You’ve probably seen the pictures, the ones with a professional angler holding a walleye large enough to swallow a poodle. You look at the page and think there is something fishy about the photo—there’s no way a walleye can be that big! However, every year anglers who know how to target large walleye find themselves holding walleyes that are 10 to 15 pounds. In some cases, they may be fishing lakes or rivers that are honey holes but usually pro anglers just know how to catch large walleyes. In most cases, their paychecks depend on it.
I have had the privilege to fish with many excellent anglers and repeatedly see many of them doing similar things and using the same lures to catch big walleyes. The pros target big walleyes in the spring and fall. To put the big walleyes in the boat, they use big baits. When I say big, I mean big. For example, Professional Guide Ernie Miller from Last Cast Charters often uses a No. 18 Rapala when he goes after large walleyes.
“In the spring, I target post-spawn fish that are leaving the river system and returning to the lakes they call home,” Miller said. “After large females have spawned, they are worn out and hungry and eat aggressively. They are often looking for a quick and easy meal. An extra large lure gets their attention from a distance because it is big and because large walleyes can take in a large bait fish, they typically target larger fish because they want to eat as much as possible as quickly as they can because they need to eat after spawning.”
Miller usually targets these post-spawn fish at the mouth of the river as it drains into a lake. “After spawning, these fish usually leave the river and try to get out of the current where they can feed and don’t have to fight the current,” Miller said. “They try to find large numbers of bait fish which means they will often be in shallower water where bait fish are going as the water warms up.”
In addition to Rapalas, he uses Husky Jerks or Bomber Baits. When using these lures, he typically trolls in 30 feet of water or less and in 10 feet or less if fishing for them after dark at about 1.2 miles per hour. In the shallows, Miller uses a trolling motor.
“Walleyes are often very active after dark which is a great time to fish,” Miller said. “Anglers looking for big walleye in the spring should focus on the two weeks after the fish have spawned. However, the timetable is different across the country. Anglers need to know when the walleyes spawn in their area to be most effective.”
In the fall, walleyes feed heavily especially in the northern climates where walleyes know they must put weight on to make it through the winter. “In the fall, anglers can use the same large baits to target large walleyes in the fall,” Miller said. “The nice thing about fishing in the fall is the average walleye that is normally a few pounds will be larger than normal because they feed so aggressively in the fall. Anglers have a really good chance of catching lots of large walleyes in the fall. Even averaged-sized fish will aggressively hit large lures in the fall because they are on the lookout for easy meals and a large flashy Rapala or Bomber fits the bill.”
In the fall, Miller usually fishes structure that is in deeper water, often in the middle of lakes. “I typically target water depths in the 50 to 60 foot range and fish about 25 feet down and I troll 25 feet behind the boat,” Miller said. “Walleyes are often suspended in the fall and placing the large bait in front of them is a great way to catch fish.”
Walleyes are commonly found near structure regardless of where they live, so Miller suggests anglers target deep water structure wherever they fish. Miller enjoys using stick baits with a fire tiger pattern or black and silver pattern.
“My favorite lure in the fall is probably a No. 18 fire tiger Rapala because the color really attracts large aggressive walleyes,” Miller explained. In northern climates, Miller recommends that anglers dress warm and fish in the cold weather just before ice up. “I catch larger fish just before ice up because they are grabbing the large lures,” Miller said. “They know the ice is coming and they need to put on as much weight as possible as fast as they can.”
According to Miller, using large baits just makes sense. “Smaller fish can’t grab the big baits like the large walleyes can,” Miller said. “By using large baits, you will weed out the small fish because not as many of them will attempt to take the big baits. Anglers might catch some smaller fish, but usually when I use larger baits, I catch larger fish looking for a bait fish that will fill their bellies quickly.”
There you have it. Do you want to catch monster walleyes? Use baits that are so big they will scare you and fish when the big walleyes are biting.