Former FLW Walleye Angler of the Year Paul Meleen divides his time between his original home waters, Minnesota’s legendary Mille Lacs, and his new resort, Leathem Smith Lodge, in Door County Wisconsin.
Meleen has clocked some serious hours on the water since his start in the pro walleye game in the late '80s, and during that time, he’s seen many sleeper tactics for catching ‘eyes. One of his favorites centers on suspended fish.
“Most anglers miss out because they fish in too small of a box,” he says. “For example, if they’re targeting suspended fish off structure—points or sunken islands—most fishermen assume that, when they lose contact with aggressive fish feeding on top, it’s because the fish moved into deeper water.
“What actually happens in mid-summer through early fall—is those walleyes will maintain the same depth (say 20 or 25 feet) at which they were feeding, but move out over deeper water. They don’t move down.”
Given that a well-defined thermocline has typically developed on most large bodies of water by this time of year, this fish behavior shouldn’t come as a surprise. Still, many fishermen never consider that the water below the break is cold, holds little oxygen and is no place a walleye wants to be.
“Most guys will catch a few active fish on a deep point or sunken island, but immediately think they have to move down to the breakline when the action dies,” he says. “Instead, watch your electronics and move to the front end of the structure and out a good distance. More often than not, you’ll find pods of fish that move in and out from the structure to feed, and then rest at the same depth, suspended just above the thermocline over deeper water away from the structure.”
Basically, he starts this ‘inside out” approach by moving the boat slowly over the structure, dropping jig-and-live bait combos and picking up aggressively feeding walleyes. When the action slows, he moves farther out, increasing boat speed to 1 to 1½ mph and switching to a ‘crawler harness or crankbait tethered off the back of a bottom bouncer. While you're not tickling bottom in the classic definition of how most anglers use bottom bouncers, the tool will help you keep your bait running at the proper depth—and in the strike zone.