Walleyes in confidence
We all have something we are very confident in. That confidence lure or tactic may vary from lake to lake or change over the years but we all have our go to weapon. One of the most difficult things I encounter as an angler is fishing when I have no or little confidence. I know there is more to fishing than catching fish but there is a certain gloom that shrouds the boat when you get in that situation where you no longer think you are going to catch anything. This is why so many anglers avoid new concepts or different tactics… mostly out of confidence. It is hard to stray from what has worked in the past.
On the flip side, one of the most rewarding aspects of angling at least for me is learning and mastering something new or different, especially if you did not have confidence in the tactic before. Could be as simple as catching fish on a different lure, or as complex as a different pattern that is being overlooked by other anglers. As a guide, I have to evolve as an angler and master new patterns and techniques or I get my lunch handed to me. A big advantage I do have as a guide is that I have a lot of lines in the water when I fish, get to spend a tremendous amount of time on the water and also get some things force fed to me. What I mean by being force fed is the simple fact where there are so many times when I will have a lot of confidence in a certain lure or size for example and one of my customers will start using something different… and start catching fish. Could be a much larger lure or a faster retrieve as an example, something that I wasn’t confident to try myself because I had a preconceived notion on what was supposed to work.
Over time, you see so many different things that have worked and you gain so much confidence in so many different things that you have a large amount of tools at your disposal. You don’t cling to anything specific and force yourself to try different things until you start catching fish. These lessons however often have to be relearned every season. I find myself sometimes making the same mistakes I have made in the past and find myself trying to correct my thought processes so I can capitalize on opportunities.
A lesson I continue to relearn is fishing high in the water column. My starting point is usually next to or close to the bottom. If I mark fish on the electronics that are higher, I feel good about running lures higher off the bottom but there are so many situations where the fish don’t show up on the electronics and the fish are indeed up off the bottom. In fact, a common mistake I believe many anglers make is running lures or crankbaits too tight to the bottom or too far from the boat. We often catch a lot of walleyes relating to weeds as well and as the summer progresses, the weeds grow taller so the running depths that might have worked just a week ago are no longer effective. From an efficiency standpoint, running lures where they are fouled up or dragging weeds and debris is wasted time. Pulling or casting lures high in the water column over ten feet of water might not feel right to some anglers but there are so many reasons why this particular scenario can be so effective at times.
Many anglers assume that shallow running crank baits and stick baits are an early spring presentation to be used early in the season but this particular class of lures can also be incredible effective later into the summer as well as weeds reach to the surface creating a smaller and shallower window to run lures. A neat scenario where I have caught several limits of walleyes on Devils Lake this season is to cast shallow running lures over the tops of submerged cattails in eight to six feet of water. We are working the lures down a foot or two below the surface as the cattails are generally four or five feet tall. Northland Mimic Minnows and Salmo Suspending Stings have been some of the better lures worked just over the tops of the cattails. Walleyes dart out of the cattails and grab the lures. The first inclination many anglers have when they see the depth of the boat is to slow down and fish deeper but they get fouled up or snagged. I keep telling the people in my boat to reel faster and they start catching fish. That doesn’t feel right to a lot of people until they start catching fish and get confident. Once you get confident in a certain technique and analyze it, the situation makes perfect sense.
Some of the things that we think we know about walleye fishing are so engraved to our heads that it can become difficult to learn new things. There are so many times when walleyes aren’t spooked by a boat nearly as much as we are lead to believe and that is another lesson I continually relearn as the closer to the boat you can fish, the more effective you can be as less can go wrong. There are even times when it seems like the prop attracts fish. For years, I always made a point to pull up or drop the anchor down as quietly as possible believing the anchor would scare fish. I still try to lower the anchor into the water as I don’t like getting a face full of water but one thing I have started doing is to actually drag the anchor with the boat if I want to make a small move. If I want to move ten yards, I just drag the anchor with the big motor on the boat. So often, the big motor doesn’t bother the fish and the anchor dragging through the mud actually seems to stir things up and get fish moving around. When my bite slows down, I often just drag the anchor a short distance and start catching fish again. Maybe the anchor stirs up bugs in the mud or clouds the water, maybe pushing or moving inactive fish creates a short window where these fish start moving around and are alert.
Another tactic that I have had good luck with at times especially early in the season when the weather has the fish in a funk is to drive over the top of the fish right on top of shore in shallow water and try to intentionally spook or bump the fish. My philosophy is that walleyes that are not alert and cruising are difficult to catch. There is nothing harder than catching a fish just lying on the bottom. You have to hit such a limited angle at such a limited speed often repetitively that this is a tough situation. I can sometimes even see the fish spooking and coasting away from the shoreline as the boat approaches. I run the boat really shallow, sometimes in just a few feet of water and cast deep and ahead of the boat. My lure or jig is falling and running right in front of the fish as they peel out. These fish are much easier to catch as they are moving and alert. The bad part about this tactic is that you get one good pass and it takes a much longer period of time for the spot to recharge.
As anglers, we have to have confidence in order to be successful. We have to believe that something is going to work for us. That confidence however that is so necessary is also our Achilles heel when a lack of confidence prohibits us from grasping new ideas, exploring new options and learning more than what we currently know. At some point, we have to sit back and realize that we don’t have all of the answers. Ideas I currently have about fish movements and forage patterns will continue to evolve and will be much different ten years from now. As an angler, it is exciting to explore and test what we think we already know because only than do we begin to grasp some of the things that we don’t know or understand.