For the most part, walleye procreation is over for the year. The large, tightly-packed schools of fish are dispersing throughout the waterways they call home, heading toward their summer haunts. However, the catching can be tough this time of year, not necessarily because the fish aren’t eating. On the contrary, actually. It’s more due to their location after the spawn is over. Or, I should say, due to the many locations they could be during this transitioning season.
This is the time of year I cover as much water as possible to get a jig in front of the yap of as many walleyes as I can muster. This is the time you’ll see me cranking up the main Mercury outboard on my Lund, running spot to spot more than any other season.
In general, males are the smaller size fish of this species. Like a young lad at the local bar, they like to stick around late in the game, just in case a late-spawning female waggles around. They can often be found very near, if not still on, the very structure they were spawning.
Walleyes will spawn on a multitude of different structures, from large rock piles to gravel-strewn reefs and flats, to weedbeds. This time of year, I’ll run to as many likely spawning locations, deploy my MotorGuide bow-mounted electric trolling motor, and cast jigs and crankbaits in depths of 3 to 12 feet of water, keying in on areas adjacent to deep water.
Best way to find key areas? First off, in the card reader of my Lowrance sonar/GPS units, I make sure to have an SD card filled with Navionics mapping. My first choices are large rocky and weedy flats that butt up to main-lake basins. In clear water, I’ll scan the flats looking through a pair of high-quality polarized sunglasses, then cast to the outer edges of weedbeds and right up onto rock piles and gravel. In stained water, I use Lowrance’s HDS-LIVE to find structure, as well I can even see the fish themselves, as well as my bait.
Another key area is along the steep drop-offs that butt right up to deep-water flats. Here I’ll keep my boat out over deep water, then cast up into the break and work the jig down the break.
Bring It In
The best retrieve I have found is a short, one- to two-foot lift of my rod tip, then immediately reeling in the slack as the jig slowly falls, which allows the jig to swing back toward the boat while falling. Just before the jig hits bottom, I’ll repeat the lift, and the pendulum fall all the way back to the boat.
Whether in shallow water or deep, I’ll set the hook on anything that doesn’t feel like all the other lifts and falls. Walleyes are notorious for striking extremely light. A hit may feel like nothing more than a slight “tick” telegraphed through the rod tip or even just a twitch of the line.
Rule number one when jigging is to use as light of weight of jighead as possible. Overall, a head in 1/8 ounce is my go-to. This may have to be increased to a 1/4-ouncer if the wind is up, grabbing my line and creating slack. If the fish are in extremely shallow water, on the other hand, I’ll go as light as 1/16 ounce.
Northland’s new Deep-Vee Jig is great to use in a rocky area, as the V-shape head—wide at the top and narrow at the bottom—is easy to pop out of crevices instead of getting snagged up. The jig’s Barb-Wire keeper locks soft plastics on, and they stay snug to the head, even after a strike.
Line ’Em Up
Like with jigheads, I want my line to be as light as I can get away with. Berkley FireLine of 6-pound test spooled onto my ABU Garcia spinning reel is my choice for jigging. This line is super thin, and its nearly no-stretch properties make it extremely sensitive. As for color, I want to be able to see my line at all times when jigging. FireLine in Flame Green allows me to see a strike with just a twitch of the line, even before feeling it through my medium-light fast-action 6- to 6-1/2-foot Fenwick rod.
And I tie my jig directly to the FireLine with a Palomar knot. Even in clear water, a mono or fluorocarbon leader is not needed when jigging. If you’re not confident in tying directly to a bright-colored braided superline, then add a tiny ball-bearing swivel to the braid with a Palomar knot, then a two-foot section of fluorocarbon leader and then the jig. Berkley’s Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon in 6-pound test is my preference.
Obviously, live bait is always a great choice to tip to a jig—shiners, chubs, half a nightcrawler and a leech are all great choices. Soft plastics, however, can produce just as many strikes as the real deal. Berkley PowerBaits and GULP! can always be found in the storage compartments of my Lund.
With either product, the 3-inch minnow and 4-inch worm are my favorites. Sometimes size can matter, however, and I’ll drop down to the 2-inch minnows and Pro Jig Worms.
The catching can be tough this time of year as fish can be in many locations as they slowly disperse toward their summer haunts. This is the time of year I cover as much water as possible to get a jig in front of as many walleyes as I can muster. Use the lightest jigs and line you can get away with; cast and retrieve with short lift and falls of your rod tip; set the hook at anything that feels different.
Mark Martin, who lives in SW Lower Michigan, is a professional angler known as “The Original Champ.” winning the first-ever PWT Championship in 1990. He is also an instructor with the Ice-Fishing and Open-Water Fishing School/Vacations throughout the Midwest. For more information, check out his website at markmartins.net.