“This is impossible,” I told my wife, Julie, under my breath. She grinned.
“What you going to do?” she asked. “Pout? Just like that time you couldn’t find Attack of the Killer Tomatoes at the video store?”
I would have walked straight away, but unfortunately in a boat, you can only run so far. My problem wasn’t a lack of fish, in fact, far from it. Our young guide and friend, Steve Fahey, was having a field day, with one walleye after another coming over gunwale. “Yep,” he’d say after each ‘eye went either into the cooler or back into the drink. “Another fantastic year here on Lake Oahe. Say, M.D., how’s about handing me another minnow, eh?”
No, the problem wasn’t a lack of fish. It was water, rather, too much water. Ten minutes after leaving the ramp north of Pierre, Fahey slowed the big Lund to a crawl and began eye-balling his electronics. He was searching for, he explained, a very small underwater hump – a pinnacle of sand and gravel rising from more than 60 feet to from 45 to 48 feet, depending on our location overhead.
“It’s not easy fishing,” he said as he shut the outboard down and grabbed a rod. “It takes a little finesse. The right touch.” An understatement, to be sure. Thirty minutes and Fahey’s dozen fish to my big fat zero, he cranked the motor and pointed us to the north. “Let’s find ‘em a little shallower,” he said. I wasn’t about to argue. In many walleye fishing situations where jigs are employed, water depths will run from six to 26 feet. However, there are times when anglers are going to encounter fish holding in water in excess of 40 feet, perhaps even 60. Here, the fishing, as the Old Pros will tell you, gets tough.
“You have to take your time when you’re fishing that deep,” said Columbia River guide, Ed Iman. A 40-year-veteran of the Big River, Iman routinely fishes depths from 30 to 50 feet, especially as water temperatures rise in late Summer. “You can’t rush when jigging in, say, 50 feet of water and less is definitely more. By that, I mean you want to create less movement with the jig off the bottom. It’s vital that you keep it in the zone, and that’s going to be from eight to about 18 inches off the floor.” According to Iman, there are three essential elements to successfully jigging walleyes in deep water. These include:
A good rod: “When you go that deep (40+ feet), you have to have a sensitive, fast-action rod, something you can really finesse and feel,” said Iman, a member of the Lamiglas Pro-Staff Team. Whether a bait-caster or spinning outfit, it doesn’t matter. What does matter, he said, is the feel and the sensitivity factor.
A quality braided line: “You can’t have the ‘monofilament stretch’ when you’re fishing that deep,” Iman warned. “When I’m fishing 40-plus feet, I use a No. 8 or No. 10 Power Pro braided line. I’ll run that to a small barrel swivel, and then attach 18 inches or so of thin-diameter No. 10 mono. It’s a confidence thing, primarily. However, there is the low-visibility factor with the mono.”
Razor sharp hooks: “I can’t say enough about hooks,” said Iman. “As an outfitter, I’m forever seeing guys that spend $200 on a rod and another $200 on a reel, and then show up with the cheapest damn hooks you can buy. Hooks are the ‘business end’ of your entire rig—it’s the money-maker, right there. If they won’t stick in your thumbnail when you run them across, either sharpen them or change the jig altogether.”