Riege: Hunt for early walleyes in the weeds

Published 4:27 pm Wednesday, May 29, 2013

On many lakes, emerging weed growths will attract a good percentage of the active walleyes. Not all weed growth is alike; there are other variables to consider when selecting the best emerging weedbeds.

For example, I’ve had my best luck on shallow points and flats gradually tapering to deeper water. In fact, that’s what I’m looking for. I don’t necessarily want something that’s close to super deep water. Instead, I’m looking for shallow weed growths in the two to ten feet of water with six to 15 feet of water around it. The shallower weedbeds will turn on first with water temperatures ranging from 58 to 66 degrees. Deeper weeds will turn on later in the year.

Weeds are an important source of food for the fish in a lake. They harbor plankton, insect larvae, and minnows. They play an essential role in the food chain in our lakes. Without weeds much of our fishing and fish patterns would be very different.

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Once walleyes are found in weeds, choosing the best presentation can be quite a frustrating experience. Remember to always choose a presentation that can put the odds in your favor.

Most anglers do not consider bottom bouncers as a presentation in weeds, but they remain one of the most effective for me. The bottom bouncer (I like the Rock Runner from Northland) is great to use where there are a lot of snags. This wire-legged device can be used while trolling or drifting, with speeds as low as 3/4 or as high as 2 1/4 mph. All you need is enough pressure against the spinner blades to keep them rotating or enough resistance against a minnow imitation to get a wobble out of your lure.

Begin by identifying the depth at which the weeds are no longer growing. Weed growth is dictated by light penetration into the water. In other words, if you find the weeds have stopped growing at eight feet of water depth, it means that the weed edge in the lake will probably be at the eight-foot depth. Once you have determined the depth of the weeds, you can get the bottom bouncer down to about nine feet and troll along the edge of the weeds, where walleyes lie to ambush dinner as they’re traveling along the clean edge of the weeds.

You might want to experiment with the Rock Runner when you are drifting. Although the presentation of the Rock Runner can be used while trolling, you might want to get the feel of it before adding speed to the formula. You will note that you might want to use a little heavier equipment than your normal jigging rod and reel.

A, heavy bass jig is becoming the most popular and easiest-to use lure when it comes to fishing dense weed cover. It will plow through the weeds and trigger a lot of strikes.

My favorite jig is a 5/8 oz. Rattlin Jungle Jig dressed with the Limber-Legs rubber skirts. Although you can substitute a plastic crayfish or a lizard, I prefer the Limber-Legs because it seems to get to the bottom faster. A plastic worm trailer is also effective, but I recommend straight-tail versions because curly tail worms tend to tangle in the weeds.

If your weed growth consists of coontail or cabbage weeds then you might consider a lighter jig like the Northland Weed Weasel. The retrieve that you will use in this pattern will be different than a simple swimming motion, because the weeds will hold on to your jig longer. The retrieve that you will have to use is a lift and glide approach. When the jig gets hung up on the weeds, lower your rod tip and pop the jig free with an upward movement. This will get the attention of those finicky walleyes that are lying in the weeds and you will find aggressive walleyes to bite. Unfortunately a jig doesn’t always find its way through heavy weed growth with out help. Tickle it through; by jiggling the rod tip and most of the time the jig will wiggle through.

With the use of my MotorGuide electric motor and weedless props it’s easy to position a boat right on top of where I want to fish. I can drop the bait straight down, which makes for a more effective presentation, a better hook setting position and more leverage to fight the fish. After the bait hits bottom, I jig it a few times, let it rest, then jig it again. The trick is to keep the lure falling as much as possible because that’s when walleyes most often strike. If you use the electric motor to present the bait with a slight horizontal movement, take care that the lure remains almost directly under the boat. If it pulls up into the weeds, the offering is worthless.

Once you hook-up with a walleye, getting the fish up and out of the mess is the last challenge. It can be a problem to pull a walleye back through the mat of weeds. The long rod and 17 pound test Nanofil line come into play here by allowing you to keep the fish’s head pointed toward the surface instead of turning and burrowing into the vegetation. I usually try to keep the momentum of the fish coming to the boat. If the fish is a large one I try to keep the rod tip high and allow the fish to play itself out above the top of the weeds.

As the weeds start to emerge this spring, hunt for places that have adjacent deep holes or drop offs and look for little subtle breaks in the weeds, or inside turns and you will find spring walleyes plentiful.