Across the surface and below, the winds of walleye change were stirring. Bites, except for those from bugs, had become painfully rare. Anglers everywhere were singing the blues, and Tony Roach loved every minute of it.
Each year, the energetic walleye guide sees the anguish on anglers' expressions; puzzles as to why they won't adapt. From walleye opener through those first weeks of the season, it seems everyone enjoys a bounty of fast fishing. Walleyes are hot and hungry. A variety of baits are getting bit.
But then, without more than subtle warning signs, it all comes crashing down. "As vegetation maxes out in lakes, midge and mayfly hatches taper off, and fishing for walleyes makes a significant shift." Roach, who guides nearly every day of the season, calls it the ‘slow death of the live bait bite.'
"On lakes in Central Minnesota, including Mille Lacs, it happens late July into August. Even though fish and forage have altered their plans, anglers are still largely doing the same things, and they get pretty discouraged."
Do The Opposite
In recent years, Roach's radical adjustments have sustained a hot bite through these historically tricky times. "As the bait-bite tapers off, I start getting aggressive. I motor around a lot watching sonar. I want to see how fish are positioned in deeper water, along weedlines, adjacent to forage. Most days, I leave the live bait at the shop and take the opposite approach—fast and proactive rather than slow and passive."
For Roach, that means rigging rods with aggressive artificials, mostly No. 7 and 9 Jigging Rapalas. "All it takes is a day of pitching lures with me for folks to change their minds about live bait versus artificials for walleyes. These aggressive methods are that good—that fun."
Sonar-scanning along hard-bottom edges and finite food shelves, Roach anticipates the appearance of individual arches near forage. "They're just begging for a Jigging Rap," he chuckles.
When he spots a fish, he quickly shifts the motor from neutral to reverse and back to neutral, before pitching the Rap a short distance behind the boat. Rigged on 6- or 8-pound braid, the lead jigging lure sinks like a stone. By throwing behind marked fish, rather than right on top of them, the bait touches down within the strike zone yet won't spook the fish.
Rippin' The Rap
"I get real aggressive with retrieve. Give the rod a big rip, jerking the bait straight up, and then let it fall on slack line. Watch the braid for a tick, or for slack to form, before the bait hits bottom. Reel down fast and hit 'em hard.
He notes that when perch are on the menu, the Glow Yellow Perch pattern gets the nod, while in deeper water with ciscoes and shiners, Chrome Blue is a classic. Roach has also had great success on newer UV patterns.
"You shouldn't think of this as a strictly vertical approach. You want to pitch the bait away from the boat and let it fall straight to bottom. It's the only lure I know of that lets you fish fast horizontally, down in 20 to 30 feet of water. Work the Rap all the way back until it's beneath the boat. Walleyes like to follow and then crush it at the last second. They'll smack it as it's laying on bottom, too, so keep a straight line to the bait at all times.
"For too many anglers," Roach concludes, "live bait is a crutch. Aggressive artificials are the cure."
Contact: Tony Roach; roachsguideservice.com, (763) 226-6656.