Each August, thousands of walleyes make their way to the big open expanses of mud on Big Traverse Bay called “No Man’s Land” No weeds, flat structure and miles and miles of nothing but walleyes.
In many Midwestern waters, the sultry days of August or “dog days” is a tough time to catch walleyes. The weeds are up, baitfish are prolific and tough to compete with and catching walleyes consistently is downright tough. There is an exception though, taking place on one of Minnesota’s premier walleye lakes. In fact, many anglers target a fishing trip to Lake of the Woods in August because the fishing is so good. Yes, you can catch fish a number of ways this time of year, but one of the absolute go to methods for plucking these aggressive walleyes is pulling cranks.
Big Traverse Bay
No man’s land this time of year is a prolific aquarium full of life. As the water warms, many of the walleyes slide to the deepest depths of this basin (30-35 feet of water) in search of cooler water and less light penetration. Most importantly though, there is a smorgasbord of bait in this part of the lake. Roaming schools of emerald shiners, tulibees, perch and trout perch minnows (a minnow that lives in the deeper depths) are in abundance.
There is also a variety of critters walleyes eat that call the mud their home. Blood worms, a variety of invertebrates, and nymphs of aquatic insects (before they reach the surface to shed their skin reaching adult stage) are just a few.
So here’s the scenario, tens of thousands of walleyes all living in a big expanse of open water. In most cases, there are few “spot on a spot” areas that will group walleyes tightly. Thus, it makes sense to cover some water. Hence, pulling crankbaits is not only a great fit, it is effective.
Getting crankbaits deep
With technology and ever developing products, getting a crankbait that dives 10 feet down to 35 feet has become much easier.
It isn’t realistic that most anglers will have downriggers on their boats. Up at LOW, many do, however. Getting cranks down to the bottom foot or two of the lake in 30-35 feet of water where the majority of the walleyes are living is key. Downriggers are extremely effective in consistently positioning the lures in the strike zone, even when the boat surges from a wave.
In other bodies of water, some may argue downriggers spook walleyes. Perhaps they do, not here, however. Maybe it is the stained color of the water, but year in and year out, riggers catch a ton of walleyes.
In today’s world, an angler can pick up an entire rod and line counter reel filled with leadcore line for around $100. What a great option at a moderate price point to be able to play at these deeper depths. Leadcore line is exactly that, line with lead as its core which causes it to sink. The more line you let out, the deeper your crankbait will reach.
In a nutshell, leadcore line has a different color every 10 yards. For every color of leadcore let out, your lure will go down an additional 5 feet. I really encourage anglers who may be intimidated by formulas and dive charts to keep it simple. Estimate how deep your crankbait dives. Figure out how much deeper you want your lure to run and let out what you believe is the amount of leadcore to get you there. Then, troll and watch your rod tip.
If your rod tip starts to bounce, the crankbait is hitting the mud, reel line in 10 foot increments until it stops. If your rod tip does not bounce, let out more line until it does, you’ve found bottom. Again, reel up line in 10 foot increments until you are not hitting bottom. This will get you in that bottom two feet of the water column, right where you need to be.
There is one new product I do appreciate, thus worth a mention. Suffix has come out with a leadcore line called Suffix 832 Advanced Lead Core. Here is why I mention it, it dives 30% deeper than traditional leadcore. When you are letting out, for example, 175 feet of traditional leadcore, you can really save a lot of reeling with only 120 feet out in comparison. It may not sound like much, but over the course of a day, it is so nice to save those 55 feet when checking fouled lures, reeling in a saugers, etc.
Braided line with a deep billed crankbait
When looking to reach depths in excess of 30’, some of the deeper diving crankbaits teamed up with a thin diameter braided or superline will get down deep. If the fish are hitting the bigger billed cranks, you are in business. If by chance you want to use smaller baits, it gets tough to get down, thus you can be limited on lure choice, which can be a disadvantage. When the larger billed crankbaits are going well, this method is effective.
Bouncers and Snap Weights
I had a conversation recently at a sports show with an angler who spends a fair amount of time trolling the deep mud on LOW with success. He laughed as he said, “everyone has this fancy equipment, heck, we still use a 4 oz bouncer with a 6-8’ lead and a shallow diving crank and we catch all the walleyes we want.” There are a number of ways to get down there, and it doesn’t have to be rocket science. A tip, make sure to lower your bouncer slowly to avoid tangling.
The best crankbaits
There could be an entire article written on this topic, so let’s really condense this. I have literally heard anglers brag up every shape, color, wobble and brand. So much for condensed. Here is my advice. The water is stained, meaning it is clean water but is stained a light brown color. With this being said, as a rule, gold or bright colors dominate. Gold is a staple color on Lake of the Woods.
This past year, my go to colors were gold, pink and UV pink, firetiger and black. Yes, black. By raising the black crank up a bit, walleyes see that dark silhouette against the sunlight above. Just like night fishing, dark colored lures can rule against the shine of the moon.
When fishing with a partner, I will start us out with two different colors and wobbles. When pulling through fish I can see on the electronics, if the fish aren’t responding, we rotate lures, speeds and nuances until something clicks and then we hone in. Every day can be different. It’s just a matter of going fishing.
Nuances to Get More Walleyes
Recently while fishing a Minnesota Tournament Trail event using leadcore, I was reeling in a crankbait while we were trolling to check for mud as it didn’t seem to be running right. About 25% of the way in, I get hit, a nice walleye. My partner notices so he started reeling in and letting out and reeling in, as we are trolling, and he gets a fish. The rest of the day, we began trolling very erratically, speeding up to 4 mph, dropping down to a crawl, making sharp turns, and began to fill the livewell.
In another instance, I was trolling leadcore in a boat that didn’t have rod holders. Consequently, since the rod was in hand, I began jerking it forward, dropping it back and BANG, a fish. I was using a balsa lure and the walleyes that day wanted the lure to pause and float up and as soon as it took off again, they ate.
Every day is different, and it is up to us to figure out what the walleyes want. The point here is rather than just going in a straight line with the same crank at the same speed, mixing it up and noticing what happens will put more fish in the boat.
No equipment, no worries
There is a great option for those who don’t have the equipment, don’t want to get so involved and want to simply relax and reel in walleyes. Jump on a charter boat. The resorts on Lake of the Woods have a large fleet of charter boats with very professional licensed charter captains. They provide absolutely everything needed for a great day of “Dog Days” fishing. There are really only two decisions a guest has to make in a day, “what should I wear and what should I eat”. The rest is taken care of. Resorts combine groups making it possible to accommodate a single person up to groups of 6.
Dog days in many parts are a time to put down the fishing pole and wait for the fall bite. In these waters, it’s a time many anglers look forward to the entire year. August is a time to grab your poles, a handful of cranks and get after it!