If I seem a tad distracted, it's because my son, Cliff, is setting hooks into another fish. The frenetic action suggests a common dynamic: When walleyes come shallow in hot weather, they have one thing in mind: Feeding.
In a recent post I wrote about fishing walleyes with famous guide Tony Roach. We were on the water with him a few weeks ago, using his effective power-jigging method. He and Mary Savage were hooking up faster using that method than I was by just swimming swimbaits.
But swimming has its moments, too. Over the past week, Mary and I have been perfecting our power-jigging skills only to discover, when we put those Wright McGill Tony Roach Signature Power Jigging rods down and picked up our 7-foot, medium-light, swimming sticks strung with 6-pound mono, we began catching more walleyes.
Granted, I'm pretty good at swimming and less proficient when power jigging than Tony. But the one thing to take away from either of us is this: Nobody "needs" livebait to catch walleyes. Ever. Not if they look for aggressive fish. Those are the ones on shallow rocks in the middle of a bright, calm, sunny day in July. Or the ones showing 10 feet off bottom on sonar. Or the ones way up in the cabbage tops. When you drag a leech or minnow on bottom, those fish never even see your presentation. And when they do see it, what do you get? Neutral and inactive bottom huggers. Tap, tap, tap, drop. Tap, tap, tap, drop.
Wouldn't you rather have a fish try to rip the rod out of your hands on the bite? Maybe not. Part of the enjoyment of fishing is being able to practice things you're good at. Once you perfect the technique of feeding line to a finicky walleye, building suspense until finally setting the hook, you're addicted. It's like crack. Best guess I can muster to explain why millions of walleye anglers continue dragging livebait around all summer and fall.
Livebait sometimes selects for bigger fish, and in some conditions it attracts more bites. But guides like Roach, Steve DeZurik, and many others I've met disdain the use of bait for large portions of the year. These are people that need to put fish in the boat to keep food on the table, and DeZurik told me years ago he stopped using livebait all winter while fishing the pools of the Mississippi. He used plastic worms — ring worms in particular — to draw strikes from walleyes all winter in water sometimes right at the freezing point. If you don't need bait at that point, it's safe to say you probably don't need it at all.
In the next post, we'll discuss baits and jigs, and paint the swimming technique with a little more detail. I'm sure I'll have a new photo or two — we're going back out tonight. If that sounds overconfident, you might be one of those anglers that never tries this.