W A L L E Y E   H U N T E R
Fishing Articles from Phil Rolfe
Witch Bay Camp, Lake of the Woods
Bottom Bouncers Don't Always Work
By Phil Rolfe
For those who fish with me on the Lake of the Woods, this statement will come as a complete surprise, but bottom bouncers don't always do the job. Yep, that's right. Sometimes it takes a different presentation to get the job done. Now, granted, bouncers work very well in most seasons, covering most depth ranges, but they too, have their limitations. Forget about the fact that they have been the hottest presentation on the professional walleye trails for the last few years. That they have garnered the most money. It doesn't matter, there are times when they just won't cut it.
There is one particular time of year that bouncers might not be the best presentation. This is the post spawn period with steady warming temperatures. Steady warming is the key here. The water temperatures must be consistently rising, moving up ever so slightly each day. This will keep the minnows and bait fish in the upper water column. The walleyes will be right behind them, shaking off the laziness of the cold water period and looking for an easy and abundant meal.
However, bring on a cold front and the ball game changes. A drop in surface temperatures, especially a significant one will throw a wrench into that plan. Cold arctic blasts will put them deep into a steadier environment. This means deeper presentations for the immediate time frame. Bouncers can be a productive weapon during this cooling period. But, as waters warm again, they begin to lose their effectiveness, at least for awhile.
But, we are dealing with the situations where bouncers are not as productive as other methods, so let's get back to that. Warm weather, rising water temperatures, the bait fish and minnows will be found in some general locations that you can key on in these conditions.
The primary location for warming water walleyes is in the bays adjacent to the spawning grounds. In most cases with the water temperatures in the 48 degree range, the walleyes could be very shallow. Many times at the very backs of bays in very shallow water, as little as a foot or two. Well, it's obvious that bouncers won't work here. What does?
Well, there are two top presentations for me in this case, one is pitching light jigs with a piece of crawler or minnow, the other is casting crankbaits; like Husky Jerk in fire tiger, or perch color. Floating Raps in size 11 and 13 work well, also. I use both presentations but give the nod to the crankbaits because I can cover water much faster than with the jig set up. The exception is when you have a bunch of fish in tight proximity, and then either will work.
If they are not at the back of the bay, try the sides. Here they could be slightly deeper, maybe 5 to 7 feet. For contacting these fish, I like to pull a number 7 Shad Rap, long lined from the bow of my boat. Don't forget to check the points at the mouth on each side. A word of caution here, put your main motor in the up position so as not to get your line tangled in the prop.
The shorelines that are located between the bays and the routes to their summer haunts are a strong possibility a little later on as the water warms up even more. Pulling a long line Shad Rap works very well in this case, also. Zig and zag from shallower to deeper to key in on the fish. Now if you find fish deeper than 10', by all means try a bouncer.
Also, the near shoreline rock reefs can produce some hot action with some big fish. Casting cranks or pitching jigs, making sure to cover the tops and sides will cover this situation. Big numbers will not be the case here, but five or six fish could be had before it's time to move on.
As the water tends to warm up into the low 60's, there is a movement to a little deeper water. This is bouncer time, and water needs to be covered quickly. When fish are found in a pod, slow down and pluck them out with a jig, and then keep moving.
However, as was the case in the '98 season, the hatch was so vast, that great numbers of fish stayed in the bays to capitalize on this odd phenomenon of forage abundance which included a may fly hatch of gigantic proportions. The shallow bite held much longer than usual, into early July. Normally, even though there are some fish shallow, the majority has moved deeper normally as the temperatures are now becoming more evenly distributed throughout the water column. Remember, walleyes are opportunists, and hold no long term obligation to any one species of forage unless it is the most efficient to scarf on.
Tell tale signs of this pattern will be warm weather with steadily rising water temperatures and also the absence of markable fish at mid and deeper levels. Down to about 28' should be sufficient, if no marks of any consequence are seen on your sonar, concentrate shallow.
For the jig presentation, I like a long rod, a 7' medium light St. Croix with a fast tip is my choice. This rod excels at casting light jigs a long ways with control, and yet has the feel to detect the slightest of bites. Remember that we are casting horizontal here, and want to go as light as possible with the jig, to camouflage the presentation.
Throwing crankbaits, you can't beat the St. Croix Pro Glass in the 6'6" medium light coupled with an Ambassaduer 3000 T coupled with 8 or 10 LB Trilene XL. This rod will let you throw, even the lightest of baits, for good distance and accuracy.
For long lining Shad Raps, I prefer the St. Croix Avid 6'8" with fast tip for supreme sensitivity and plenty of stick to handle the big ones. I do not tie directly to the lure, but use cross lock snaps for quick changing baits. I do not feel the hardware effects the bite on the Lake of the Woods.
So fishing is not always the same from year to year, the weather, the bait fish hatches, and other factors determine the fish's location. Give some thought to the conditions and you will score more fish in the early season.
Steve & Gail Hockett
P.O. Box 238
Canada P9N 3x3
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