It never fails, we are in the midst of summer, walleye fisherman across the Midwest begin to think about main lake structure, rock piles, and bars, reefs or mud flats. While we can’t fault them for that, what these fishermen fail to realize is they are driving past some of the best summertime fishing; walleyes that lurk in the weeds. Legendary Rainy Lake fishing guide Woody Woods once told me this… “Lakes will always have a population of walleyes that relate to rocks, current, and weeds throughout the summer months”. Those words stuck like glue and forced me to change my ways to attack fisheries during the summer months.
Location is Key
Time of year is the first consideration to examine when hunting down weed walleyes. Early spring or summer pay close attention to bays and cuts that are out of the wind. Note, look to the north side of the lake during the earlier season because the water temps will be higher, and it takes longer for the southern part of the lake to heat up. Typically, these northern haunts with warmer water temps and earlier weed growth. While all of this is a good rule of thumb; the reality is walleyes can be caught in these same places in late July and August. Better yet, everyone ignores them!
Why weed walleyes?
The answer is simple, these fish often times are the stocked walleyes that grew up in rendering ponds. Thus, these weeds serve as a comfort zone for walleyes and provide ample opportunities to find food. Walleyes will use these weedlines to ambush the perch and minnows as they swim and dance by.
When looking for weeds, broadleaf cabbage is the prime producer, but don’t overlook Canadian waterweed, coontail, or sand grass. When exploring new ground, go through and mark clumps of cabbage or good weedlines. What I like to do is utilize different icons for waypoints to decipher what different icons mean. Once found I mark these spots (typically with the Lowrance weed icon) and come back later to fish them. There is a good chance the first time you are looking you will run right over tops of those weeds and spook the fish. Also, with the use of down and side imaging, you can locate these weeds easier and yet stay away from the fish. A lot of scouting can be done early in the season. Also pay close attention as you are motoring to other spots while fishing. You may stumble across some weeds you never knew about.
All walleye fisherman have a presentation they pride themselves on and that is one of the great things about fishing weed walleyes. There are many ways you can catch weed walleyes, often times one of those ways matches your style. Early season, jigs will reign supreme, but don’t store them away after the early season. The versatility of jigs demands that they be in your box all summer long! Casting out a 1/8th oz or even a 1/16th oz jig with a shiner or leech can be a great way to search for active walleyes and drop into those weed pockets that serve as a walleyes’ ambush locations. Jigs such as the Northland Vegas Jig or Fireball Stand Up Jig are great places to start. If you are in search mode, pick up the speed and snap the jig along to target active fish.
As the season rolls along, trolling spinners could quite possibly one of the most lethal, yet underutilized methods in catching weed walleyes. It is a simple as rigging up a 1/4oz – 3/8oz bullet weight, go lighter if you need the spinner to run higher in the water column. One of the best-producing spinners on the market today are Jolly Roger Tackle spinners and their huge variety of natural color combinations. Get the spinner out about 80-90 ft away from the boat and start trolling weedlines, flats, points, or main lake weeds.
Speed is critical because if you go to slow, you will find your bait being attacked by smaller perch. Get going about 1.5MPH and be ready for the rod to start bending. Live bait such as crawlers, leeches, and minnows are great places to start. However, artificial bait such as Berkley Gulp or Alive can also produce. Try various blade sizes, but as the summer goes along larger sizes such as 5’s and 6’s can be great producers because they put off a larger vibration in the water. This is a presentation that can work year-round if you simply adjust it to the conditions and weed growth.
Other presentations that can excel when chasing weed walleyes are casting crankbaits and slip bobber fishing. Crankbaits serve as an effective search bait when looking for schools of walleyes; Rapala’s X Rap Shad or Husky Jerk are two favorites when doing this. Another and more stealth approach is to slip bobber these fish. There will be times when the more aggressive methods won’t produce, but you have the fish pinpointed. Working the weed edges or pockets with a slip bobber that employs a crawler, leech, or minnow dancing a couple of feet below the surface can be all you need to put these weed walleyes in the boat.
This summer as boats are running around checking classic walleye structure, be the fisherman who goes and chases that “other” population of fish and tries the weeds. You may find yourself fishing all by yourself and setting the hook an awful lot.
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As walleyes migrate, a larger number may move to those main lake structures. That is what all of those boats will be chasing, but a certain population will hang out all summer in shallow weeds. So, as you may follow the step by step process. If you are having troubles locating these fish as the summer goes on, go back to some of those first spots you fished. You may be pleasantly surprised by what you find hanging out. If you find yourself spending time on more main lake structures, look for humps that top out with tall stand weeds or to deeper humps that are carpeted with weeds such as sand grass, it is these humps that often produce some of the biggest walleyes in the system.