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Fishing the Flats in the Spring

 By Perry Good

One of the very first places I look and concentrate my efforts in the  spring is on the flats.  Flats are the least interesting types of structure in a lake.  There are no breaks, holes, edges, and just flat bottom.  But seemingly featureless flats hold most of the active walleyes during most yearly periods.  With that definition there is always an exception.  The exception in this case is the mud flats of Mille Lacs.  They are mud plateaus that rise up from the floor of the lake and they have edges, holes, and inside turns, but on the top they have the qualities of a defined flat.  On the flats, the weather has not as much of an impact as it does in shallow water.  Fish favor stability.  Relatively constant water temperature, water quality, weather, and abundance of prey let fish live predictably.  Good fishing often accompanies stable conditions, but
sometimes when weather is poor fishing is the best on the flats.  Flats are the major food-producing regions of most lakes.  Walleyes forage over flats.  Therefore, the flats are the home of walleyes.  It's easy to identify productive flats.  Some prime flats drop off steeply into deepest areas of the lake.  Walleyes that use flats typically move shallower at night to feed on a variety of prey species. Baitfish such as ciscoes and shad move shallower at dusk.    The depth of a good flat can very from only a few feet to over 20, depending upon the lake and the season.  Flats with a fairly soft or sandy bottom carpeted with low weeds, with patches of coontail or cabbage rising above the carpet, attract walleyes.  The sandgrass persists through winter and provides cover for postpawn walleyes on sand or gravel flats. Submerged weeds develop as the water warms.  Weedy flats hold baitfish that attracts walleyes at night.  In fall, weeds decline and small fish are flushed from cover.  Walleyes feed aggressively throughout this
period.  Walleyes can feed in dim light.  They have a feeding advantage over most prey species after dark. Walleyes often feed voraciously at night.  The first-time night
fisherman finds a new and unfamiliar world, which at first can be threatening and unproductive.  But with proper equipment and background knowledge, night fishing adds a fascinating new dimension to fishing.  Although walleyes don't necessarily follow narrow pathways as they enter a flat, a good bet for locating them is to find a stretch of rocky rubble that is adjacent to a steep drop-off.  At night, walleyes on
flats tend not to hug the bottom, but often suspend in mid-water and sometimes near the surface. Active walleyes hold above dense weeds, rock, or other cover; but they
also roam more freely than during the day.  Don't neglect areas with sparse cover that walleyes rarely visit during the day.  Just because there may appear to be no cover does not mean that walleyes are not roaming over the flats.  Keep a constant eye on you depthfinder to see if you see any fish suspended.  Because, on flats, large walleyes feed in a variety of the depths, from just a few feet to the deep outer edges of the flat.  Depending upon what's available to eat, walleyes may be on the bottom, suspended at mid-depths, or even at the surface gobbling mayflies or shad. The character of the flat and the season determines fish staging.  If the flat is large with broad contours, trolling usually is best. Trolling or anchoring and casting can probe small shallow flats.  This
is a very effective method to look for large walleyes in the fall.  They seem to take bait if they are not pressured by boats and motors moving over the fish column. Wind is also a factor when fishing the flats and controlling your boat is essential if you want to stay with those active fish.  One method that I have been using is the Wave Tamer™ drift bag. By using superior materials along with innovative features, the Wave Tamer™ drift bag is the only self-inflating drift bag on the market. First, a semi-rigid
spring opening forces the mouth of the bag wide open. A series of well-placed vents allows trapped air to escape.  A large float partially holds the mouth of the drift bag open and keeps the drift bag on the surface where it belongs. This allows you to fish your drift bag any distance from your boat, keeping it out of the way when fighting a fish. Eight ounces of weight added to the two bottom straps instantly sinks the bottom of the drift bag, allowing water to flow into the drift bag immediately regardless of wind or wave action. Shorter top straps allow the bottom of the bag to sink before the bottom straps become tight giving the drift bag a digging action. The Wave Tamer™ is made from polyester ripstop instead of nylon; this guarantees your investment will
last for years. When your Wave Tamer™ is needed, just tie it off your boat, drop it over the side with no hassle and fish. When it's time to retrieve your drift bag, just pull it in with it's retrieval cord. You'll notice the extra loop by the left end of the float. By passing the retrieval line through it to the tab on the small end of your drift bag, it will keep the Wave Tamer™ coming in forward and not allow it to be turned inside out. This is where most tangles occur.  When you're done with your Wave Tamer™,
just fold the semi-rigid opening of the bag, it will not kink or hold memory. It is now ready to be stored in it's mesh bag which is included. Using your drift bag can keep you in control of your boat when you are trolling or anchoring. (Please see drift bag strategies) Long-line trolling with crankbaits is the most versatile technique for fishing the flats.  Trolling covers lots of water and crankbaits are attractive to feeding walleyes.  Try large crankbaits that run with a wide wobble at medium speed.  Big walleyes prowling the flats aren't easily intimidated. I like to use large Rapala the lures of choice and the Husky Jerks are probably one of my favorite baits.  I prefer to use black or dark baits at night.  On bright moonlit nights in clear water, however silvery patterns often out produce dark ones.  Of course, don't hesitate to use
bright yellows and blues to catch walleyes at night.  It seems that, as soon as you have them figured out it is time to change to a completely different color. To establish a pattern, make a few trolling passes at various depths. If walleyes seem skittish attach side planner boards and get your lures out of the wake of the boat.  I use the Pinpoint Trolling motors keep you on the structure and on the fishPositioning System, that allows me to bottom track and shows me the inside turns, but if you're familiar with a particular flat, you can determine your location as you move by noting the pattern of water depth, bottom type, and
vegetation.  Ability to keep on track and determine location as you move by noting bottom contours can greatly improve fishing success on nights that are too dark to see landmarks on shore.  For this kind of navigation, my Pinpoint Positioning System allows me the freedom of not watching the depthfinder and more concentration on my line in the dark.  Large fish like to bulk up on major protein at this time of year.
Fishing the flats can give you the opportunity to catch a trophy fish, so don't overlook the flats in the spring.

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