Go Big on Little Water

By big, I am referring to using aggressive tactics in skinny (shallow) water. When most folks think of fishing truly shallow water for walleyes—5 ft. or less—on Reservoirs such as Lake Oahe, they tend to have visions of pitching any manner of jigs and or cranks towards shore and dragging them back into deeper water.

While this is a fine tactic and great fun to boot, often-times there are more efficient methods to put much more fish in the boat. Dramatically upping your odds at sticking a few good ones. 

Many anglers are of the opinion that the shallow phenomenon is strictly an affair limited to early season. The reality is, any time is prime time as there are always fish near the shore. Just need to find the right shoreline amongst the well over 2000 miles of it encompassing Lake Oahe. Where to look? Think food and you are on the right track. Other than spawning, there is only one reason walleyes occupy near shore areas with limited depth.

That is to capitalize on the variety and sheer numbers of prey fish available. 

An-all-you-can-catch-and-eat kind of buffet table. The well-stocked menu can include fathead minnows, emerald shiners and numerous young of the year panfish. Perch, silver and smallmouth bass, drum, crappies, catfish and the like thrive in this nursery. Making for perfect little instant meals. There are even seasonal specials such as normally deep-water prey like smelt coming shallow to spawn in the Spring and lake herring in the Fall. The place never closes so be sure and stop by frequently to see what’s biting. 

Some of the areas I have found to be productive are expansive and slowly tapering flats that drop into the river channel. The real beauty of these spots is they have a moderately uniform bottom and can be quickly scanned with electronics to see what’s there and at what depth. I will be running Garmin’s Livescope system this season and this advanced technological tool will no doubt help unlock a few more secrets and even confirm the species present. Prominent points with a large, shallow top adjacent to long and relatively straight stretches of shoreline are always good bets. Wind pushing into shore makes them instantly great. 

One of the areas that surprise most folks and can provide the hottest fishing around is in the very backs of bays and creek arms. Seems as though those with even the smallest of streams that only run during a big rain are best. Perhaps it’s the silt laid out during gully washers that are conducive to what the bait is eating. Just speculation, but regardless, there is something to this observation. Do not be concerned about water temps stretching up to and beyond 80º either. This just makes the entire biomass explode and the walleye have no problem basking in the warm water to take advantage of it.   

Now that we have a few likely areas in which to consider, presentation options are the next consideration. Casting is always a good bet. But, a slow methodical process in this situation as we are not exactly fishing a spot on the spot. Rather, covering larger areas of a seemingly featureless bottom for loosely scattered pods of fish. This calls for trolling tactics. 

It can be the venerable spinner and crawler combo in the 1 to 1.5 mph range or you can double your speed and the amount of fish your baits contact by going to crankbaits and even spinners ran behind keel or snap weights. Nightcrawlers are optional as scented plastics generally work as well or better. And, remain usable after catching numerous fish. Thus, upping efficiency.  An added benefit is you can come off the water and stop for refreshments without looking like you have been wrestling a pig all day. Small slender trolling spoons are an overlooked and under-utilized option that have their place as well. 

Crankbaits are the staple presentation. They just flat out work day in and day out. Water temp is not a factor. From 40 to 80º is all fair game. In this realm, speed does indeed kill and I would recommend starting on the quick side around 2 mph and then inching upward to 3 mph and beyond until you no longer get bit or lures begin to blow out. You can always back off if needed. We are eliciting true reaction strikes and the impression of fleeing baitfish is the triggering cue.

As for lures, Reef Runners in the 100, 200, and 400 series are always on deck as are Salmo Hornets and Flicker Shads. Numerous others including jointed baits deserve serious consideration. Keep a good selection onboard and freely experiment. Organization is the key for having the right plug handy and untangled so you can quickly switch out to dial in sizes, shapes, and colors.

I personally fill and label Crank Caddy boxes so I have whatever I may want at my fingertips. Always keep a few lures with the more goofy and gaudy color schemes on hand to implement. My source for custom painted baits and about any color or configuration of spinner blades can be found at www.precisionfishing.com. At times, outrageous is allright. It seems to anger these roaming rascals and they absolutely slam the bait and take off with it. Just pick up the rod and reel them on in. 

Just run a combination of long and short rods strategically placed and you are good to go. A standard set up would be 2 long rods in the 12 to 14 ft. range pointed straight out in your rod holders nearest the bow. You can then run a couple of 8 to 10 footers at a 45º angle behind these. If you have a third angler, 7 or 8 footers can be shot-gunned straight out the back. 25 to 35 of line is all that may be needed for let back to your lures and it never ceases to amaze me how often fish smash a lure and roll up on the surface directly behind the prop wash.

I have even experimented with big Reef Runners ran 10 to 15 back and they whack the snot out of ’em. Always have your net cleared and ready as within a few cranks you will have an upset and quite fresh fish skipping into netting distance.

I realize this is considered outside the comfort level of many anglers. It took me far too long to recognize what has always been there. Giving these tactics an honest try may just up your game this season. A great example of that would the results the team of Chris Ryckman, Travis Baumgarden and Jeff Mistelski posted in last seasons Northern Lake Oahe Series. They spent a good amount of time plying skinny water on their way to netting nearly $30,000 in cash and prizes while securing Team of the Year Honors.

If you are looking to experience the best Lake Oahe has to offer while participating in well ran tournaments hosted by the best fishing communities anywhere, the Northern Oahe Series welcomes you to join in on the fun and camaraderie. All details for the 6 qualifying tournaments and the Championship event can found at www.northernoaheseries.com.