SPEED KILLS

GET UP ON PLANE AND IN ON THE RACE FOR THE BIG­GEST WALLEYES OF THE SEA­SON

Outdoor Life - - FISHING - BY ROSS ROBERT­SON

No mat­ter how good you think you are, or how long you have been do­ing it, there re­mains one im­mutable truth about fish­ing: Fish move, and some­times you can’t find them. That was pre­cisely my mind­set while I was guid­ing for walleyes last spring. Af­ter driv­ing around on plane and graph­ing for fish for nearly an hour, the glar­ing looks from my im­pa­tient clients turned to vo­cal dis­dain. They wanted to get their lines in the wa­ter—pronto. An hour more and many miles later, a few lit­tle yel­low dots fi­nally appeared on the sonar. When I saved the way­point on my fishfinder, the crit­i­cism grew even harsher.

“What the hell is that for?” one angler said. “We aren’t af­ter BBS.”

I cir­cled around un­til the marks dis­si­pated and set up. Those “BBS” turned into gi­ant yel­low ba­nanapeel-like walleye marks, which turned into bent rod tips. And that’s the way spring walleye fish­ing of­ten goes. Al­though spring­time can be one of the best times to catch a gi­ant walleye, in­con­sis­tent wa­ter tem­per­a­tures can make fish lethar­gic one day but ag­gres­sive the next.

FISH FIND­ING AT HIGH SPEED

Af­ter the spring spawn, walleyes leave the bays, rock reefs, and rivers on their way to main lake basins or other areas of deep wa­ter. Un­like the iconic mass spawn­ing runs of salmon, how­ever, this mi­gra­tion does not take place all at once or to the same place. And that’s what can make find­ing walleyes dif­fi­cult—even for vet­eran an­glers. For­tu­nately, ad­vance­ments in elec­tron­ics have made lo­cat­ing these itin­er­ant fish eas­ier.

The cur­rent crop of af­ford­able LCD sonar units fea­ture vir­tu­ally real-time dis­play, al­low­ing an­glers to mark fish while run­ning at speeds in ex­cess of 20 mph. Now you can break down a lake or search for the bite un­til you ac­tu­ally find fish.

One of the keys to this run-and­gun ap­proach is proper trans­ducer lo­ca­tion. If it’s mounted too high or too low in re­la­tion to the hull bot­tom, the prop ro­ta­tion, kicker en­gines, or the keel can in­ter­fere with your bot­tom read­ing. You’ll also need to set your sen­si­tiv­ity prop­erly or your screen will black out while the boat is run­ning on plane.

When you’re driv­ing at 20 mph, marked fish will ap­pear like lit­tle specks or balls. At slower, in­spec­tion speeds, they will trans­form into the more tra­di­tional arch as they move through the cone an­gle. When re­turns have just a touch of color in them, it is much eas­ier and more ac­cu­rate to in­ter­pret them as a catch­able-size fish. My rule of thumb is: No color, no good. Elon­gated marks are typ­i­cal of bait­fish pods and weed patches.

THE PROPER PRE­SEN­TA­TION

Whether I’m fish­ing a river, lake, or reser­voir, speed-trolling crankbaits is my go-to tac­tic. The cranks trigger re­ac­tion strikes from ag­gres­sive fish, but the true ben­e­fit of trolling at speeds of 2 mph or more is the abil­ity to cover large stretches of wa­ter more quickly while at the same time cut­ting down on junk fish strikes.

Speed-trolling de­mands a hunt­ing-style crankbait. These dart left and right without any pre­dictabil­ity. If non-tar­get species pose a prob­lem, con­sider up­siz­ing your of­fer­ing. A Deep Lit­tle Rip­per or a full-size Reef Run­ner will help you fish more ef­fec­tively.

Be­gin the hunt in deep wa­ter near spawn­ing grounds—typ­i­cally at 25 feet and ex­tend­ing to as much as 60 feet deep. The big­gest fish will spawn first and then head to the deep­est haunts as they re­cover, look­ing for tem­per­a­ture­sen­si­tive bait­fish. Prime areas are basins, troughs be­tween is­lands, shoals, and any­where deep wa­ter is in close prox­im­ity to reefs.

Whether your walleyes are mov­ing up or down, in or out, or are just gen­er­ally dif­fi­cult to find, hit the throt­tles and get on the move. High-speed trolling will help you find the bite.

A trolled-up cigar walleye headed for the fish box.

Deep Lit­tle Rip­pers swim er­rat­i­cally, draw­ing ag­gres­sive strikes.

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