By Stan Fagerstrom
Pacific Northwest anglers have discovered what Midwest fishermen already knew. It’s that consistently putting walleyes in the boat is one of freshwater fishing’s major challenges.
The Columbia River has played a major role in the development of the Pacific Northwest walleye fishery. In my previous two columns I shared thoughts that Columbia River walleye guides have shared with me. This time around let’s look at some of the other things these guides have to say about walleye fishing.
Anglers prepare to net a big walleye from the Columbia River. Some of the largest walleye are now being taken from the Columbia in that area where it divides the states of Washington and Oregon.
I know Columbia River walleye guides who maintain that a walleye won’t chase a lure. They say walleye lie in the current facing up river. They remain in that position and wait for food to drift down to them.
"If you're trolling for walleye," I’ve had guides tell me, "the best bet is to troll downstream. This provides the most natural presentation. Troll down or across the Columbia current when it's walleye you’re after."
Other guides say the bite of a walleye is often much like that from a trout. They advise fishermen to drop their rod tip as soon as they feel such a peck. The slack line makes it easy for the fish to pick up a worm-tipped walleye rig. They advise their clients to give a walleye time to get a firm grip on the bait before they set the hook.
Study walleye angling and so often you’re a cinch to find it’s often the little, easily overlooked things, that wind up making a big difference in results. Experienced guides stress the need to pay careful attention to your hooks. "Be sure your hooks are sharp," they say. Hook size is another important factor.”
The speed of lure presentation is something else that has surfaced every time I’ve had opportunity to probe the thoughts of experienced walleye anglers. You’ll find guides using boat speed monitors when they troll. They vary their speed until they start getting hits. Once they find the speed that’s most productive speed they stick with it.
A Washington State company’s products are often mentioned when I hear anglers talk about walleye rigs. This is especially true when different boat speeds for walleye fishing are considered. The particular products brought up then are the Smile Blades marketed by Mack’s Lure. Mack’s Lure, now headquartered at Wenatchee in the Evergreen State, markets these Mylar plastic blades in four sizes and in a variety of colors.
Time after time I’ve had walleye specialists tell me these highly reflective lightweight Smile Blades are the most versatile spinner blades you can find.
You can bend the Smile Blades that come with these Wally Pop lures to match your desired boat speed. You can't do that with metal blades.
“These blades can do darn near anything you want them to,” one guide said. “Changing boat speed is one example. When you slow your boat speed down, bend the wings of your Smile Blade outward. When you speed up, simply pinch the wings together. You accomplish your objective while still using same bait set up. You don’t have to fool around changing your complete rig. That means your bait spends more time in the water and that eventually is going to mean more fish.”
Smile Blades come in for attention for another important reason. While experienced walleye guides might use anything from crankbaits to jigs for their Columbia River walleye fishing, most I’ve talked to consider a nightcrawler rig of one kind or another as their single most dependable approach.
Nightcrawler rigs usually feature a two-hook set up behind beads and a spinner blade. Get into relatively shallow areas and you’ll find that a heavy metal blade tends to sink too quickly. That’s a major problem where your blade and trailing ‘crawler rig has to work its way over and through fairly heavy cover in shallow water.
Chances are you’ll find the heavy metal blade is forever taking your ‘crawler rig down too deep and it hangs up in the process. That won’t happen when a Smile Blade is used ahead of your ‘crawler rig. I could point you to walleye tournament winners who’ve used this tactic successfully.
As I've mentioned before, I’ve also had Columbia River guides tell me they favor trolling their nightcrawler rigs downstream or across the current. A couple said they favor having their spinner and worm harness run from 6 to 18-inches up from the bottom.
To their everlasting credit, most experienced Columbia River walleye guides now urge customers to release their larger fish. I’m fully aware just how delicious is a meal of properly prepared walleye fillets. I love ‘em! But we can’t maintain a walleye population if we kill off the bigger fish. The smaller fish of less than 5-pounds make the best dinner guests anyhow. Turn larger fish loose and be careful how you go about it. You might be the one who hooks the walleye of a lifetime on down the line as a result.
I’ve just skimmed the surface on Columbia River walleye fishing, but the things I’ve covered are the proven tactics and techniques used by Pacific Northwest guides.
Get yourself an assortment of proven Mack’s Lure walleye lures. Put them to work using the techniques I’ve detailed in these last three columns.
And when you get that big one you’ve been after for so long---I’d like to hear how you did it!