Virginia is famous for its smallmouth bass, largemouth, trout, bluegill, catfish and crappie angling opportunities. But not as many realize there is high-quality fishing available for a fish affectionately called “marble eyes” by its admirers, otherwise known as the walleye.
Tournament anglers have developed sophisticated strategies for tournament walleye fishing where their livelihood depends on putting fish in the boat. But for most sportsmen, a few easy-to-use tactics may be all that’s necessary to catch a few “marble eyes” and enjoy a fun day on the water.
And the great thing about the tactics we’ll outline below is that they will also catch bass, panfish, and even catfish. So if you strike out on walleyes, you should at least have some action on those other species. Here are 10 tips to help you catch walleyes (and other assorted species).
When fishing jigs, you’ll draw the most strikes by simply retrieving the lure slowly and steadily. That duplicates the slinking motion of an unwary baitfish finning by. And that is usually enough to draw a solid take from any nearby walleye.
Sometimes vertical jigging or fishing a lure such as a jig or slab spoon directly under the boat is the best way to catch walleyes. When using this technique tactic, try to keep your offering either at or slightly above the level where the fish are showing on the depth finder. Due to the positioning of their eyes, walleyes can see lures or baits slightly above them better than below their level.
On warm nights, walleyes often head to the shallows after sunset. Try wading or fishing from the bank to catch these wary fish. A thin-minnow plug measuring 4-6 inches is the top offering, followed by a shallow diving crankbait. Keep each of these lures rigged on a pair of rods and alternate casting them. Work them back slowly over points, humps, rock piles and weed beds.
When fishing directly over your quarry, be sure to lower the rod tip fast enough that the lure falls freely, but not so much that a lot of slack forms in the line. That makes it hard to detect strikes. Most takes will occur as the jig or spoon flutters down just above the fish’s holding level.
Experiment with using side planner boards when trolling for walleyes. These devices carry your lure 50-75 feet away at an angle to the side of the boat. This presents them to fish that have not been spooked by the sound of the outboard or the shadow of the boat. It also picks up fish that may have flared away from the moving craft.
Fishermen debate whether a jig or minnow is best for walleyes. Sometimes one offering alone will outperform the other. But often the best bet of all is to fish a jig tipped with a minnow (or a nightcrawler). Tie on a 1/8 to 1/4-ounce jig and impale a small minnow on the hook through both lips, from the bottom up. Drift fish or cast this combination and you may catch more fish than you would with either offering by itself.
Walleyes like to hang out near weed beds such as sand grass, coon tail and aquatic cabbage. They can hide in the weeds and ambush baitfish swimming nearby. If the weeds have a sharply defined edge, that’s best of all. Position your craft parallel to the vegetation and work lures right along the edge of it. They’ll hang back in the grass but lunge out to grab the hapless baitfish swimming by.
Your fishing luck will improve if you focus on structures near where walleyes like to hang out. Check out these areas: reefs, points, secondary points, drop-offs, humps, flooded timber, depressions, riprap and bridges. Both inlets and outlets of lakes are also prime spots. In rivers look for rocky bars, points, backwaters and swirling eddies. The tailwaters below dams are also excellent.
Top colors for walleye lures include blue, chartreuse, orange, shad, silver, black, purple and green.
If you’re planning to vertical jig or troll, bait-cast outfits get the nod. For casting and retrieving or slowly drift-fishing, a 6-7-foot medium action spinning rod and reel spooled with 8-10-pound line is ideal.
If it’s bright and sunny, shallow waters may not produce. In that case, look for deeper points that jut out into the main lake, as well as rock bars, drop-offs and humps. Steep breaks or sudden depth changes near a channel are hotspots for jumbo walleyes. Use a map and your sonar to locate these areas.
Always have a marker buoy handy when drifting or trolling for walleyes. Odds are good that more fish are holding where you hook one. Throw the buoy over immediately when you get a strike. Then you can re-drift or troll through that same area where you’ve located the school of fish.