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Live Bait Tricks for Tough Bites
Lakes and reservoirs near population centers have become crowded in recent years. More and more weekend refugees are fleeing towns and cities in search of relief from job stress or quality family time away from video games and the Internet. As a result, fishermen are competing for water with an endless parade of pleasure boats, personal watercraft and skiers.
This can mean tough times for walleye anglers. The constant noise and disturbance overhead often makes fish react like they do when a severe cold front strikes. They tuck tight to cover or seek safety in deep water to wait out the ruckus on the surface. Their strike zone shrinks to near zero. What can you do?
The answer may lie in two words. Live Bait.
The action of a struggling minnow or the flick of a leech's tail or the smell of a juicy nightcrawler can entice bites from even the most reluctant fish. Another advantage - live-bait tactics cover the speed spectrum. Horizontal presentations, like spinner rigs paired with bottom bouncers, can be trolled at 2 mph to sift large areas of water fast for the most aggressive fish. Other techniques, like drifting Lindy rigs or jigs, force you to slow down to take hesitant biters. Use a drift sock or electric trolling motor to slowly work bait along the bottom. Still nothing? Go vertical by anchoring and use a Thill float to dangle bait right in front of their noses.
Start your attack with a variety of live bait on board. Nightcrawlers are a good choice year-round. Minnows are often best in spring and fall with larger ones the choice later in the calendar. Leeches are generally good when the water temperature warms above 55 degrees. Ask around at bait shops and boat ramps what's been working. But, don't be afraid to try something different.
Once on the water, use a lake map, your electronics and an underwater camera, like the , to search bars and humps and other traditional structure for walleyes. Try bridge rip rap, old roadbeds and other natural and man-made fish attractors. Scan transition areas from hard to soft bottoms, which offer a rich and varied menu of forage for hungry gamefish.
After locating likely targets, map your strategy with this thought in mind - time is limited and use it efficiently. First, work fast, then start to slow down if you must.
Begin by trolling X-Change Bottom Bouncers combined with X-Change spinner rigs. Both allow critical components to be exchanged quickly and easily. Just remove the rubber grommet to add or take away weight as you move from one depth-range to another. Use enough lead to keep a 45-degree angle between your line and the water's surface. An ounce works for depths of 10 feet or less. Move up to 1-1/2 to 2 ounces for 10 to 20 feet and 2-1/2 to 3 ounces for 20 to 30 feet. Use 3 ounces and more to go deeper than that. Spinner blades of different sizes and colors can be replaced in a snap. Try different ones and let the fish signal what they want. Vary your speed from 1 to 2 mph. If you must move slowly, the unique-shape of the Hatchet Blade or a Colorado makes either one a good choice. They both vibrate and thump hard even when barely turning.
If walleyes appear on the sonar at a certain depth, say 15 feet, start a search pattern at 25 feet and move in to 10 feet and use S-turns to move along dropoffs. Note the depths that yield the most strikes and narrow your presentation to the most productive range.
If spinner rigs don't work, try a Lindy rig. Start with a leader 3 to 5 feet long. On extremely soft bottom areas, longer leaders of 6 to 8 feet will help make baits swim in a more life-like manner for more neutral or negative fish. If it hangs up on bottom too often, use a shorter leader. Use a worm blower to inject air into a nightcrawler so it rides over snags. Or, use a small float above the hook to accomplish the same purpose and add color.
Use #2 Octopus style hooks for minnows and #4 or #6 Octopus style hooks for worms hooked right through the nose to lessen line twist. Leeches should be hooked through the sucker on #6 or #8 hooks.
Open faced spinning gear works best for Lindy rigging. Keep the reel bail open and hold the line with your index finger. If you see the line twitch or feel your rod tip bump slightly, drop the line and let the fish run. The walleye is swallowing the bait when the line stops. Gently lift the rod when you see it start to move off again, slowly take up excess line and use your trolling motor to hover over the fish if you can. Set the hook when you feel the weight of the walleye.
Spooked fish may slide tight to cover - weeds, rocks or heavy timber. When that happens, trade a conventional Lindy sinker for a NO-SNAGG slip sinker. Its design is a hybrid between a Lindy sinker and a bottom bouncer. A slight bend in the shaft and balsa wood tip allows it to twist free of obstructions. Tie it on in slip sinker fashion like a Lindy rig or use it as a fixed sinker. Drift it, troll it or anchor. Leader length varies, but 24 to 48 inches is average.
Fuzzy-E-Grub jigs are another good choice for tough biters. The maribou tail offers a more-subtle appearance than twisters tail style grubs. Test different sizes. Start small, but choose a weight heavy enough to stay in contact with the bottom. If that doesn't work, don't be afraid to switch to a Jumbo Fuzz-E-Grub weighing five-eighths of an ounce. Big profiles sometimes signal easy meals to walleyes that don't want to work too hard. Test various colors.
Still moving too fast? Become stationary, and switch to a float and
suspend a small Fuzz-E-Grub jig or a plain hook.
Use split shot to balance the set-up. The practice called "shotting" creates a lethal system that will signal even the lightest bite. If a float gives too much resistance, finicky fish may spit it out.
If you still can't get a bite, it may be best to surrender the lake to the fun-seekers while the sun is up. But, launch before sunset and scout likely spots to locate walleye oriented spots. Note the dangers to navigation in the area. Then, return after dark when walleyes are on the prowl, and use the same live bait methods as before. For still fishing, try the Thill Nite Brite Lighted Float, which can be fished as either a fixed or a slip float. If you prefer to move around a bit, you might even try trolling crankbaits, like the Lindy Shadling, Original Floaters or Shad Raps made by
Crowds don't have to spoil your fun. Simply adapt to the mood of the
fish and resort to the most natural presentations in your arsenal.
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