W A L L E Y E   H U N T E R
Fishing Articles by Ted Takasaki
Deep Water Eye's
Ted Takasaki and Scott Richardson
Here's a question every structure fisherman has pondered from time to time. How deep is deep?
It stems from the prevailing wisdom which says large numbers of fish spend much of their time in the deepest part of any body of water. They move toward shore to eat and spawn along identifiable changes in the contour of the bottom. How shallow they get on a given day depends on weather and water color.
Still, the question lingers…. How deep is deep?
Take a poll, and most anglers would believe that the 25 to 45 feet range is deep for walleyes. Fish that are holding that deep will challenge anglers to find ways to reach them.
Methods like leadcore and snap weights are designed to do just that. But, what if we told you there are places in North America where big walleyes commonly haunt depths of 65, 75 and even 80 feet? It's true, and professional anglers like Gary Parsons have unlocked a pattern to catch them that far beneath the surface of big western reservoirs on the massive Missouri River system. This same technique is deadly anywhere where there are walleyes concentrated on long points that are connected by deep channels. Parsons' reputation has always been known as a crankbait guru. But, ask him, and he'll admit he used light bottom bouncers and live bait to get down deep to win $50,000 at a PWT tournament on Lake Oahe.
The tactic begins with an understanding of forage base. Walleyes on the Missouri River feed primarily on smelt and ciscoes, species that usually hold tight to points or flats and sunken islands rather than roam open water. Walleyes hunt them in large schools, working together to push the smelt against deep edges where they became an easy meal.
Bodies of water like Lake Oahe and Lake Sakakawea in the Dakotas and Fort Peck Reservoir in Montana may confuse structure fisherman at first. The water seems endless.
The problem becomes deciding where to start on reservoirs that stretch for miles and feature hundreds of points. Begin the process of eliminating unproductive water even before you launch by visiting bait shops to have your lake map marked to show sections of the reservoir where walleyes are being caught right now. Don't depend on last year's or even last week's hot spots. The points that produce depends on water level, and that can fluctuate from year to year.
Once on the water, watch your sonar screen while you cruise over points from shoreline to deep water. Try several and search for the longest ones. They will be the most productive.
Some may reach 100 feet from shore. Others may run 400 feet and more. Whatever proves longest, run a 10-mile stretch of shoreline at that distance from land and use a GPS to mark a waypoint whenever you cross the tips of other points of that length. Keep an eye on the screen for telltale signs of walleyes, and make a mental note of the depth they appear. When done, you've got several spots singled out to try plus a general idea on what depth to target.
Return to the longest points and move from shallow to deep water while searching for fish. No doubt you'll see scattered walleyes shallow, then a larger grouping, then more scattered fish as you go deeper. Maximize your potential by focusing on the depth range that shows the greatest concentration.
Tackle is basic. Use baitcasting gear. A reel with a flipping switch helps to make depth adjustments as easy as pushing the thumb bar. Use a bottom bouncer with enough weight to maintain bottom contact. Move along slowly to stay in the strike zone. Use 10-pound line and a 6 to 7 foot, 10 pound leader with a plain #1 or #1/0 Aberdeen or Octopus style hook at the end. You can add a spinner and a few beads for more color and flash. In extremely snaggy conditions, try a 1 oz. NO-SNAGG sinker combined with a #2 NO-SNAGG hook.
What is Parsons' secret weapon? Creek chubs. That's right. Not nightcrawlers or leeches or even the Redtail chubs recently touted as killer bait. They all work at times and should be tried. But for Parsons, creek chubs are key. "They are the magic big-fish bait in western reservoirs," Parsons said. " If there is any kind of predator in the area, they can't resist a lively creek chub."
The chubs mimic the behavior of the smelt that the 5 to 7 pound females are staging deep to feed on. Hook the 4 to 7 inch long creek chubs carefully through the lips on a #1 or #1/0 red hook. They stay hardy that way for hours. But, their biggest advantage is this; Creek chubs are additional eyes on the bottom. They are the bait that tells you definitely when big walleyes are lurking about. The line telegraphs their frantic movements as they struggle violently trying to escape a big walleye.
Use an electric trolling motor keeping a 45-degree angle between line and water's surface. Using a lighter bottom bouncer of 1 ounce, even in 70 feet of water, will force you to go slow. Whenever you feel the chub signal that it sees a walleye, stop the boat and let the bait do its work. "Walleyes will smash it," Parsons said.
Double your fun. Hand-hold one 7 foot rod and use an 8-1/2 footer rigged exactly the same way as a dead rod placed in a rod holder. Fish them both off the same side of the boat to avoid tangles with your partner fishing off the other side.
The shallowest Parsons got at Lake Oahe during the tournaments was 45 feet where he caught 14 to 18 inch fish. The largest walleyes came from 65 to 68 feet. "Lot's of people mark them down there, but few people fish them."
Walleyes caught from extreme depths undergo terrific stress as they are brought to the surface. Reel slowly, and enjoy the fight to give fish time to adjust to pressure changes on the way up. If releasing the fish, "fizz" it to empty the air bladder or it will struggle helplessly on the surface, unable to descend after it is freed. With a cattle innoculation needle or a hypodermic needle about 1-1/2 inches long and with the fish submerged in the livewell belly up, count three scales to either side of the anus and five scales forward toward the head. Carefully use the needle to lift the scale and insert the needle at a 45-degree angle until the first bubble appears. Then gently hold the fish as the air escapes. Do not force it. The procedure could take 20 to 30 seconds for an 8-pound walleye, which should right itself after you remove the needle. Let the fish recuperate in your livewell a while if it is of legal length. If not, release it immediately.
Try this bottom-bouncer tactic whether on the Missouri River system or on your own home lake where the points meet the channel at depths greater than you commonly fish. "This can be used all over," Parsons said. "Anytime you have a deep-water lake with structure sticking out, this is the technique you are going to want to use."
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Since August 1, 1998