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.”
Due to the light weight of this rig, itâ€™s usually fished in water shallower than about 20 feet, and most often shallower than 8 feet, with a 6- to 7- foot slow to medium action, medium-light power spinning rod with 4- to 8-pound-test monofilament line. The split-shot rig can be gently cast and slowly retrieved, fished stationary, or allowed to drift. Follow the drift with your rod tip to be sure it drifts naturally and doesnâ€™t snag.
The slipsinker rig can be cast and slowly retrieved, slowly trolled, or used as a stationary presentation, so the depth of the water, bottom terrain, and how fast the bait is being moved by the boat, current, or during retrieval, all play a part in determining the weight of the sinker. The sinker usually is a boot-shaped walking sinker or egg- or bell-shaped sinker for gravel and sandy bottoms, or a bullet sinker in weeds and wood. Beads or blades are sometimes added to the leader in front of the hook as an attractant.
Because the mainline slips through the sinker, anglers often find it to their advantage to let a fish â€śrunâ€ť with the bait, fishing the presentation with an open spool and letting the fish pull line off the spool with the least resistance possible. This gives the fish more time to get the bait further in its mouth or throat, which can cause moreâ€”often lethalâ€”injury to fish. If you can set the hook quickly, or fish on a tight line, itâ€™s often better to do so, especially if you intend to release your catch.
There are two primary types of float rigsâ€”fixed-float and slipfloat. The fixed float is just that, when the float is fixed to a certain point on the line, and is best fished in situations where the fish are feeding shallow, say four feet or less. The slipfloat rig allows the float to slide up and down the line so you can fish in deeper water. A small bobber stop is fastened on the line somewhere above the bobber to limit how far up the line the bobber can slide, determining how deep the bait is fished. When the rig is reeled in, the stop goes through the rod guides and onto the spool of the reel to allow for casting and retrieving.
While the fixed-float rig is a good way to target shallow fish like crappies, bass, sunfish, catfish, and trout, the slipfloat rigâ€™s ability to go deep broadens the potential species list to include pike, walleye, muskie, striper, and more. A longer light-to-medium action spinning rod, about 7 feet long, with a slow to moderate action, spooled with 4- to 8-pound monofilament, is a good choice for a float rig. Hooks should be matched to the bait, such as a #4 to #8 baitholder hook for angleworms and nightcrawlers, for example, although a jig also can be used.
Fishing a float rig often is a case of not doing anything at all, letting the bait do the fish-attracting work, as the float is slowly moved by wave action on the surface. Both rigs should be cast by gently swinging the rig sideways and behind you, then thrusting the rod toward the target with a slight upward motion as you release the line. You want to lob the rig to a specific spot as gently as possible. If the wind is blowing, or youâ€™re fishing in current, target your cast so that the wind or current moves the rig into your target zone. In other instances, a little bit of action added by quick twitches of the rod tip or even substantial pulls that move the bait up in the water column and then let it settle, induces strikes. The float signals when a fish is on the line, a visual experience that remains exciting to anglers no matter their age or fishing experience.
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