Walleyes in the Weeds
Fishing aquatic vegetation is second nature to bass anglers, but the green stuff is just as crucial for walleye fishing. They use weedlines as travel routes and know that grass holds plenty of forage, making them the perfect place to search for their next meal.
A trio of Wisconsin guides, Josh Teigen, Troy Peterson, and Jeff Evans, search out weeds in the late spring and early summer months. They have different approaches to fishing them, but they all work and help them and their clients catch some of their biggest walleyes of the year.
Slip Bobbers on Weedlines
Iron River, Wisconsin's, Jeff Evans guides clients on various lakes for walleye from the May opener through the entire fishing season. Many tactics work when targeting grass on inland lakes for Evans, but he says a slip bobber rig with a minnow or leech is hard to beat.
"After the walleye spawn, they recover in deep water and then head to the weeds," says Evans. "As the new weed beds emerge, the walleye will follow the green, new growth and you can find these areas on your side imaging. They'll follow the edge as new grass grows and later in the year it might be in 15 to 20-feet of water on clear lakes, but only 8 to 12-feet of water on more stained lakes."
According to Evans, the bite typically lasts until the 4th of July, when many walleye switch gears to mud basins, reefs and points. "Some years, the bite can go all summer long and into the fall months," he says. "My theory is that it has to do with water temperatures. If it gets into the 70s too early, they'll get out deeper quicker, but they stick around if it's a gradual rise."
Evans likes to rig up his clients with a 7-foot medium-light spinning rod and a quality reel spooled with 30 lb Seaguar Smackdown Flash Green braid with a leader of 10 lb Gold Label fluorocarbon. On the business end, it's generally a slip bobber set to the desired depth with a slip knot and a ¼-ounce egg sinker. He then rigs a barrel swivel with an 18-inch leader of Gold Label with either a #1 Octopus hook or 1/16-ounce jighead used to rig the leech or minnow.
"The medium-light rod is helpful because people tend to overset the hook with a slip bobber when they see it go down and you want a little flex," he said. "I like the bobber set so that it barely floats in the water to detect light bites. Smackdown has been the perfect braided line because it holds the slip knot very well, where with some braids, it will slip. Gold Label has been excellent because it's limp, strong, and invisible to walleye that are notoriously line shy."
Captain Josh Teigen
Teigen's Ripping Approach
Josh Tiegen fishes many of the same waters as Evans, from inland lakes on the Eau Claire and Pike Lake chains to Chequamegon Bay on Lake Superior to the Hayward area lakes. He uses the same approach everywhere he goes for walleye in the weeds: rip the bait free from grass. "I always tell my clients that if you are not getting grass on your bait once in a while, you are fishing it too fast or not around enough grass," he says.
"If you are getting grass on your bait every time, it's moving too slowly. Ideally, it should be one out of every five casts that you come back with grass, the key is just to be ticking it and if you rip it free when you feel the grass, that's where many of the bites occur." Teigen chooses hard jerkbaits, soft jerkbaits, and a spoon as his top weapons for walleye around vegetation.
"A 5-inch Kalin's Jerk Minnow on a ¼-ounce darter head jig is great for fishing the weeds and the darter head does a good job coming through it," says Teigen. "I also like a 3/8-ounce gold Acme Kastmaster spoon for fishing the edges and a Livingston Jerkmaster jerkbait for fishing along the edge or over top of the grass."
For the Jerk Minnow and Kastmaster, he opts for a 7-foot medium-light spinning reel with a fast speed spinning reel, and for the jerkbait, he goes up to a medium-action rod. For all three, he fishes them with 20 lb Seaguar Smackdown Flash Green braid with a leader of 12 lb Gold Label.
"The high visibility green color is the way to go because we are ripping these baits free from the grass and you'll see your line jump even when you don't feel the bite with your rod," he says. "Using braid is important because you need to make hard pops with the rod to free the bait from grass and you need the zero stretch. I'll use a 3 to 4-foot leader of Gold Label and as spooky as these walleye can be, the invisibility of the line makes a big difference in getting more bites."
Fishing for walleye this way is one of Teigen's favorites, starting at the end of May and into the summer months; plus, it's a way to fool some of the biggest walleye in the lake.
"Many walleye guys troll and it's too hard for them to fish around grass effectively because you are always hanging up, so not as many people are fishing for them this way," he says. "Plus, it seems like my biggest walleyes of the year always come from the weeds. I've seen that the bigger ones gravitate there instead of the rock and mud."
Dippin' for Walleye
Early in the year, guide and tournament angler, Troy Peterson, breaks out specialized gear for a unique way to target walleye, dipping emerging grass with leeches and nightcrawlers on a 1/16 or 3/32-ounce jighead. He likes the leeches for the movement they create on the jighead and nightcrawlers for the added scent, but they are both solid choices.
Captain Troy Peterson
"It's all about finding the greenest weeds you can find, whether they are cane beds or rice paddies that have been brown all winter and are just starting to turn green as they grow again," says Peterson. "The new sprouts have fresh oxygen and gather minnows and the walleye are there for them in really shallow water, mostly 3 to 5-feet of water. It starts in mid-May and usually goes until the first week of June. Then when the carp start spawning and causing a commotion and stirring bottom in June, it's the same bite in the same places as the walleye are there to feed on stirred up crustaceans."
Stealth is key with this approach and Peterson uses his bow-mount trolling motor to slowly move along the grass line, dipping his bait into the holes and edges of the new grass. The rod of choice used by "dippers" is generally over 10-feet long, with custom 12 and 14-foot medium-light spinning rods a common choice.
"Some even use cane poles because there is no casting; you simply drop the bait in and let it fall to the bottom before moving to the next one," he says. "It's a highly visual technique and you wait until your line starts to move when one gets it. We use 10 lb Seaguar Smackdown Flash Green braid with a leader of 6 or 8 lb Gold Label fluorocarbon because they both have tiny diameters and the bright green braid helps you detect bites."
Peterson uses this approach throughout the Winnebago Chain of Lakes and says it's usually the way to win all of the early season walleye derbies there. "It's a big fish technique, but the trick is to stay stealthy," he says. "That's why we use the long rods to stay away from the fish. It's better than using a slip bobber because that can spook fish this shallow."
You can fish for walleyes in vegetation with many approaches, but it's apparent that it's the place to be early in the year as new growth is just starting after a long cold winter. These three methods for targeting them have all proven to be excellent for early season walleye in the weeds.
Seaguar Smackdown braid is available in high visibility Flash Green and low visibility Stealth Gray. It is available in 150-yards spools in sizes ranging from 10 to 65 lb test. Coming Soon — 300 yard spools of Smackdown braid
Seaguar Gold Label fluorocarbon leader is available in twenty five-yard spools in 2, 4, 6, 8, 10 & 12 lb test for fresh water use, complementing the 15, 20, 25, 30, 40 , 50 , 60 and 80 lb. test leaders available for saltwater. Coming Soon — 50 yard spools of Gold Label