August 26, 2022
By Pete Robbins
When professional bass angler Chad Morgenthaler moved from his native Illinois to Missouri’s Table Rock Lake, he did it because the Ozarks gem is a premier multispecies laboratory, offering largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass. While he’d inadvertently caught walleyes around the country while chasing bass, he didn’t know that the area had an ample supply of them. Even when he caught “two or three a year flipping flooded bushes at Bull Shoals and three to four a year dropshotting for spots,” he never put two and two together.
Occasionally he’d see groups of fish on his sonar and when they didn’t bite he’d wonder if they were bass. He’d hear of anglers on the lower end catching walleyes on live bait like nightcrawlers. Nevertheless, it had to hit him over the head before he completely dialed it in.
“This summer I was out on the lake with a father-son coaching and mentoring session,” he said. “We were doing a lot of graphing. We rolled across a spot, saw a lot of bait and a lot of fish, but they weren’t stacked up the way bass would group up. On the Garmins, I could see that the dots were pretty good sized, they were close to the bottom, but separated. I dropped a waypoint and tried the traditional bass stuff—a dropshot, a football jig, a crankbait. Finally I caught one on a dropshot. It was a 22- or 23-inch walleye. Then we caught another one. They really weren’t moving around, but you still needed to make them react.”
That was the start of it. In order to drop a bait more precisely, he grabbed three jigging spoons from the storage compartment of his Phoenix. They started to catch bass, too, but the walleyes stayed put.
“Once we targeted the exact school,” he said. “They didn’t bust up too much. It was just a matter of dialing in the right cadence, color and size and weight. The dropshot went away.”
How and Where to Find Them
All those fish were in 18 to 22 feet of water. After 30 minutes, they moved to another spot, found a similar group of walleye, and caught a handful more. They moved eight more times, and each time found another group.
“What they had in common was that the bait was there,” he said. “They were all longer tapering gravel points. No abrupt ledges. Sometimes they were on the top, the side or the tip of the point, it depending on where the shad were, although it didn’t take giant schools of bait to hold the fish there.”
The fish don’t relate to structure or brush the way bass do. They’re more apt to roam. Nevertheless, as with bass, triggering the school and the individuals is critical.
“I don’t think their strike zone is very big, but once they’re looked in on a target it is over,” he explained. “They will chase that spoon a long way and in a hurry to eat it.” While many traditional walleye anglers troll for the fish, Morgenthaler said “that’s looking in the past and I like to fish the future,” so while his side-imaging and down-imaging are critical in the first pass, once he finds the school he’d rather hunt for them more quietly. “You’re stealthier on the trolling motor. If you run over them on the big motor, even in 25 feet of water, you’re going to alert them.”
Weather makes a huge difference. Even when the walleyes are deep, they’re less active in cloudy conditions. “They bite the best in sunny, high, bright conditions,” he explained. The sun puts them in tighter groups and the fish tend not to roam as much. This is a case where “the early bird doesn’t necessarily seem to get the worm.” He has tried targeting these walleyes at first light, but his success seems to substantially increase about 9:30 or 10am.
Most of the groups of walleye he has found have been in 18 to 25 feet of water, and that’s another way that his electronics aid him—in finding the thermocline.
“They’re either at it or just above it,” he explained. “When the water temperature is approaching 90 degrees, that thermocline is very distinct, and that causes them to set up on structure.”
Walleye Spooning Gear
In this rapid-fire walleye education, Morgenthaler has experimented with “just about every spoon out there.” A flutter spoon doesn’t work nearly as well as a traditional jigging spoon, and while weight is important, so is profile. These fish are generally eating smaller shad and it pays to match the hatch. The best one he has found for most conditions is made by Chompers (generally thought of as a soft plastics company) although Jewel and War Eagle also make solid choices. He prefers white or a “coleslaw” color over chrome.
“I’ve tried everything from 12- to 16-pound test and I’ve settled on Gamma Edge Fluorocarbon as the overall best choice for depth and fall rate,” he said. Because the spoon will be used for a lot of casting, hopping and falling, line twist is inevitable unless you use a good swivel. He’s found that the best strategy is to place it about 18 inches up the line.
He fishes the spoon on a 7-foot, 6-inch heavy-action Lew’s Custom Pro baitcasting rod, or occasionally a 7-foot, 3-inch medium-heavy model, paired with a 7.5:1 Lew’s Pro TI reel.
“When they catch you off guard, you have to be able to catch up to them. That’s where the high-speed reel comes in.”
Hopping and Popping
Every day, it seems, the Ozarks walleye want a slightly different cadence or pull to get fired up.
“You have to try different pauses, and different heights that you hop it,” he said. “Sometimes they want it kind of volatile, and other times they want it softer.”
Oddly enough, the key is often how long he rests the spoon at the bottom of the stroke. The fish don’t bite it on the bottom, but they often pounce on it as soon as it moves.
“When they’re really active, it doesn’t matter, but sometimes you have to rest it there for two or three seconds before you move it.”
The bites rarely come as the spoon is making its descent.
“At the turn—the highest point in the stroke, that’s where you’ll get 50 percent of your bites. The other 50 percent come as soon as you try to pick it up off the bottom from resting. It’s almost like they’re instantly there when you start to move it.”
Once the bite comes, it’s simply a matter of leaning into the fish with that 7-foot, 6-inch rod and letting a quality treble hook do its job. He’s careful to change out his hooks as often as five or six times in a matter of several hours because they’re constantly banging on a hard bottom and the point can easily get rolled.
“Don’t use really light wire, either,” he advised. “They won’t hold up.”
Holding up, is important, it seems, because Morgenthaler has a nearly untapped population of walleyes to corral. It’s a great way to build up his clients’ expertise with electronics, take a few fish for the pan, and experience great sport that he didn’t know was in his backyard.
-Although walleyes have teeth, Morgenthaler never uses a wire leader. “I have caught hundreds of them now, and I’ve only lost one to a broken line. It was a great big one, and I think it was frayed line rather than a tooth.”
-He recommends that anglers pursuing this pattern carry a lure knocker with a clip. When the spoon gets hung up, send it down and “it will knock it loose 80 percent of the time.”
-To book a trip with Morgenthaler, contact him through social media or through his website ChadMorgenthaler.com