Devils Lake guide, Jason Mitchell finds that stick baits are incredibly effective when worked over weeds and catches impressive walleyes in shallow water all summer long.
Using stickbaits for walleye
On many types of water, walleye anglers have embraced suspending stick baits. This particular class of lures are particularly effective early in the season but many seasoned anglers have discovered situations where this style of lure can out perform many presentations through out the open water season.
Unaided with just a super line or monofilament, suspending stick baits are typically a shallow running lure. Most traditional baits might run down to five feet when trolling and two to three feet on a cast. Popular lures include Smithwick Rattling Rogues, Rapala Husky Jerks, Rapala X Raps and Salmo Stings.
Presentation techniques, patterns and the locations of fish can vary from region to region and of course the methods can vary amongst several top anglers.
On the Missouri River near Bismarck , North Dakota , Mike Peluso is considered one of the top river aces. Peluso was a former NHL hockey player and pro angler fishing tournament trails as prestigious as the PWT. According to Peluso, suspending stick baits shine on the river early in the season and seem to work more consistently than shad profiled lures until after the spawn. Big fish in particular often locate along the shallow current seams that come off of the many sand bars found on the Missouri River .
Some of these current breaks are fairly small, some are quite large but a tactic that Peluso and many top river anglers use to fish crankbaits and stick baits in these tight spots is to use a spinning reel for trolling these lures. “Line counters and level winds just take too long to get out behind the boat, a spinning reel allows you to set up on these spots so much quicker,” explains Peluso. Fish often spook from the boat however in this shallow water so anglers are advised to cast the lure a considerable distance behind the boat. Inline planer boards are also often use to get the lure a short distance to the side of the boat up into even shallower water. Peluso is often running the boat in three to six feet of water and believes anglers are much more productive by getting the lure away from the boat. “Long line trolling is usually most effective as casting just doesn’t keep the lure in the zone long enough and planer boards are harder to distinguish if the lure is fouled up,” adds Peluso.
On many rivers, debris floating in the current or on the bottom can make trolling lures ineffective. “I am often more effective by keeping the lure behind the boat, letting out a lot of line so I can feel how the lure is working and this is why spinning reels works so good for me is that I can cast these lighter lures a considerable distance and also get the lures back to the boat quickly,” Peluso describes. According to Peluso, several lures and colors will work well on the Missouri River with many anglers using Rapala Husky Jerks and Original Floaters but a new bait that has really impressed him is the Salmo Sting. “The Sting has really caught a lot of fish for me and it does put out a little bit more vibration that seems to help in this often dirty water we are fishing. Because of the action, I can also tell if I am fouled up easier. The hooks are also a little bit bigger on this lure and I think that helps wrestle some of these fish in,” explains Peluso.
Peluso typically holds at least one rod and often fishes with just one rod, imparting a lot of additional action to the lure by snapping the rod tip. Often, the fish seem to hit when the lure falls back and stops in the current. Typically, working the lure with the rod will trigger many more fish.
Devils Lake in north eastern North Dakota is considered one of the hottest walleye fisheries come mid summer. One of the top guns on this lake is legendary fishing guide, Jason Mitchell whom also hosts a popular fishing show (Jason Mitchell Outdoors) that airs across the Midwest . According to Mitchell, many walleyes never leave the weeds. Pondweed or cabbage is particularly attractive and often holds walleyes. Until the weeds reach the surface, active walleyes often cruise just above the weed beds.
Come mid summer, many traditional crankbaits often run too deep and foul up digging into the weeds and stick baits really shine as they can be worked right over the tops of these weed stands according to Mitchell. “As the weeds grow towards the surface, we find ourselves using really shallow running lures to work the tops of these weed beds,” explains Mitchell. “These walleyes will often be positioned just a few feet under the surface in five feet of water right in the middle of the day if good weeds are present.”
Mitchell often casts stick baits over the tops of these weed beds and uses plastics or deeper diving crankbaits to hit the edges. “During stable weather, the bulk of the fish are often right on top of the weed bed in that shallow water,” stresses Mitchell. The retrieve is often interrupted with plenty of quick snaps and pauses to trigger fish. Mitchell will experiment with a straight retrieve at times but usually finds that extra flash, variances in speed and stops are necessary.
Mitchell openly admits that he has had great success with many of the popular stick bait choices on the market but is also partial to the Salmo Sting because of the more distinct vibration and larger hooks which he feels aid anglers when using braided line to put extra pressure on the fish when necessary. Mitchell was also involved in many of the color pattern selections as Salmo is one of his primary sponsors for his television show. A tip Mitchell offers anglers for casting stick baits is to be able to match retrieves and cadences quickly when fishing with other anglers. Watch the rod tip stroke and retrieve and attempt to match. This is much easier and more accurate if all of the anglers in the boat are using the same rod and reel with the same gear ratio. This retrieve tempo is often much more important than color, according to Mitchell.
On many natural lakes in Minnesota , stick baits often work extremely well after dark. Many of these patterns begin during the late summer period and become even stronger as fall progresses. Rocky shorelines and points or reefs that have rock and gravel often hold walleyes into the fall and under the cover of darkness, these walleyes feed aggressively in this shallow water.
Anglers often experience phenomenal action for walleyes after dark. On many lakes, some of the biggest fish caught each season are caught on this pattern. There are some situations where anglers can reach fish by using waders and casting. Other locations require a boat and anglers troll over these shallow reefs. Moon phases are often important with the full moon often peaking this after dark activity. Clear skies under a full moon are ideal conditions.
According to professional walleye angler Ron Anlauf, some of the best opportunities for big walleyes occur each fall with Mille Lacs being one of Anlauf’s top picks. Usually, persistance is one of the most important factors according to Anlauf if anglers want to consistently score with stick baits. “Many anglers give up too early as these fish often turn on after midnight or sometimes later,” Anlauf explains. Usually, some of the most productive speeds range from two to two and a half miles per hour. In Minnesota , anglers are only allowed to fish with one rod so anglers typically hold the rod, working the rod tip to give the lure extra action. Anlauf believes this extra action is crucial. “Sweeping the rod tip and giving the lure plenty of time to pause is a powerful trigger that walleyes usually can’t resist.”
According to Anlauf, these walleyes are feeding aggressively so motor noise isn’t an issue when motoring over these fish. Anglers often place a split shot or small rubber core sinker about four feet ahead of the lure to get the lure to occasionally tick bottom in five to nine feet of water. Anlauf believes Original Floating Rapalas are often the ticket at slower trolling speeds while plastic baits like Rapala Husky Jerks often need a little bit more speed to work properly.
Anlauf’s top color choice is the crawdad but notes that fire tiger and silver can also be productive, depending on the night. Some anglers also experiment with the shallow running Reef Runner Rip Sticks, Smithwick Rattling Rogues and Salmo Stings with all of these lures having a loyal following.