HOW RAIN AFFECTS YOUR FISHING
By: Mepps.com Staff
If you’re not dressed for it, fishing in the rain can be a miserable experience. However, when you’re suited up in the proper gear, you can often be comfortable and enjoy exceptional fishing at the same time.
Die-hard fishermen know that a heavy shower at the right time can be just what the doctor ordered.
For instance, when the water is high and cold in the spring of the year, a cold rain doesn’t add to your fishing success and can dampen your whole outlook on fishing.
However, during the warm days of summer when the water level has dropped to normal or below, a steady rain is your signal to cancel appointments and grab your fishing rod. Another good time is right after a real downpour.
Run-off from a heavy rain carries all kinds of food in the form of worms and other crawling critters into a river. The increase in river flow also stirs small aquatic creatures from their living places. These circumstances often put fish into a feeding frenzy. As the water becomes murky and in many cases cools off, larger fish seem to move more freely about a river.
When this happens, get fishing as soon as possible and use larger spinners than you normally would. Whether you’re fishing trout, smallmouth or walleyes in a river, it’ll amaze you to find they’ll hit a much larger spinner than usual. A larger spinner also allows you to get down deeper and’s more visible to fish.
Successful Rainy Lake Fishing
Rainy weather also creates desirable conditions for lake fishing. Many species of fish are more active under dark conditions, than in bright sunlight. Particularly in clear water lakes.
Often, during hot summer months, the amount of dissolved oxygen in a lake becomes low, making fish inactive. Rain will aerate the surface water and often has a cooling effect, both of which can activate fish. Disturbing the surface of a lake also impairs the ability of a fish to see you.
We certainly don’t advocate fishing in a thunder and lightning storm, but the next time you see a steady rain, dress for it, turn on your enthusiasm and go after ‘em. You’ll be glad you did.
Best Way To Catch Muskie: Cast or Troll?
Steve Ryan September 6th, 2013 | More From Steve Ryan
The question of whether to cast or troll for muskies often draws strong opinions. Most anglers have a preference, and many are entrenched in one discipline or the other. Some even express disdain for the other approach. Without making judgments or offering exceptions to every rule, some basic guidelines exist when pondering the best approach.
For efficiency in covering water, trolling has an unquestioned edge. Obviously, an angler can only cast and retrieve with one rod at a time. Many state agencies allow anglers to deploy two or three or more rods. Expansive trolling spreads become possible.
Multiple rods mean that lures of various sizes, colors, actions, and running depths can be used at the same time to test depth and lure preference. And with planer boards keeping lures away from the boat, the area of coverage expands up to 6-fold. If one assumes that a muskie can detect a bait within a 20-foot radius, staggering six trolling lines increases coverage to 120 feet or more. Also, the boat itself can attract curious fish into the spread, or else push fish out into the path of the trolled lures.
Guide Bret Alexander uses several trolling approaches to find and catch big muskies in Lake Michigan’s expansive waters.
Captain Spencer Berman guides clients to monster fish on Lake St. Clair and uses the analogy that trolling is like using a roller to paint a wall, while casting is like using a paint brush. You wouldn’t want to paint a large uniform wall with a narrow brush. But you wouldn’t use a roller to paint tight corners or for intricate work. So he trolls to cover large featureless areas for scattered fish, and turns to casting when fish are concentrated and when they hold tight to cover.
Berman adds that modern electronics have increased the precision of trolling dramatically. “With side-imaging on my Humminbird 1198, I can scan 120 feet on both sides of the boat. If I mark variations in bottom, scattered weeds, baitfish, or a muskie, I modify my trolling pass to place a planer board and lure on target.” With Humminbird’s 360 imaging, we can scout ahead of the boat as well. We can adjust course as our electronics provide real-time information about everything around the boat.
Trolling also excels when fishing deep water and seeking maximum running depth from lures. To target muskies holding deeper than 20 feet, casting a deep diver is inefficient. On an 80-foot cast, the lure is diving during the first 20 feet, and rising over the last 20 feet of the retrieve. Maximum depth is reached only for 40 feet. That’s a lot of work for 40 feet of coverage. Trolling is like an indefinitely long cast with near total efficiency from a depth perspective. Trolled lures also achieve greater depth when a lot of line is released, over 50 yards in some cases.
Even with powerful new reels like Shimano’s Tranx and Abu Garcia’s Toro Winch, there are limitations on how large a crankbait can be cast and retrieved without fatigue. With trolling gear, monster plugs like the Legend Plow and Big Fork 12-inch Reef Digger can be trolled all day long at depths of 30 feet or more. The only limiting factors are the strength of your rod, rod holders, and the boat’s gunnels. Oversized trolling lures offer a massive profile and displace more water than typical casting lures. Their size and running depth provoke strikes from wary muskies that may ignore the normal parade of lures.
Speed is another factor that cannot by matched by casting. Lures have a different action, sound, and triggering effect when trolled at 3 to 6 mph, versus standard retrieve speed. They dig harder, make more noise, and create more substantial hydrodynamic trails in their passing. Trolled lures grind into the bottom, stir up debris, and encounter rocks and wood. The sound of the impact and the deflecting action of the lure draw the attention of nearby fish.
Cory Allen of Stone Throws Adventures guides in Tennessee, where waterways vary from large reservoirs and rivers to small streams. Each requires a different approach. He finds both trolling and casting have their place and takes pride in outfitting his boat to accommodate both styles. “With a Minn Kota Terrova iPilot on the bow of my Tuffy and a Yamaha 70-hp tiller on the transom,” he says, “I can stand at the stern and run trolling passes over a point or series of bars, working the 12- to 30-foot breaks. But at any time, I can kill the outboard and walk to the bow of the boat. I drop the Terrova and we can dissect an adjacent flat or weedbed with casts.”
Allen explains that trolling for him is not about mindlessly putting rods in the holder and driving around in search of fish He starts by mapping a piece of structure and uses trolling lures to cover it thoroughly. “Most of my trolling passes don’t extend farther than the edges of the structure I’m fishing,” he says, “typically from 30 to 100 yards. Most of the areas I fish don’t have extended parallel breaklines so long trolling passes aren’t needed. But the ability to keep a lure down, bumping and grinding over the structure, then turn around to cover an adjacent section of water, is invaluable.”
He recommends holding the rod while trolling for a number of reasons. “First, it allows anglers to understand what the lure is doing at all times. The rod’s vibration indicates what type of thump and action the lure has at various speeds. It transmits the change in action as the boat turns or surges with the waves. You immediately feel when weeds or debris foul it.
“Second, with each bump and grind of the bottom, anglers better understand the nature of the structure and we can adjust trolling passes accordingly,” he says. “Third, it allows for the rod to be pumped occasionally to speed the lure or dropped back to trigger following fish.” One downside of trolling is that lures run in a rather constant horizontal path. Pumping the rod helps vary lure cadence and vertical position. Also, with rod in hand, anglers experience the excitement of bone jarring strikes. There’s no fumbling to get the rod out of the holder, and drags can be adjusted quickly.
Most muskie anglers are in the casting crowd and needn’t be convinced of the effectiveness and enjoyment of catching big muskies that way. Moreover, many techniques and lure styles require a casting approach. Anglers can alter lure action according to water depth and type of cover. No matter how good you are on the tiller, it’s nearly impossible to get walk-the-dog action from a surface bait while trolling. It takes the skill of a caster with rod in hand to make a lure dart from side to side. While trolling presents lures in a steady horizontal fashion, casting involves vertical maneuvers.
The slow vertical fall of a Red October 10-inch Monster Tube has an elusive quality. Its tail strands dance and pulse as the tube’s pulled forward, then dropped through the water column. At times, such minimal action and vibration elicit a response from tentative muskies.
To take advantage of the predatory chase and kill instincts of muskies, the weaving and fleeing action imparted to a glidebait or swimbait requires the skill of a caster. In addition, being able to watch a muskie approach and react to each movement of the lure often is key to catches. Observing their behavior and reactions, the angler can respond appropriately. Sometimes all it takes is a twitch of the rod, a slightly longer pause, or two quick cranks to get a fish to go from a neutral following mode to making an S-curve and inhaling a lure. These fine strokes of the brush require a casting approach and an eye for interpreting fish behavior at close range.
Casting also is the way to go in confined spaces and around small pieces of structure or cover, including weed pockets, standing timber, or the tops of rock reefs. In rivers, casting generally rules the day as well. When fish hold behind pilings or in the mouths of cuts off the main channel, casting is required to hit the money spot. The same’s true in current areas and eddies.
A cast lure has more natural action as it suspends and glides in slack areas or drifts with the current. As a lure moves from the eddy to the current seam, it accelerates, gains vibration and depth, action that rings the bell for muskies. Trolling can’t impart such subtle natural actions or make a lure change direction.
Ultra-clear and shallow situations call for casting as well. The ability to work a topwater lure or burn a Double Cowgirl over a rockbar that tops out in 2 feet demands a casting approach. Pressured fish can grow wary of boat traffic and respond negatively even to the intrusion of a trolling motor. Noises can put them on their guard. Long casts and a stealthy presentation allow an angler to fool fish far more readily.
When making the final determination of whether to cast or troll, take into account fishing etiquette. If many anglers are diligently casting a point or reef, don’t treat the boats like moguls and attempt a slalom trolling run. Similarly, if there’s a trolling procession through a narrow channel, avoid the urge to become a speed bump by dropping the trolling motor and casting. There’s enough productive water to accommodate both approaches.
*Steve Ryan, Des Plaines, Illinois, is an In-Fisherman Field Editor and an avid muskie angler.
By Michael Sol Warren | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
From the creeks bubbling though the Delaware Water Gap to the underwater canyons and reefs at the bottom of the Atlantic far off the Jersey shore, the Garden State has proved that it can reward fishermen who invest patience and effort in its waters.
The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Fish and Wildlife maintains a list of the largest trophy fish caught in the state. The records track 31 freshwater species, 59 saltwater species and 17 spearfishing categories. The monster catches date back to 1865.
Take a look at the biggest fish ever recorded in New Jersey as you dream of what monster might be the next bite on your line. This list is separated into the three main categories (freshwater, saltwater and saltwater spearfishing,) then each category is ordered alphabetically.
THE WORLD OF WALLEYES
Steve Quinn August 23rd, 2016
The number of walleye anglers in the United States and Canada has increased dramatically over the last 20 years, from 5.2 million in 1980, to 5.8 million in 1990, to over 6 million in 1996. Anglers rate walleyes the most popular quarry in three states, second in four, and third in four more, indicating its broad appeal geographically. And in areas where bass, crappies, catfish, and stripers have had top billing since the first survey takers pounded on doors, walleyes are moving up the charts as anglers on the fringe of the walleye range discover this fish’s combination of large size, challenging behavior, and unsurpassed table excellence.
Ichthyologists believe the ancestors of walleyes originated in Europe, moving across the Bering Sea land bridge to colonize North America, apparently during the Pliocene Epoch. The earliest fossils of walleyelike fish in North America date back to the late Pleistocene, less than a million years ago. Present distribution of walleyes and their closest cousin, the sauger, were established during the glacial retreat less than a million years ago.
Ichthyologists originally noted two subspecies of walleye, the usual form, Stizostedion vitreum vitreum, and the blue pike, Stizostedion vitreum glaucum. Researchers generally believe that the blue pike is extinct, due to overfishing and habitat alteration, or has been absorbed into the gene pool of the walleye.
Native range of walleye (Stizostedion vitreum) extended on the north from Great Bear Lake to James Bay and the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and south along the Allegheny Mountains to Georgia and into the Gulf Coast drainages of Alabama and Mississippi. Its western limit originally extended along a line from Arkansas north through the Dakotas. Stocking programs have extended the walleye’s range to Atlantic Coast drainages from Vermont to South Carolina, and westward throughout all western states except California, into British Columbia.
Within these boundaries, naturally reproducing populations of walleyes generally occur in large lakes of moderate fertility (mesotrophic) or in large rivers. In the upper midwest and Canada, natural populations also inhabit smaller streams within the drainages of major walleye rivers. Populations of walleyes sustained by stocking thrive in smaller lakes and impoundments within their natural and expanded range.
The Spawning Period begins the walleye year. In natural populations, success of the spawn affects fishing in future years. And walleye behavior in spring determines fishing patterns from ice-out until early summer.
When water temperatures rise into the upper 30°F range, walleyes leave deep overwintering areas and move toward spawning sites. In lakes and reservoirs, they may migrate into tributaries while ice remains. In rivers, they spawn over rocky shoals or gravel bars, or migrate up tributaries to find suitable substrates and current. In either case, we call this prespawn movement the walleye “run.”
Timing of the spawning run varies with latitude and local weather. Spawning as early as January has been reported in the Pearl River in Mississippi and as late as July in the Yukon and Northwest Territories. Male walleyes move to spawning grounds first and remain longer than females because they spawn with several females over a period of a week or two, while a female generally releases all her eggs in one night.
Southern walleye populations spawn at somewhat higher temperatures and over longer periods. At the southern edge of the walleye range, biologists note that spawning peaks at water temperatures of around 50°F, and spawning activity lasts up to six weeks. In Minnesota, runs peak at water temperatures of around 42°F to 45°F and last about two weeks.
From 50,000 to over 600,000 eggs are produced by a 12-pound-class fish. Eggs hatch in 12 to 18 days at usual postspawn water temperatures if environmental conditions are favorable. Studies of walleye recruitment (annual production of young fish) often show 10- to 50-fold annual fluctuations. Strong year classes can support a walleye fishery for several years, but when several weak year classes follow, catch rates dip dramatically, once older fish are harvested or die of natural causes.
The Growth Rate Chart: Comparison of average mean back-calculated length at each age for walleyes in South Dakota and Minnesota. Age Determination: Scale reading has been the traditional method for determining the age of fish and the average growth rate of populations. The assumption is that scales grow proportionately with fish length. And this relationship usually holds true. During periods of slow or no growth, as in winter, rings, called circuli, are narrowly spaced. Fast growth brings widely spaced circuli. Year marks or annuli show rather clearly under magnification, and measurements from the central focus to succeeding annuli provide the fish’s growth history. Scales of slow-growing fish or fish from consistently warm climates may not reveal true age. For these fish, otoliths (ear bones) are more accurate. But they must be removed from the skull and usually sectioned, a more difficult process than scale reading.
Factors that affect hatching success and survival of young walleyes include water quality, river flows, wave action, excessive turbulence, siltation, spring water temperatures, availability of zooplankton and small fish to feed young walleyes, abundance of predators on young walleyes (including cannibalism), and competition for food. Studies suggest that the number of adult spawners has little effect on success of a year class, compared to the many environmental factors.
Growth and Abundance
Walleyes grow fast for the first 3 or 4 years of life, with average size reflecting length of growing season or latitude, body of water productivity, and abundance of forage. Females live longer than males and grow faster, particularly after they reach maturity.
Within a body of water, growth rates of year classes may vary considerably due to climatic conditions and abundance of prey. Walleyes in southeastern reservoirs grow fastest, with some young fish approaching 12 inches at age 1. The average for Minnesota walleyes, however, is 12 inches at age 3, while in South Dakota, they average 15 inches at that age.
In infertile northern waters, older walleyes may grow negligibly from year to year, so a 20-year-old fish may not be huge. In Montana’s Frenchman Reservoir, old walleyes may actually shrink from year to year, apparently due to limited forage.
Walleye density also varies greatly among lakes and reservoirs. Stable populations in northern waters may contain from 5 to 10 pounds of adult walleyes per acre. Highest abundance on record was at Storm Lake in Iowa, where in the 1940s, biologists estimated a biomass of 33 pounds of walleyes per acre. Walleyes thrive in mesotrophic waters where productivity at all levels of the food web is lower than in eutrophic (fertile) waters.
Walleyes are opportunistic predators, consuming locally abundant fish and invertebrates that are reasonably nutritious, and catchable. During the mayfly hatch, walleyes seem to subsist on these small insects until this food source has flown away to mate and die. On many Minnesota lakes, fishing success may be more closely related to the abundance of yellow perch than to the abundance of walleyes. When small perch are dense, walleyes focus so closely on them that presentations of minnows, leeches, crawlers, or crankbaits receive little attention.
In Lake Erie and other populations of the Great Lakes, walleyes take advantage of seasonal and annual peaks in young gizzard shad, alewives, spottail and emerald shiners, white perch, and rainbow smelt. Research studies on walleye prey preference have suggested that walleyes prefer slender-bodied spineless prey but can thrive on far spinier meals. In prairie lakes of the Midwest, walleyes rely on warm-water gamefish like bluegills, crappies, and bullheads.
Walleyes browse along weededges, sometimes suspending to feed on schools of small panfish. During lower light levels of dawn and dusk or after dark, walleyes move onto shallow flats where they feed heavily. In all waters, peak walleye feeding occurs at dawn and dusk, a pattern termed “crepuscular.”
This feeding cycle lets walleyes feed when their sensory systems offer them an advantage over their prey species. Even at air temperatures of -30°F in the dimly lit waters of a lake covered by two feet of ice and a layer of snow, evening brings a flurry of feeding.
In many lakes in the northcentral and northeastern portions of the walleye range, yellow perch are the dominant prey once walleyes in their first year switch from invertebrates to a fish diet. Studies on Oneida Lake in New York indicate that perch are such important prey that they affect the strength of walleye year classes by buffering cannibalism. When young perch are abundant, walleyes selectively feed on them; when perch year classes are weak, walleyes cannibalize on each other, reducing year classes.
Various members of the minnow family, commonly called shiners, form huge schools; lack spines, speed, or other defenses; and inhabit almost every lake, river, and reservoir containing walleyes. The two most important shiner species are spottail shiners, which range from Georgia northwest into Saskatchewan, and emerald shiners, whose range overlaps that of the spottail but is absent from the Atlantic coast.
Walleyes key on shiners, particularly in May and June when these species spawn on gravel shoals and near the mouths of feeder creeks. At this time of year, other prey aren’t so abundant in shallow hard-bottom areas.
In northern lakes of moderate or low fertility, walleyes prey heavily on ciscoes, a small member of the whitefish family. Ciscoes, also called lake herring and tullibees, range from the upper Mississippi drainage and the Great Lakes basins north to Labrador and northwest to the MacKenzie River drainage. Ciscoes are coolwater fish, preferring temperatures below 60°F.
Ciscoes school in open water, rising toward the surface at dusk to eat zooplankton and invertebrates. Walleyes near main-lake structure or suspended in the main basin approach these schools and feed heavily during the night. Anglers keying on this pattern make great catches from tough lakes by trolling after dark. In late fall when ciscoes spawn on reefs, walleyes again focus on them, producing great fishing for trophy-size walleyes for anglers who venture out in frigid conditions.
Since smelt entered the Great Lakes, walleyes as well as salmon and trout have preyed on them. The success of this coldwater preyfish led to its stocking in other important walleye waters like lakes Oahe and Sakakawea. In these waters, spots where deep structure intercepts the preferred coolwater habitat of smelt, the best walleye fishing is in late spring and early summer.
In Lake Erie and many reservoirs in the southern portion of the walleye range, gizzard shad are the principal walleye prey from early summer until fall. In most waters, schools of shad suspend in open water or graze along shallow flats, eating plankton and detritus from the bottom. Shad schools move with their food source, along with wind and current, and walleyes follow.
Successful fishing in shad-laden waters depends on using sonar to locate prey and predators, and then longline trolling to place baits at the correct depth. Key on points, wind-blown flats, and other spots where walleyes may try to intercept shad schools.
Walleyes tolerate a wide range of environmental conditions, as indicated by their broad distribution and variety of habitat. They’re generally most abundant in medium to large lakes and river systems with cool temperatures, shallow to intermediate depths, extensive shorelines, slight turbidity, large expanses of clean rocky bottom, and medium fertility.
Walleyes survive and grow in water from crystal clear to murky, but become most abundant in moderately turbid conditions. Peak feeding conditions occur in water with surface visibility (Secchi disc) between 3 and 6 feet. Activity decreases when visibility is less than 3 feet or more than 16.
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Walleye fry seek light until they’re 1 to 1.5 inches long, when they gradually become photonegative, seeking dim light during bright periods. During the day, adult walleyes often hold in cover and in deeper water during the brightest parts of the day. They frequently move inshore at night, feeding most actively during low-light hours.
The pH of prime walleye waters ranges from 6.0 to 8.0. Walleyes seem to display no behavioral changes at pH levels within that range. Below 6.0, walleye spawning and recruitment often fail, while pH levels over 9.0 are unsuitable to most freshwater fish.
Adult walleyes often inhabit areas with current, except during winter when they tend to avoid all but the slightest current. Walleyes can swim for only about 10 minutes in water flowing 2.5 feet per second. They seek current breaks to conserve energy, while remaining in range of potential prey.
Walleye larvae hatched in rivers rely on current to transport them downstream toward plankton-rich waters before their yolk sacs are absorbed (3 to 5 days). If current is absent, they starve. Fry don’t begin to feed, however, until water temperatures reach the upper 50°F range.
Lab tests have shown that walleyes grow fastest at temperatures between 68°F and 75°F, avoiding water over 75°F. Growth of adults apparently stops below 53°F, and temperatures between 84°F and 95°F have proven fatal. Like most other freshwater fish, walleyes thrive in water containing at least 5 parts per million (ppm) of dissolved oxygen (DO). Adult fish can tolerate 2 ppm for short periods, while fry require 5 ppm.
Walleyes learn about their environment using the five senses we’re most familiar with (smell, taste, feel, hearing, and vision), plus an additional lateral line sense that receives low-frequency underwater vibrations. Sensory lobes compose a large portion of a walleye’s brain. Survival, growth, and reproduction depend on the function of these lobes.
Smell and Taste: The senses of smell and taste are linked in humans, making it difficult to tell a bite of apple from a bite of potato without smelling them. For fish, these senses are linked even closer because both detect molecules of substances dissolved in water. This makes determining whether a behavior is due to smell or to taste difficult.
Chemoreception in fish (including both smell and taste) is critical for finding prey, avoiding predators, locating fish of the same species, coordinating spawning time, and homing to residence areas or spawning sites. Sense of smell (olfaction) is primarily important for detecting distant substances, while for most fish, taste (gustation), determines the palatability of a substance once it’s taken into the mouth.
Walleyes have paired “nares” located along the top of the head toward the upper jaw that sense molecules dissolved in water. As the fish swims or remains still in moving water, molecules pass through the nares and contact the olfactory organ, which includes the olfactory lobe. In addition, the nares contain tiny hairlike cilia that create water movement through the nares, even when a walleye is still.
The olfactory organ contains folds, thought to enhance the sense of smell, since its surface contains receptor cells, and the number of receptor cells increases with the surface area of the olfactory organ. Walleyes have about 29 folds in their nares, a medium number between the channel catfish with 142 and members of the sunfish family with about 10.
The most sensitive sniffer is the eel, capable of detecting amino acids in the range of a few parts per quadrillion. Although we know of no studies on the olfactory acuity of walleyes, it seems they probably can detect amino acids in a dilution of several parts per 10 million. That’s acute, for a part per million is about one ounce of a pure substance dissolved in enough water to fill 1,000 railroad tank cars.
In hatchery tests, researchers lured young walleyes up one side of a y-shaped maze by dripping solutions of amino acids, including betaine into one side. Salt solutions also proved attractive. Other amino acids, fish mucus, and essences of walleye body parts were repulsive to the fish.
It’s no surprise that walleyes smell well, for livebait often is the only answer to a tough bite and inactive fish. Sometimes the addition of a bit of crawler or minnow head provides a trigger that we surmise is due primarily to olfaction.
For walleyes, the sense of taste spurs a decision to spit a bait or to swallow it. Here again, a jig tipped with a minnow passes the taste test more often than one tipped with a twister tail. Researchers at Berkley, Classic Manufacturing, Kodiak, and other companies that produce plastics impregnated with attractants hope to eventually synthesize a formula more appealing than natural prey to walleyes and other species. Certainly, plastics flavored with attractive amino acids, preyfish essences, and salt cause fish to hold them in their mouth and sometimes attempt to swallow them.
Vision: Nighttime walleye fishing is a summertime tradition, but it’s also one of the best times to catch walleyes in winter, spring, and fall, particularly in clear lakes and reservoirs. Walleyes feed nocturnally because they see better at night than the prey they pursue. The only freshwater fish with better night vision is the walleye’s cousin, the sauger.
The walleye’s eye is large, allowing the pupil, the light gathering part of the eye, to gather as much light as possible. No creature can see in complete darkness, but starlight provides enough light for walleyes and other nocturnal animals. The principal adaptation for night vision in nocturnal animals is the tapetum lucidum, a reflective layer on the retina that concentrates light after it enters the eye. Cats, raccoons, skunks, and deer in addition to walleyes, sauger, and some other fish have similar structures.
Vision begins when light passes through the cornea and then the lens, which focuses the image as a camera lens does. Light then reaches two types of light-sensitive cells in the retina—rods and cones. Cone cells detect color when they’re exposed to daylight. Rod cells distinguish shades of gray and allow vision when sunlight isn’t present. Walleye and sauger eyes contain a larger proportion of rods than the eyes of perch, shiners, and other fish most active in daytime.
The tapetum lucidum, a layer of guanine crystals, is located in the lower portion of the deepest layer of the retina. This physiology suggests that walleyes see lures and baits moving above them more clearly than those moving slightly below their level. And fishing experiences suggest that for the best response, lures should be set to run slightly above sonar images of fish. Luminous paint or strips of tape applied to a crankbait belly catch the fish’s eye.
All About Spoon Fishing for Walleye
Matt Straw November 14th, 2017 | More From Matt Straw
Spoon Fishing for Walleye TipsThe eastern sky was a plume of orange and the ice looked like it was on fire. Walleye fishing on Mars. Walking to the first hole drilled by Guide Tony Roach (he was already 200 yards away, another gush of water rising at his feet), I looked at the spoon clipped to my leader. Is it the right size? The right color? The right style and shape with the right hook?
Every walleye angler faces that decision every morning. The worst way to find out you made the wrong decision is for somebody else to hook the first six walleyes before you can dig a similar lure from that box of tangled trebles.
Some folks are consistently good at choosing the right spoon. Probably because, like Roach, they were out here yesterday. Or maybe they’re psychic. Or they have great confidence in their own ability to choose a spoon, read how fish react to it, and respond accordingly without having to change weight, shape, or style.
But for those of us who try to make sense out of a Rubik’s Cube of lead and trebles, I asked some of the best walleye fishermen I know about conditions like weather, fishing pressure, water temperature, light penetration, and season, plus water clarity and color. And I enquired about walleye activity levels to see what they thought were the most important reasons for selecting one spoon over another.
“Weather plays a key role,” says Chip Leer, founder of Fishing the Wild Side. “When choosing a spoon to fish the first hole of the day, I consider what the weather’s been doing. When a cold front passes, walleyes get sluggish. That’s when I go to a lighter spoon with a slow fall. I’m all about drop speed these days. I went through a long power-fishing phase—nothing but run-and-gun all day, hunting only aggressive fish. I realize now that, no matter how fast you move, where you go, or how many holes you drill, you’re only going to see two or three short bursts of activity that last 15 to 45 minutes or so. Now I want to spend more time on spots I’m confident in—appealing to neutral fish with slower presentations. I don’t think it has anything to do with getting older. Maybe wiser. You want to be on those key spots when those short activity windows open up. I don’t jump around as much as I used to.”
Tim Geni, walleye pro from Saskatchewan, looks at weather in terms of light penetration, especially during first ice and the next week or two to follow. “During the early part of the season, I consider sun penetration to make that first choice,” he says. “When it’s sunny, I go flashy, with silvers, golds, and other metallics. I like glow patterns when it’s cloudy, even when the ice is thin. It’s dark down there under ice on cloudy days, even with thin ice overhead.”
Jason Mitchell of Jason Mitchell Outdoors, thinks weather is overrated as an influence on technique. “To me, time of day and population density of walleyes trump weather when spoon fishing for walleye,” he says. “Fronts can slow a bite, sure. But the prime windows at sunrise and sunset are more critical factors. You can make more mistakes at prime time. When the sun gets high walleyes settle on bottom. During prime time I use a bigger spoon with a bigger hook to attract more fish and keep them around.
“I go with a plain spoon with no rattle during midday. If fish are moving, I quit moving. When fish quit moving, I move to find more fish faster and take advantage of the aggressive ones. In midday, when fish are staying put, you need to make them rise, turn, and move. I can do that more easily with a bigger spoon when walleyes are off.
“On Lake of the Woods, the bite’s over by late morning. During that long window in the middle of the day. I usually start with a bigger spoon to attract attention and see if there’s any life around. That eliminates dead water quickly. When fish are at the bait, I switch to smaller stuff.”
Roach says weather definitely plays a role, but sticks with his usual regimen early in the day. “I start fast and look at the mood of the fish,” he says. “Electronics tell me the mood of the fish when I’m fishing fast. When they come in hot and stop, downsizing works. Move the bait. Little things can trigger strikes. If they come in but won’t bite, I go to a flutter spoon.”
Water temperature is a byproduct of weather. Temperature readouts on underwater cameras indicate how far down cold fronts can push the 34°F band of water. “I call that ‘down-temperature’ and I’ve been paying more attention to it,” Mitchell says. “I haven’t gotten it dialed in yet, but I’m starting to correlate wind-related effects with the bite. When the wind blows hard, the windy side of the lake has better fishing. When ice flexes, it seems to cloud the water and actually affects current in the lake. The next frontier is to match spoons to these factors. I’ve seen cold snaps cool water under ice, but I’ve seen the bite stay there, too.
“I believe a lot of snow on the ice makes walleyes lethargic. I don’t think it’s always oxygen levels. I think it’s vision. Where their visual advantage over preyfish is reduced under heavy snow, they become lethargic. Spots don’t recharge. I’m a fan of glow colors and a change of strategy in that situation. I stay on the hottest spots longer, and hit the best spots. And in heavy snow, you can see where people have been and I concentrate on good spots receiving little or no pressure.”
Roach uses down-temperature to reveal patterns more than to determine spoon choices. “I always look at down temp,” he says. “I fish every day and I want the fish to tell me what they want. On my first area, I study what fish are doing on electronics or on camera because, whether it’s water temp or clouds or whatever, you find walleyes biting at similar depths and in similar conditions all over the lake.”
“Lure size is important in clear water when walleyes are less aggressive, and size is less important when fish are aggressive,” Geni asserts. “Aggressive fish bite. But if fish don’t seem hungry, you stand a better chance of getting a small spoon into the mouth of a light-biting fish. In dark water, bigger is always better. If visibility is limited, I upsize.”
Walking onto the ice toward the first hole of the day, Mitchell first thinks about conditions. “Water clarity is number one,” he says. “When I can see down 7 feet or more, as on Leech Lake or Mille Lacs, I expand the jigging zone and slow the drop. You can make a higher lift and fish see it from farther away. So in clear water I make lifts of 4 feet or more to create a long fluttering drop with a lighter spoon. On Lake of the Woods, which isn’t clear, the high lift isn’t as effective as a hard pound. There, I lift a heavier rattle spoon 6 inches to 3 feet and drop it on a slack line to pound bottom and create noise.
“I like flutter spoons in clear water with a slower fall and a wobble,” he adds. “That action consistently shines in clear water. Last year I worked on a prototype Leech Flutter Spoon from Clam Outdoors that’s now on the market. It has the wobble you need to send flash and reflection in all directions on the fall. On Lake of the Woods I go with something like the Clam Rattlin’ Blade Spoon. It teeter-totters on the drop, becoming more of a knocking spoon as opposed to a high lift-fall tool. I favor rattles in cloudy water. A rattling spoon puts off more noise than you think. Those BBs thunk into the bottom of the chamber at the bottom of the stroke. In stained water, if you lift too high it falls behind the fish and they miss it. Then you have to pound bottom and get them to feel it with their lateral lines, trying to get that fish to turn around.”
Roach changes spoon color based on water clarity, but weather and time-of-day intervene. “I love natural-looking gold or silver spoons in clear water,” he says. “In stained water, I go to UV-glow pinks and greens—bright colors to get fish to react from a distance and the louder the better. That goes for clear water in low-light conditions, too. Under heavy cloud cover or approaching darkness, the hot color often goes from silver or gold to bright UV, glow, and fluorescents.”
Roach starts with rattling slab-style spoons every morning. “The first spoon I grab is a Northland Buck-Shot Rattle Spoon,” he says. “Color and size may vary, but that style of spoon fishes fast. When I first hit the ice I try to find out how many fish are in the area. I want it to drop fast and attract with both noise and flash, so I jig hard to see how many fish approach, then adjust spoon style, shape, and size accordingly.”
Slab versus flutter: When do walleyes want one over the other? Roach says: “I tend to fish a flutter spoon aggressively because it has so much action. But it also has better actions than slab spoons when fished slowly. A Buck-Shot Flutter Spoon falls horizontally and is easily controlled. I usually I go to a 1/8- or 1/4-ounce flutter spoon.”
He favors fluttering action when minnows are dying from temperature shock. “A flutter spoon is like a dying minnow,” he claims. “When the water temperature falls fast, lots of minnows die. I think that’s why flutters work better early. Young-of-year baitfish die off in droves early. I fish flutter spoons aggressively—lots of big, sweeping rips and giving slack. When you give slack to a flutter spoon, you get a swinging, flickering action—a lot more action than you get on a tight line. Make high lifts, dropping the rod tip back to the hole to create slack line. If fish bite on the fall, I do a lot more of that. If they hit it on the rise, I fish it on a slack line a lot less. I snap it a little to get their attention, then keep it on a tighter leash on the drop.”
Another spoon that falls horizontally is the PK Lures Flutterfish. “If walleyes aren’t aggressive when they come up to the spoon, I try a Flutterfish right away,” Geni says. “If that doesn’t work I downsize to the 1/16-ounce PK Predator Spoon. Lunker walleyes eat that little lure. When fish are highly pressured and there’s lots of activity, I try the Predator Spoon. The little blade on top of the spoon gives the presentation three-dimensional attraction. I slide the blade on, then a bead, then tie the lure direct. I tap bottom, move sediment, lift it slowly, followed by a little 4- to 5-inch slack line drop. Rip it too hard and they often spook in those situations. These lakes up here are clear, so I use 6-pound fluorocarbon.”
Leer’s lineup of choices is short. Three categories: 1) Noise; 2) Flutter spoons; and 3) Fixed-hook spoons. “It’s like choosing crankbaits,” he says. “There are times to wiggle and times to wobble. Choosing a spoon is about getting a fish to look at one and react. The depthfinder or camera often suggests how to alter a presentation to achieve strikes. It’s weather, it’s watching walleyes react, and it’s a gut thing. When I have a feeling fish are turned off, I go with a fixed-hook spoon. A single-hook spoon flutters at a different pace. It’s the slowest drop available.”
Mitchell, who likes metallics in clear or tannic water, wants a lure with a split ring and treble when actively jigging. “But Russian-style fixed hooks definitely have a time and place,” he adds. “I rig Maki Minnow imitations on the single hook. When I need to use a whole minnow, I use a spoon with a bigger gap on the hook. It’s easier to unhook fish and get back down the hole on a hot bite. Technique is more important than lure choice. You can manipulate the wrong spoon to make it right. Clam has a new series of Rattlin’ Blade Spoons with a feather on the treble. With those, I find I often don’t need a minnow on the spoon to catch fish. Anything swinging, bouncing, or rocking under the spoon can help at times. Feathers, plastic—you catch more fish in the long run when you add an attractor.”
Spoon fishing for walleye isn’t rocket science, but reading natural signs and experimenting bring success. Try these tips from walleye ice access for fast action this season.
*In-Fisherman Field Editor Matt Straw, Brainerd, Minnesota, is a veteran of the walleye wars and often fishes with top experts across the land.