By USA Guest Columnist and Pro Angler Ross Grothe
Living in Minnesota, I’m no stranger to the cold. And even though fishing for walleye in July can be a little challenging, I have no problem admitting that I love doing it. For one thing, I can go out on the water in a pair of shorts and a T-shirt instead of being all bundled up. And when you experience as much winter as we do up here, you need to take advantage of every opportunity to enjoy weather like that.
As I mentioned, July walleye fishing is not without its challenges. As the air temperature warms and the days are longer, the water temperature rises. In addition, the young-of-the-year food sources (this year’s hatch of minnows and other forage) are getting to be edible size. This gives walleye plenty of food options. But my theory is that the walleye are always biting somewhere, you just have to figure out where and on what. The best place for me to start under these conditions is in the weeds.
A lot of the lakes in this part of the world that are experiencing really good walleye fishing right now are stocked lakes. In a stocked lake, the stocked (usually small) walleye relate heavily to the weeds because of the predator/prey relationship that the fish will have with those areas. When they are stocked as small frye, they are the prey, and seek refuge in those weeds. As they grow up and increase in size, they become the predators and realize that their potential prey is also living in the weeds. Also, in the heat of the summer, these weeds create shade and offer cooler water temperatures plus they give off additional oxygen, which gets depleted from the water as temperatures rise.
There are a lot of different weed types to target your fishing efforts, but in Minnesota we fish a lot of cabbage. Fishing around cabbage, I use two specific fishing methods: the slip-bobber and pitching jigs with artificial baits. Using a slip-bobber, I definitely use a small, weedless jig with 3-inch Jumbo Leeches. I target the inside pockets and cuts and the outside points of the weedline and drop or pitch the slip-bobber into those areas. I allow the jig to fall between the weeds and target those areas toward the bottom. A lot of times, walleye will ambush the bait as it falls through the weeds.
My set up for slip-bobber fishing includes a 6-pound fluorocarbon leader tied to 6-pound FireLine main line, spooled on an Abu Garcia 601 spinning reel. For a rod, I use a 7-foot-2-inch medium-fast spinning rod for this application. With a 1/16- or 1/32-ounce jig tipped with a leech, I tie a swivel about three inches below the slip-bobber. The smaller reel size is perfect for helping fight the fatigue of casting and reeling all day, plus it gives me extra sensitivity because the reel doesn’t dampen the vibration of strikes as they transmit through the rod blank to my hand.
When pitching jigs in the weeds, I prefer to use the same rod and reel combination, but instead of FireLine, I will spool 4-pound Trilene XL. This line gives just enough resistance to the 1/8- or 3/8-ounce jig tipped with a 3-inch minnow so that it falls naturally through the water column. Wearing a pair of polarized sunglasses, I will look at the weed pockets and identify any openings in the weeds. I pitch my jig into these openings and let the reel freespool the line to let the bait reach the bottom. If I see that my line isn’t moving, I know it’s caught on a weed or a stick or something, and I give it a little pop to get it to keep falling. If that doesn’t work, I will give it quick snap and that sometimes triggers strikes from fish. Once the bait reaches the bottom, I will bounce it two or three times. If I don’t get a strike, I will reel up and cast into the next area. It’s important to match your jig size to the rate of fall you are trying to achieve. You want to keep that bait in the line of sight of these fish for as long as you can. If the bait falls too fast, the fish won’t have time to react.
Bass anglers have always used artificial bait and the stereotypical walleye guy has to have some nightcrawler dirt on their jeans and some minnow heads in the boat, but that is becoming a thing of the past with the new artificial baits we have. They stay on the hook longer, the scent retains a lot better and while the smaller species of panfish peck at live bait, you’re not going to have to reel up and check or re-apply new bait when using an artificial. Plus if you miss a fish, you can drop your bait right back in there and get the fish to strike again. With live bait you’re going to get stripped. The scent trail works better too. I’ve used a lot of scents in the past, but now that it’s incorporated into the soft plastics, everything works so much better.
People think they should be fishing deep water in the heat of the summer and that is not always the case. For walleyes, their sole purpose in life is to feed. They are going to go where the food is, doesn’t matter if it’s three feet or 30 feet of water. If the food is there, and there’s not a lot of activity there to spook the fish out, I’ve can catch walleye in July in three feet of water. Typically, in a lake in Minnesota, the weed line stops at about 13 to 14 feet, depending on what the water clarity is. In some of the ultra-clear lakes, the weed line might be in 22 feet of water and I try to fish at the weed line or just inside of it, keeping the boat on the outside so I don’t spook the fish.
If you have confidence in your presentation, you’re going to have success. That goes with any kind of presentation you might be fishing with, but especially when using artificial baits. Once you do have that confidence, it’s going to be something you can put in your bag of tricks for the future to catch more fish.