For those who enjoy “rod in hand” presentations, June is the ideal month for targeting walleye. In June, walleye are on the prowl nearly 24/7 in an effort to fatten up. It’s a time when walleye are aggressive, it’s a time when fish are often found shallow and it’s a time when fish can be caught using a wide variety of casting presentations.
It’s a rush to feel the fish bite, set the hook and feel that first head shake! It doesn’t hurt that the weather is stellar and June is a great time to enjoy the outdoors.
SEARCHING SHALLOW WATER
Water depth is a relative term, but for most walleye casting applications, concentrate on water from about two to 10 feet in depth. In such shallow water finding fish is a job best suited to side-scan imaging technology.
Side-scan such as found in Lowrance HDS Live units looks out to both sides of the boat, making it ideal for finding cover and also fish foraging in shallow water. It takes a little experience to interpret side-scan imaging. Rocks, logs and other hard objects mark as obvious three dimensional shapes or shadows. Soft targets like weeds and fish mark as more faint “ghost images” that can be easy to miss entirely or not interpret correctly.
For anglers who have
spent a lifetime studying 2D sonar screens that mark fish as arches or blotches, side-imaging typically shows fish as small white dots next to hard shadowed targets. Side-scan imaging is ideal for picking apart places where walleye are most likely to concentrate. Good places to search for fish with side-scan technology include the tips of main lake points, saddles between islands, rocky shorelines and shallow shoals or reefs.
JIGS AND SWIMBAITS
A growing number of anglers are discovering that the jig/swimbait combination is one of the best search tools in fishing. Made popular on the bass tournament circuits, a swimbait is also ideally suited to targeting walleye.
For those who haven’t used this presentation, a swimbait is a soft plastic body married to a bullet shaped jighead. Most swimbaits feature a paddle-tail plastic rigged to a swimming style jig that features a 60 degree hook.
The Eagle Claw Boxing Glove Jig is an example of the ideal jighead for swimbaits. Armed with an exceptionally sharp Trokar hook, these jigs come in a host of sizes suitable for fishing ultra-shallow water and larger sizes suitable for fishing fast or in deeper water.
Paddle-tail grubs suitable for swimbait jigs range in size from three to six inches in length. The most practical sizes for walleye tend to be four and five inch models. The market is flooded with suitable plastics, but I’ve settled on the Scented Z-Man PaddlerZ as my “go-to.” These grubs are made with ElazTech, a form of super stretchy plastic that is ultra-soft, but more durable than other grubs. A natural fish attracting scent (Pro Cure Super Gel) is added to these plastics during the manufacturing process, creating a grub that not only looks good enough to eat, it smells that way too!
Perhaps the best part of fishing a swimbait is how easy they are to use. Cast them out, let them sink to bottom and retrieve them slow and steady. The idea is to keep the bait in proximity to the bottom, but moving constantly.
I carry several jig sizes so I can easily vary my retrieve speed and also so I can fish a wide range of depths. A seven foot spinning rod equipped with 10 pound test braid and a 10-12 pound test leader of fluorocarbon is the ideal set for casting a swimbait. In fact, this simple spinning set up will work nicely for all the casting presentations outlined in this article.
Another bass fishing staple, the lipless crankbait can be a walleye fisherman’s best friend. In the bass world these baits are normally fished most commonly in weed cover and with a steady retrieve.
Walleye anglers will find that lipless baits like the iconic Rat-L-Trap are much more versatile than simply using them as a chunk and wind bait. I like to make a long cast with a lipless crankbait, let it sink to bottom and then jig it back to the boat. A fairly aggressive hopping or jigging cadence brings the flash and vibration of these baits to life.
Not only do lipless cranks fish beautifully in or near weed edges and scattered pockets of weed cover, they fish great in boulders, submerged timber and on rock/gravel strewn flats. A 3/8 or 1/2 ounce model is usually ideal for walleye casting applications.
Again, spinnerbaits are a lure most commonly associated with bass fishing. The spinnerbaits, however, that function best for walleye applications are a different animal. The classic “skirted” spinnerbait isn’t the best tool for walleye. Instead, combining a swimbait with a jig spinner arm is a better fit for walleye casting applications.
An angler can make up his own walleye “spinnerbaits” by rigging up any swimbait with a jig spinner. For those looking for a ready made walleye spinnerbait, the Hildebrandt Drum Roller is a good candidate. Designed for targeting redfish on the saltwater flats, the Drum Roller works perfectly for walleye casting applications.
The Drum Roller is the right size and weight for walleye fishing and comes in several blade and grub color options. This unique lure works best for casting into scattered weeds or working along a defined weed line where other lures would foul constantly.
Jerkbaits are also often associated with bass fishing, but these iconic hard baits catch just about everything. The best jerkbaits for the job feature a delicate weighting system that allows these lures to suspend. If a jerkbait is too buoyant it will quickly pop to the surface when the retrieve is hesitated. If a jerkbait is too heavy it will sink to the bottom.
Suspending baits can be worked, paused and worked again without the lure exiting the strike zone. The key to getting the best action out of a jerkbait is to fish them in such a way as to create slack in the line between jerking motions.
Make a long cast, reel up the slack until the lure can be felt, then snap the rod tip sharply. The instant the rod tip is snapped, lift the rod tip to create slack in the line, reel up a little of the slack and snap the rod tip again. Repeat this process causing the bait to jump and dart in a different direction each time the rod is popped.
A jerkbait shines best when worked over the top of emerging weeds or obvious cover such as submerged wood and boulders. Very few lures can match the flash and dying minnow action of a jerkbait.
As the month of June wraps up and July looms on the calendar, walleye will start to move into deeper water. Reaching these fish is a job ideally suited to glide-baits.
The original glide-bait known as the Jiggin’ Rap was introduced by Rapala many years ago. A host of manufacturers now offer glide-baits of varying sizes, shapes and designs. Some of the more popular models include the Moonshine Shiver Minnow, Northland Puppet Minnow and Phantom Lures Tilly.
All of these lures have some similar features including a slender minnow profile, belly treble hook, tail fin that allows these baits to glide and a horizontal line tie. These sinking lures cast like a bullet and can be worked quickly and aggressively by snapping the rod tip to impart a darting movement then allowing the bait to glide and/or cascade back to bottom on a slack line.
In most cases, a walleye will spot the bait as it is falling and pin it to bottom as the lure rests motionless. The fish will be detected as the angler is snapping the bait back to life again.
Glide-baits can be used in very shallow water, but these lures shine best when used in moderate depths. A glide-bait is exceptionally deadly when they can be popped several feet off bottom and allowed to glide back to bottom on a slack line. Because glide-baits are used in deeper water, it’s common for an anglers to cruise around until an individual fish is marked on traditional broad beam sonar. The instant a fish is marked the glide-bait is flipped directly out the back of the boat in an attempt to drop down on and catch that specific fish.
SUMMING IT UP
When anglers are equipped with a jig/swimbait, lipless cranks, jig/spinners, jerkbaits and glide-baits they are well prepared for targeting post-spawn walleye. Finding fish in shallow water requires the willingness to explore side-imaging technology and the tenacity to spend lots of time hunting for fish.
Casting for walleye may not produce the numbers of fish trolling generates, but for those who like “rod in hand” fishing presentations, there is no better way to spend a June day.