There are many different ways to catch walleye. Each different lure type has advantages and disadvantages for certain water types and certain fish. Walleye are different from other fish because they tend to swim lower or remain suspended in water over a wide area. They also swim in schools which makes them easy to find. Here are a few basic tips and methods for catching these finicky eaters with different lure types.
Fishing with spinners
One of the oldest and best techniques for fishing walleye is spinner fishing. The vibration and flash of the blade draws the attention of the fish. Most fishers believe that spinners are an asset in any kind of water but spinners are most effective in murky water and low light conditions. These conditions are usually exactly where walleye are.
The sizes most used are size two to four blades with a silver, brass or gold blade in clear to moderately clear waters and a fluorescent green, orange or chartreuse blade in murky waters. Single size six hooks are best for minnows and leeches while tandem or tri-hooks are best for worms and other crawlers.
For spinners to be most effective, especially with walleye fishing, they have to be weighted. How much weight depends on your trolling or drifting speed and water depth. A ½ ounce sinker will get you to a depth of about 10 feet. For every five feet after, add another ½ ounce of weight. A bottom bouncer rig is preferred with walleye fishing since there is less line snagging and the bait will not bounce along the bottom of the body of water.
Fishing with a slip-sinker
Walleye are well known for picking up bait then releasing it once they feel the slightest bit of resistance. Using a slip-sinker will eliminate almost all resistance so the unsuspecting walleye will pick up the bait and try to swim away on a free like. The three main components of a slip-sinker set-up are the hook, the sinker and the stop. Other important factors to consider are the leader length and the weight of the sinker.
When you are fishing on a clean bottom, use a walking sinker or an egg sinker. If there is weedy cover, use a bullet sinker. For every 10 feet of depth you will need 1/8 to 3/16 ounces of weight. If it is a windy day, you will need extra weight to keep the sinker on the bottom.
Some fishers prefer to add a spinner blade or a coloured bead to their hook for a more attractive presentation and a splash of color. You can also use a small floater to keep the bait off the bottom and add color. Most fishers will ring with a plain hook, though it is up to personal preference.
If walleye are really hugging bottom a three foot leader is good enough. If they are suspended in the water you will need a much longer lead and a float. Depending on the situation and where the walleye are, you may need a lead that is 10 feet or longer.
The best rod for slip-sinker fishing is a 6 and ½ foot to 7 and ½ foot rod with a hard butt and soft tip. If you fail to release the line when a walleye strikes it will not feel enough resistance to want to drop the bait. Make certain to have your reel filled to 1/8 inch of the rim, if it is empty, the line will catch on the lip and there will be resistance when the fish tries to run. Also, if there are nicks on your spool it can cause the same problem so be sure to check your gear before casting.
How to hook and cast with slip-sinkers:
1. Tie a slip-sinker ring by a threading weight to a six to eight pound mono. Tie on a small barrel swivel and add a three to five foot lead. Attach a size six or four hook depending on your bait to the end of your line.
2. Hook your bait: night crawlers get hooked through the tip of the head and out the side about ¼ inch from the tip on a size 6 hook. Minnows are hooked through the lips with a size 4 hook and leeches just under the sucker with a size 6.
3. Once you have set-up, lower the rig until your sinker hits bottom. As your depth changes, be sure to change your leader length. Hold your line with your index finger as you drift and troll to keep the bait open. The moment you feel even the smallest tug, release the line.
4. Let the line flow freely as the fish runs until the fish stops.
5. Quickly reel up slack while pointing the rod at the fish until you feel resistance.
6. Finally, snap your wrist up sharply to set the hook.
Fishing with Jigs
Jigs are considered one of the most consistent, inexpensive and effective bait for catching walleye. Jigs sink quickly into the water and jigs are designed to be worked slowly so even the most finicky fish will bite. Even though jigs come with feather and hair dressing, most fishers will tip their jigs with live bait for added attraction.
Depending on the mood of the fish, you will work your jig in different ways. If the water is cold, fish will be sluggish so a gentle, slow jigging action will be best. Once the water begins to warm up, fish will become more active so you can make your jig more active. Another technique is to cast it and retrieve it on the bottom or jig it along the bottom as you troll and drift.
If you do cast along the bottom, the best way to do it is to let it sink and bring it up slowly with a series of twitches and pauses. After each twitch, keep the line taunt so the jig will sink back to the bottom. Fish will strike when the jig is sinking and if your line is not taunt; you will lose the fish because you will not feel the strike. Sometimes the strike will feel like a distinct tap, other times there may be extra resistance or the jig will sink prematurely. When ever you feel something different about the jig while fishing; set the hook.
A fast-acting and sensitive rod is perfect for jig fishing to catch walleye. You will feel the slightest bit of movement from the fish and the rod will help give you an immediate set. With these two factors combined, the walleye will not have a chance to spit the jig out before you respond.
Fishing with Slip-bobbers
Walleye tend to be a very finicky fish, so when they are being very difficult and staying suspended in the water, nothing works better then slip-bobbing. You can usually tease them into biting by being able to hang the bait right in front of them. This also works if they are holding onto a small piece of structure.
One of the best things about a slip-bobber set up is that it can be used at any depth yet you can still reel in the bait right up to the rod tip. Slip-bobbers work better then a fixed bobber since with a fixed bobber you would not be able to cast the rig at more than a few feet.
A long rod works best for slip-bobber fishing, it should be at least 6 and a half feet. This way you can get a strong hook-set which might be hard because the bobber will cause your line to form a right angle between you and the fish. The moment the bobber goes down, set the hook. A slip-bobber is easy to make. Tie an elastic band or string at the desired fishing depth. Thread a small bead on followed by the bobber then add a split shot for balance. Finally, tie on a size 4 or 6 hook and bait it with a night crawler leech or minnow. At night you can add a lighted float powered by a tiny battery so you can see when the float sinks.
Fishing with Plugs
Plug fishing for walleye has caught on in popularity because of tournament fishing. It is a great way to cover a lot of water quickly while trolling. Trolling is a very effective way to catch walleye considering their basic behavior patterns.
If you want to increase your horizontal and vertical coverage, try trolling with side planners and weighing your lines differently. Sometimes a lead-core line, downriggers and a 3-way swivel rig will work to give you some options. Deep-running plugs will also give you a huge advantage. Some can even dive to 30 feet with no added weight.
Thin diameter, low-stretch braided lines have also been a big advancement to trolling techniques. Plugs will run even deeper because there is even less resistance. Also, these lines do not stretch so you will be able to get much better hook sets.
Plugs are not just one trick lures though. They are also great for casting especially if fish move into shallow waters in the evening. When the water gets cooler, a neutral buoyant minnow bait works the best because you can stop reeling and hang the bait right in the walleye’s faces.
No matter what technique you use, remember, walleye are very finicky fish. Sometimes the best way to attract them is with action, sometimes it’s with depth. No matter what the situation, knowing the basics of fishing walleye and the basics of their behavior can make a big difference.