On Eric Naig’s home waters in northern Iowa — the diametrically opposed West and East Lake Okobojis — the former pro walleye angler now with Berkley has “issues.” Structure issues, that is, affecting whether he zigs to one lake or zags to the other. You see, West Okoboji has tons of structure, while East Okoboji has virtually none.
“It’s sometimes hard to fish with so much good-looking stuff,” Naig says. “I’m always looking for precise spots. If I’m fishing a point, I fish the cup or the turn along the edge. Seven, eight, nine times out of ten, that’s the place to look. On the other hand, with a whole bunch of nothing, you have to either rely on your electronics to find fish or just go fishing to find them. Or both.”
Faced with a glut of structure — weedlines, drops, deep rocks, and more — Naig know that it pays to search for the best of the best. But when the water’s bereft of underwater features, you must search with electronics or lures to find fish in the void. Either way, your work’s cut out for you.
Ross Grothe, a walleye pro from Northfield, Minnesota, has a clever twist on an old theme that captures the premise of his preliminary research. “Usually when I approach a new body of water,” Grothe says, “I roam in Rome with the Romans.” This means that Grothe explores local patterns and productive areas for starters. After that, he branches out to search for similar areas on his own. Grothe bases this strategy on the premise that certain waters have their own characters. For instance, when the wind blows on Leech Lake (Minnesota), it’s a signal to fish in 10 feet or less. Say what you want about local information, but such guidelines undoubtedly help narrow the search on a lake more than ten times the size of Manhattan.
Fleshing out a preliminary search strategy even further, PWT Director Chip Leer complements local information with a lake map that helps him break down Leech Lake info sections. It’s an approach Leer learned years earlier from more seasoned guides on Lake of the Woods. “They taught me to break the lake into sections and tear it apart,” Leer says. “That way, if you develop a pattern in one section, no matter where you go on the lake, you should be able to duplicate it.”
Next in the plan of attack on a “structure-fest” is to look for prime pieces of main-lake structure. “In a summer pattern, I look to the deepest part of the lake within a mile or two of spawning areas — rock bars and reefs in the middle of the lake,” says Dan Plautz, PWT pro from Muskego, Wisconsin. “If the body of water has a ton of weeds, that’s my secondary spot.”
After exhausting prime structure (though that may be virtually impossible) or deciding upon a change of pace, Naig offers a viable Plan B. “Even with all the good-looking structure, we catch a lot of fish on flats. Classic structure can get beat up so hard that you should start looking for less obvious spots.”
On deeper flats, Naig searches both with electronics and bottom bouncer-spinner combos — efficient ways to cover water and catch fish at the same time. In deeper water, of course, the importance of electronics can’t be underestimated. “Deeper than 20 feet, fish can’t hide from your electronics,” Naig says. “In depths less than 15 feet, you have to fish for them.”
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