Traditional summertime tactics catch plenty of walleye. Lindy Rigging, or pulling spinners and suspending live bait account for countless catches. But sometimes, thinking outside the box is an even better way to put more and bigger walleyes in the box.
Jon Thelen, longtime walleye guide, flips the tactical textbook upside down when conditions dictate an unorthodox approach. His clients catch walleye while others are wondering how they did it. Here are three of his summertime tips:
1. “A classic time for offbeat tactics is during the ‘in-between’ period of early summer, when walleyes bite both spinner rigs and crankbaits fairly well-but neither are producing very well,” Thelen said.
Water temperature climbing through the high 50s into the 60s often slows down bites and results in slow or no fishing. Thelen suggests hybrid cranking with rigs like Lindy’s Lil’ Guy for blending both presentations into one technique.
A relative newcomer on the walleye scene, the Lil’ Guy is basically a two-hook nightcrawler harness with a small, hard body in front of it.
“The body creates vibration and side-to-side movements, while the crawler adds the motion of a minnow swimming along,” Thelen explained. “Plus, you have scent and meat. And in this respect, the Lil’ Guy offers the attraction of a third technique – Lindy Rigging-to the mix as well.”
Thelen boost his odds of success by fishing the hybrid rig card in areas many anglers overlook during the in-between phase of the post-spawn migration.
“Most folks leapfrog from shorelines that hold fish early in the season out to deep offshore structure, he said. “In doing so, they blow right past 15 to 23 feet of water. Walleyes frequent these spots. I often have the fish all to myself.”
Along with nightcrawlers, Thelen deploys other live bait. The rig comes with two hooks. To fish minnows or leeches, Thelen just clips off the rear hook. While the Lil’ Guy is built to run at speeds of .3 to 2.5 mph, Thelen keeps the pace between 1.3 and 1.8 mph.
“Faster than a spinner, slower than a crankbait,” he said.
At such speeds, a 1 1/2-ounce bottom bouncer is perfect for keeping the rig in the strike zone. When the sinker’s occasionally ticking bottom and the line is at a 45-degree angle to the surface, you’re in business.
Be forewarned, strikes can be savage, so hang onto your rod. When an ‘eye attacks, an immediate response is in order. Don’t drop the rodtip or feed the fish line, just set and start reeling.
2. “Pitching jigs and crankbaits to inflowing water is another offbeat summer tactic,” Thelen said. “People key on it early in the year, then forget about it and focus on deeper areas farther from the shoreline, but inflows hold walleyes as long as there’s food around.”
Storm sewers, culverts and creeks are prime examples of potentially productive inflows. A constant supply of fresh water from nearby roadbeds, ditches and other sources often carries nutrients that attract baitfish. It can also bring in water that’s clearer than the main lake, especially when the lake has been roiled up by several days of strong winds.
Water temperature can also be a factor.
“Inflows carrying cool water from cold rains, springs or shaded sections of the tributary can be magnets for minnows and walleyes in the heat of summer.”
Before wetting a line, Thelen first identifies likely inflows on a detailed lake map. He approaches each with caution, keeping commotion to a minimum. Walleyes are spooky in shallow water, so ease in quietly.
“I always fish my way toward the mouth of the inflow, making my first casts before I can even reach the bank.”
Pet presentations include pitching light jigs tipped with live bait, and fancasting small crankbaits. A 3/16- to 1/8-ounce Lindy Jig tipped with a spottail shiner or soft-plastic trailer is deadly.
“There are a lot of different things you can do with it – bounce bottom, drag it, swim it just off bottom. Experiment to see what the fish are in the mood for at the moment.”
Small crankbaits like the size 3 Lindy River Rocker also excel around inflows. With both cranks and jigs, Thelen works 50 yards to either side of the inflow first, then the actual tributary.
“When they’re not feeding, walleyes often rest close to the inflow, but are still catchable,” Thelen said.
3. While crankbaits aren’t often considered early to mid-season options, Thelen works them into the mix well ahead of the crowd.
“Cranks catch cool-water walleyes in the shallows during low-light feeding periods and in 8 to 10 feet of water along the first break during the day,” he said.
Here, too, a small lures like the River Rocker work wonders. Thelen prefers natural patterns such as perch, shiner, metallic silver and metallic gold.
“Speeds of 1.5 to 2 mph are best until the water warms up in mid to late June,” he said.
Given the relatively shallow water, he either runs the bait behind a planer board or long-lines it well behind the boat, ensuring the fish aren’t spooked before getting a chance to appreciate – and engulf – his cool-water cranking tactics.
Kenneth Kieser, a veteran outdoors writer and member of the Waterfowlers Hall of Fame and National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, writes a weekly outdoors column for The Examiner. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org