Alot of walleye anglers ignore the weeds. They’re making a mistake. Weed beds are one of the first places I look for walleyes, especially on small lakes.
Weeds are the first place walleyes move after leaving the deeper water in the winter, and for good reason; the minnows gravitate there, the bugs are coming out of the mud, and the whole food chain develops in the weeds.
Early in the spring, when the weeds are just beginning to come up, you can cast jigs and plastics to fish through them and even run crankbaits over the tops as long as you don’t use deep running baits that dredge the bottom.
Early in the season, fish the north side of a lake as it gets the most sun exposure, and the weeds will develop earlier than on the south side of the lake. As the season progresses, you’ll want to move around to find the most appropriate weed beds to fish.
I always look for pencil reeds as they’re easy to find. You can see them from a long distance. Cast a jig and trailer to the edges or even up into them and pull it back out. It doesn’t have to be deep – you can catch walleyes in the reeds as long as there is enough water to cover their backs. Coontail and other grasses will grow among them.
As the weeds grow bigger and thicker, the walleyes start moving out toward the drop-off. You’ll want to move with them and find weed beds in deeper water. Personally, I like cabbage – large-leafed plants – best. Cabbage holds a lot of fish and not just walleyes. Stay back from the beds and cast into them as, at least early in the season, the weed beds are not thick enough to hide you from the fish.
I like to use small jigs, 1/16 ounce. You can use 1/8 if you prefer, but lighter jigs land on the weeds better. You can tip your jigs with either live bait or plastic, but you really should use plastics – the weeds will pull the live bait right off the jig when you snap it off the weeds. I use Gulp, a leech or minnow or worm. And I use a non-stretch line, either Vanish or Flame Green Fireline, which will snap off the weeds. The key is to watch your line to detect the bite. You can see the line jump when a fish bites long before you ever feel the fish. If you’re waiting to feel them, the percentage that you are going to catch is a lot lower than if you use your line like a bobber to see the bite. The jig will catch on the weeds, so you’ll be setting the hook on weeds instead of fish. Just watch your line; it will jump like it has electricity in it.
Click the bail over just before the jig hits the water.That way the jig will pendulum back toward you. Keep your rod tip at 10 or 11 o’clock and hold it like you are a statue. Let the jig fall on a tight line. If you’re moving your rod tip, you’re throwing slack into your line, and you won’t be able to see it jump.
The weeds will catch the jig on the fall, so watch the line from the tip to where it enters the water. If the jig stops falling, just move the rod tip enough to free the jig. Just pull it a little – just inches – until you see it falling again. Always reel down to about 9 o’clock and then come right back up on a single motion.
If it stays hung up on a leaf or weeds, snap it real hard to free it. If you pull on it, you’ll start pulling it up by the roots, and you have a big bloom of dirt that’ll spook the fish. Keep letting it drop until it hits bottom, and let it sit for a second – the fish will come quite a way through the weeds to get it — pick it up and let it drop down to the bottom and keep doing that all the way back to the boat, just keep watching that line because you don’t know when the fish is going to hit it. When you return to the boat, hold it there and then jig it up and down a little – like you do ice fishing – and pound the bottom, then just hold it there for a few seconds before reeling it in.
When the weeds get really thick, you can’t cast; you have to get over them with your electric motor and find holes in the weeds. Any hole the size of a coffee cup, a saucer, or maybe a coffee can will do. You might want to go to a longer rod (eight or nine feet) so you can probe more holes from the same spot. I’ve used cane poles to do this. Just work the holes really slowly and hold on.
You can use a bigger jig to do this. The only motion you have is right up and down. Do it two to three times, hitting the bottom every time, then grab your line between the reel and the first line guide and pull the jig out, raise your rod tip and swing it over the next hole. Just touch the pedal on your trolling motor – don’t bulldoze through there.
But fish it thoroughly. I’ve won tournaments doing this when I’ve only fished a 100-yard stretch of weeds. When you catch a fish, hit a waypoint on your GPS. A lot of times, there will be something there like a rock, a downed log, or a patch of gravel that attracted that fish there. Over the course of the day, I hit that waypoint again and again. There are specific areas in those weed beds that hold fish. Keep going back to those areas. I can tell you from feeling the bottom with Fireline, there’s something there that’s different. Usually, it’s something harder like packed sand or gravel or something.
Don’t ignore the weeds. Lots of guys do. They’re making a mistake.