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Score on Spooky Walleyes

Recently I have written about how walleye fishing for numbers of fish and bigger fish has improved. I have also written about forward facing sonar and it being the biggest advancement that I have seen in walleye fishing in my nearly 6 decades of fishing. Another idea tied to these two observations is that I believe we have more “spookier” walleyes than ever before.

Last week, I was on a clear water lake on a calm, bright day and could see the bottom in 14-16 feet clearly. Many walleyes were shallower than that as I saw several using my polarized sunglasses and scanning with my eyes out ahead of the boat. These fish were cruising, looking for shiners that were preparing to spawn. I saw lots of fish and watched as they darted away from the boat and away from my jig and minnow combination. I attempted to cast ahead of the fishes’ courses several times to “intercept” them on their way forward. This didn’t work! Eventually, I found deeper fish in 18-22 feet using my traditional 2D sonar. Interestingly, however, I had to hold the boat a good distance away from these fish and cast a jig and minnow to get them to bite. If, as I would have done in the past, I tried to vertically jig or pull a slip-sinker rig and minnow through them, most of the walleyes would seem to move away. They re-gathered in the area, but nevertheless they were spooky!

A fishing buddy called me that night on my drive home. He relayed a message of being on another lake and “seeing” with his forward-facing sonar pods of walleyes 40-60 feet away from the boat. When a bit of wind caused some “chop” on the water, he could cast to the pods and get a bite or two from each pod. During a period of the day, however, when the wind speed was exceptionally light and the lakes surface “like glass,” he said he had to stay as far as 80-100 feet away from most of the fish. When he did get a bait to them, they skittered away from his jig and minnow as it dropped among them.

These stories and others like them have changed how I walleye fish. First, the biggest change I have made is that, when possible, I greatly prefer fishing days with wind and some overcast as those conditions cause waves, or chop, on the water which seems to help hide my presence from the walleyes and makes them a lot more likely to eat a bait. Given a choice, I will go bass fishing now on a bright, calm day rather than trying to catch spooky walleyes in these conditions.

If I do have to fish for walleyes under high skies and light winds, my first idea is to fish early and late in the day to try to maximize my chances for a good catch during these lowlight hours. I also rely on my ActiveTarget 2 forward facing sonar. Using this technology along with my foot-controlled, motorized Turret transducer mount, I can easily scan around the boat and see fish good distances from my boat. When seen, I try to cast past marked fish and bring my bait back through them rather than “dropping on” them and risk spooking the walleyes. Often, it seems a fish or two from a pod can be fooled using this cast past and drag back approach.

If you fish for walleyes in the Midwest, you have probably encountered clear waters and spooky fish. Using some of the ideas offered above might help you overcome those conditions and maximize your catches too. As always, remember to include a youngster in your next outdoors adventure!

Mike Frisch hosts the popular Fishing the Midwest TV series on the Sportsman Channel and several other networks as well. Visit to see all things Fishing the Midwest.

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