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3 Tactics for Summer Walleyes

Here are three sure-fire ways to capture stubborn late-summer walleyes.

3 Tactics for Summer Walleyes

The old saying: “the dog days of summer” isn’t exactly a motivating slogan but it does speak to the general consensus that summertime walleye fishing can be challenging. Many of us anglers start the season as early as possible to kick cabin fever, and for the chance at catching some spring giants. While summer may not be the very best time to chase walleyes, it actually can be great fishing in much nicer weather—as long as you keep a few key factors in mind.

Size

One thing that gets overlooked in fishing is why lures that are successful during spring are often larger than lures that might be used later in the season. Larger lure productivity in the early part of the season is often due to off-color water from spring rains and run off. At this time, a larger profile lure can help fish zero in on the bait. Also, bait fish that have made it through the winter are larger—they’ve become the primary forage, as young-of-the-year minnows haven’t grown much yet. As walleye anglers move into spring with the mindset to use these lures during the heat of summer, we are quickly reminded that these two seasons are very different.

In the summer months, downsizing lures isn’t just beneficial, its often almost required to produce bites. Young-of-the-year minnows are now of “eating size” but are also not that large yet. Both young-of-the-year walleye and perch are also targets for larger walleyes at this time. When in doubt, go smaller.

The issue with downsizing during the summer months isn’t as simple as just getting a smaller version of your favorite spring lure, unfortunately. In many cases, summer walleyes are deeper in the water column than they’ll be just about any other time of year. This means you need a way to get small little crankbaits and spoons that don’t dive very deep, much deeper than they are intended to go. Using delivery systems such as leadcore lines, snap weights, dipsy divers, braid or wire line all can help get these shallow-diving lures where they need to be. While it's not often easy, it is very doable.

Speed

If you have ever participated in or watch most sports you know that speed kills, meaning speed can be tough to overcome it if you don’t have it. In a roundabout way the same is true with summer walleye fishing.

Covering water quickly but efficiently is the best way to find, stay on and get summer walleyes to bite. While most crankbaits or spoons can be fished at faster speeds there are a handful of lures that seem to excel when fished faster due to their design and nature. Lures like a Storm Hot ‘n Tot or Storm Wiggle Wart—even a trolling spoon excels at speeds in excess of 2.5 mph, and it should be no surprise that they excel during the summer months. Some lures are just designed to work better at faster speeds without “blowing out” or changing the way that they run. Look for empty pegs at your local tackle shop to see what these can be in your area.

trolling for summer walleyes
There are tools that will help get the right bait to the right depth.

Another reason that speed can be your friend in the warmer months is to avoid non-target species, which is a nice way of saying junk fish. For whatever reason, lures like a Storm Thunder Stick catches significantly less junk fish such as drum or white bass when then they are red lined at Mach 10 across the lake. This, especially, can be the case when fishing near bottom. Successful summer presentations such as nightcrawlers, on any given day, can feel like they are just there to feed the junk fish. When this is the case, kicking up the speed drastically cuts down on junk and increasing fish in the cooler.

While you may have a lot of water that looks good or marks all over your sonar screen, often the biters are in very small areas. Simply put, the faster you can go the more real estate you will cover to find active fish.

Pockets

One of the first things I do during summer when I hook a fish is hit a waypoint on my GPS. This is helpful for several reasons. If you are fishing fast and have a lot of line out you can easily be hundreds of yards past where you hooked the fish once you have finally netted it and collected yourself. As previously mentioned, a sonar screen can be full of marks for miles, but they only seem to bite in a small pocket. A personal hypothesis is that many of these other marks aren’t walleyes and the ones that are, your guess is as good as mine. Regardless, when you get bit, even if it’s in open water, know exactly where that bite came at. If some of the other marks are junk fish this is even more important.

A less talked about factor for fishing in small areas or “pockets” is water temp and currents. Both of these factors can have an effect on bodies of water as large as the Great Lakes to as small as a local river. Warm or cool water pockets that can blow in or be established by a thermocline will significantly impact where walleyes and the food they chase will be at.

Currents are the thing that can act like a highway for these changing water temps and are of significant importance. You don’t have to be in a river to have current, many lakes and reservoirs have significant current. Breaks in the current in the form of shoals, sunken islands and even big boulders can all be sweet spots for summer walleyes looking to ease out of the current to both rest and look for an easy meal that washes by. A Fish Hawk can be your best tool at this time to understand and instantly measure both water temp and actual speed in the currents as compared to your speed over ground trolling speed as well.

At the risk of getting a little to scientific, oxygen levels also play a role. Larger lakes in particular can actually have “dead zones” where there is little to no life in these warmer periods because there isn’t enough oxygen present in the water to make things comfortable for most things in the food chain.

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