Following the make-or-break Minnesota Opener in mid-May each year, almost by habit I'd head for the first break-line. But now, looking back, I think I probably missed some great walleye fishing by dismissing the shallows all those years.
Of course, there were times I fished shallow—like at night, during the period immediately before and after a full moon, as well as during the fall—but not typically during the day from early-summer through fall.
However, last year I caught most of my walleyes in waters under 10 feet, even during the day in clear waters, all season long. Self-admittedly, Side Imaging has been huge. I often locate good weed clumps, funnels, and adjacent hard bottom 100 feet from the boat, mark a waypoint and then proceed slowly with the bow-mount trolling motor to make precise long casts without spooking the fish.
In a lot of Minnesota's natural lakes, there's simply a lot of food in and around relatively shallow waters. Especially good green weeds like cabbage, coontail and elodea—or expansive flats dotted with sandgrass, which often feature small, almost imperceptible depth transitions, as well as depressions and dips that attract baitfish. The walleyes aren't typically far behind.
But here's a new spin on my growing fascination with going skinnier for walleyes. And it involves some real froggy water. And carp.
About a week and half ago I fished a lake rife with classic structure: sunken islands, rock piles, points, and weedlines. We fished many of these textbook locations but hours later we still hadn't boated a walleye. We fished jigs, rigs, slip floats and cranks. Everything but the DuPont Spinner #5.
Fed up with the lack of action, around 3:00 p.m. my buddies and I decided to switch up the program to bass and panfish. We motored into a froggy, lily-pad and cattail-filled bay. The bay had a temp of 76.8 degrees and weed growth out to 3.5 feet.
Big Mike started making short pitches to the weed edge with a 1/16-ounce jig and minnow for crappies, while the rest of us pounded the area for bass. Wasn't more than a couple of casts before Big Mike nabbed a 15-inch walleye on his crappie rig. Then another. And another. All from 4 feet of water.
We couldn't re-rig fast enough.
Long-story-short, we worked that froggy-water bay until dark and caught probably 60 walleyes between the four of us, ranging from 13 inches to Jeff's 27 incher. But most of the fish were in the "eater" range, that 15- to 18-inch range. Fine by us.
Here's the deal: We never would have discovered those fish had we kept fishing textbook spots in textbook ways. Success hinged on switching up the entire program to dial in the ‘eyes—even fishing a different species.
So, why were the walleyes in the bay? The simple answer is food—which I could see plain as day on my Humminbird Side Imaging. Yet, until Big Mike verified what I was seeing on the screen with his first few catches, I would've bet you $100 (and another $100 you made a bad bet) that those fish in and around the white baitfish marks were anything but walleyes.
Typically, we fish from experience. At worst, memories. And mine say froggy water does not equal walleyes.
I couldn't have been more wrong.
Near as we can tell, here's why the walleyes were in that swampy bay:
- The wind had been blowing steady all day (and the day before) right into the bay.
- Due to a late spring, the most accelerated weed growth was in the bay, drawing in baitfish.
- There were good numbers of carp in the bay, moving around and churning up the bottom, keeping the baitfish eating and the walleyes close by.
To point #3, following and catching walleyes among carp has been a tactic of pro walleye anglers on Wisconsin's Winnebago Chain tournaments for some years. Although I had never experienced this bite in Minnesota, it's most likely part of what we recently experienced.
Big Mike, Fishbreath Carl, Tall Jeff and I couldn't have been happier.
I can tell you this: We'll never motor by a froggy bay again without considering the possibility of walleyes where they shouldn't be.