Veteran river rat John Grubenhoff landed an enormous walleye on Friday, February 28 from the Columbia River that eclipsed the 20-pound mark and by all accounts will demolish the Washington state record walleye.
Grubenhoff was fishing the McNary Pool section of Lake Wallula, which is located between the McNary and Priest Rapids dams at the confluence of the Snake River. "It's a transition area where the free-flowing Columbia meets Wallula," he noted.
Knowing that the river's walleyes would be staging adjacent to spawning areas, Grubenhoff targeted a breakline and current edge that coincided a short cast from a rocky, windswept shoreline. "It was the perfect scenario," he said.
Indeed, Grubenhoff caught a 14-pound walleye within 10 minutes of dropping his line in the water. While that fish would top most anglers' big-walleye lists, he was after an even bigger prize. Having caught an 18-pounder several years ago, Grubenhoff had his sights set on a state record. "Actually, I've been fishing for that girl for 29 years," he said.
A fan of beefy minnowbaits, Grubenhoff was pulling a 5¼-inch, silver-and-black J13 Jointed Rapala when the big fish struck. The lure was trailing six feet behind a 2-ounce bottom-walking sinker in 22 feet of water, as Grubenhoff trolled upstream along the break at .8 mph. He was using 17-pound-test monofilament mainline and leader. "I don't care for braid, and I don't like losing $10 lures, so I use heavy mono," he explained.
The monstrous fish weighed 20.32 pounds on a certified scale at an Alberston's market in Richland. By comparison, the existing walleye record stands at 19.3 pounds. Also a Columbia River fish, it was caught February 5, 2007 by Mike Hepper.
State fisheries biologist John Hone witnessed the weighing of Grubenhoff's fish that evening. Hone then forwarded the verification process to District 4 fisheries biologist Paul Hoffarth, who examined the fish the following morning. Hoffarth confirmed that the fish was a walleye, and its length was 35½ inches, with a girth of 23 inches.
"Based on the size of the fish, the angler's account of the catch, and his reputation as a legitimate fisherman, there's nothing to call this catch into question," said Hoffarth, who expects the record to be approved by department headquarters in Olympia within "a week or two."
Besides being the heir-apparent state record, a 20-pound walleye raises eyebrows across the continent. The Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame and International Game Fish Association both recognize a 25-pound giant caught by Mabry Harper in 1960 on Tennessee's Old Hickory Lake as the all-tackle world record. And besides Tennessee, the records of only three states and one Canadian province top 20 pounds.
Given the Columbia River's reputation for producing trophy walleyes in the 15- to 18-pound range — and now this certified 20-pounder — both Hoffarth and Grubenhoff are confident that even bigger walleyes roam the river's swirling depths. "Our walleye population has been growing for the past 15 years," said Hoffarth. He credited excellent habitat, along with an abundance of juvenile shad and salmon, plus perch, peamouth, whitefish, and other forage, for fueling the production of over-sized walleyes.
When asked whether he believes the Columbia holds even bigger walleyes, Grubenhoff didn't hesitate. "Yes, I do," he said, adding with a grin, "And I'm going to try and catch her, too!"
A versatile utility player, the Hornet can be idled along slow and steady, for a subtle shaking action, or fast-tracked for wild, erratic thumping. Either way, the bait's near-bulletproof, high-density foam body stands up to plenty of hard hits from hungry 'eyes. Of the four sizes, the 1¾-inch #4 is a favorite. The floating option is great for trolling — whether pounding bottom in three feet of water on a short lead behind a planer board, or when you need to dredge the depths across a summer mudflat. The sinking version, meanwhile, is perfect for snap-pause casting cadences, and for counting down to deep structure. salmofishing.com
This is a great big-bite bait, thanks partly to its size and profile. But also credit the amount of commotion it creates — due to water displacement and its medium-pitched but nonetheless raucous rattle. Think power trolling for aggressive summertime fish, plus classic fall scenarios such as casting and trolling baitfish 'exit areas ' or main-lake reefs. While it yields a rather tight wiggle overall, the top of the back tilts wildly, and the tail also produces a lot of action. Of the three lip options available on the 3¼-inch Rattsler, the VLL (very long lip) is most walleye centric, covering depths of 10 to 20 feet. sebileusa.com
Cotton Cordell Wally Diver
Sometimes pigeonholed as a trolling bait, the Wally Diver also shines for casting. I especially like the suspending version when spicing things up with twitches, pauses, and pulls. The bait's stock action is best described as moderately tight, and has closed the deal with countless 'eyes over the years. The lineup offers several sizes from 2½ to 3¾ inches, plus a jointed model. The deepest-running non-jointed Wallys dive up to 20 feet on the troll and 15 on the cast, making it a great diver for a wide range of applications, from weededges to breaks and the tops of sunken islands. lurenet.com
Bomber Model A
For casting riprap banks, wing dams, and other rocky structure, the venerable Model A has few equals. One of the main reasons is the bill's sweeping action, which more times than not bounces the bait out of harm's way. If not, a little slack often helps back it out of box canyons. The hard-wiggling action is key, too, to targeting active walleyes prowling relatively shallow rocks. Six sizes and 15 stock colors offer plenty of options, but the 6A and 7A, which are 2 1/8 and 2 5/8 inches long, and dive 6 to 10 feet, collectively, can handle almost anything. bomberlures.com
Berkley Flicker Shad
More than just another shad in the school, the Flicker features an 'eye-catching action that combines top-to-bottom roll and side-to-side wiggle, complemented by a unique front-to-back motion. Run one next to the boat and you'll see what I mean. Five sizes let you target everything from skinny water to depths of about 15 feet on standard monofilament. The bait trolls well, but it's a great casting option, too. In 2010, Johnnie Candle and Dave Noble won the Cabela's Masters Walleye Circuit World Walleye Championship casting Flicker Shads into current breaks on the flood-swollen Mississippi River. Candle credits the bait's slow-rising characteristics for being able to fish a stop-and-go retrieve without it rocketing to the surface on the pause. It also has a high-pitched rattle, which is a plus in and around cover, and when fishing mudlines or other low-vis environments. berkley-fishing.com
Storm Original Hot 'N Tot
Another bait with a long history of putting walleyes in the boat, the Original Hot 'N Tot — produced from the original molds, sporting a metal lip — offers a wild and erratic, side-to-side action. While it's not exactly my first bait of choice in cool water, it's absolutely lethal for trolling aggressive walleyes during the summer. Available in 2- and 2½-inch sizes and 23 colors. Expanding the lineup, the Hot 'N Tot MadFlash version brings external scale patterns, 3-D eyes, and flashier finishes to the table — including four UV Bright options. stormlures.com
Although the original Shadling had its followers, the new version, released several seasons ago, elevated the bait to Top 10 status. A joy to cast or troll, it holds its tight-wiggling action at speeds well above the typical walleye pace of 1 to 3 mph, and hits depths to about 13 feet unaided. A rattle adds to the attraction, but holographic, baitfish-inspired finishes such as Natural Perch and Purple Smelt are a real score, especially in clear conditions. Available in #5 and #7 sizes (2 7/16 and 2 7/8 inches, respectively) and 21 finishes, at last count. lindyfishingtackle.com
Koppers LiveTarget Threadfin Shad
Admittedly, my love of baitfish biology helps explain my affinity for many of Koppers' realistic cranks, including the Threadfin. Like the rest of its kin, its shape, lifelike flashy finish, and amazing head and pectoral fin detail make it a great candidate in clear water. But the Threadfin raises the bar with an extra-tight wiggle. Said to mimic a fleeing shad, it also does a fine job triggering strikes on lakes well outside the Shad Belt. Plus, it suspends, opening the door for stop-and-go cadences when a steady retrieve won't cut it. Two size options, the 2½-inch S65M and 3-inch S75M. Both cover the 5- to 7-foot range without assistance. livetargetlures.com
Rapala Shad Rap
An iconic walleye crank, the Shad Rap performs so well, in such a wide variety of duties, that anglers have scooped up more than 2 million of them since its debut. You can throw it on light spinning tackle in shallow water, troll it deep behind a leadcore tether, or fish it in just about any manner in between. Four sizes are available, with the 2-inch #5 and 2¾-inch #7 staples of the walleye trade. Add the shallow, glass, plastic (RS), and jointed versions to the mix, and the family's got most applications covered. rapala.com
Reef Runner Rip Shad
Yes, these baits are notoriously needy of tuning, both when new and while on the job. But when you get it right, the Rip Shad's subtle wobbling action is worth the effort. This, coupled with a bit slimmer profile than many shad baits, makes it a great addition to the arsenal. Both the 200 and 400 series have a place in the walleye world, but neither are speed-trolling candidates, especially the 200. One last tip, don't limit them to trolling. Savvy smallmouth fans catch tons of 'eyes on Rip Shads while hunting bronzebacks. reefrunner.com