the answer to location, location, location.