Opening day often finds anglers fishing depths of less than 15 feet and grumbling about "no fish" because "it's too early." But guide Greg Bohn has discovered an overlooked pattern that yields big walleyes from opening day through July.
Deep, clear lakes host large schools of walleyes that relate to sand grass after the spawn. Sand grass is like underwater evergreens. It thrives year-round in 15 to 35 feet. Sunlight reaches it, but winter's killing cold does not. Year round sand grass provides oxygen to the the food chain. Walleyes staging on sand grass can be caught all day because they're deeper.
Look for sand grass on classic structures -- sandy points and fingers extending into the lake. Don't overlook sandy humps rising from 25 feet to 15 feet or less. Use an electric trolling motor to cover the structure. A bowmount allows for precise boat control. Watch your sonar for an uneven bottom at depths of 15 to 35 feet. Big female walleyes look for deep water near structure to recuperate after the spawn. They generally aren't very active much deeper than 35 feet at this time of year because the water is so cold.
A good clue to the presence of sand grass is when the sonar reveals clouds of baitfish just off what appears to be an uneven bottom with a few, short vertical lines rising from it. Don't always expect to see walleyes on sonar. Thick sand and grass can render them nearly invisible. An underwater camera is perfect for detecting sand grass and the walleyes relating to it.
Two tactics work best. One is to cast jigs dressed with live bait or plastic. The other is a slip-float rig. Use a long rod with a fast tip for jigging. Use a 6.5-foot rod with more backbone and a fast-to-medium tip for the slip-float rig. When using the weedless NO-SNAGG hook a little more hook-setting power is ideal.
For line, 8-pound Stren MagnaThin works, or substitute smoke-colored 10-pound braided or fused line to prevent bite-offs when fishing pike-infested waters. Weedless jigs, like the NO-SNAGG Veg-E-Jig, are designed with the eye in the front. It "swims" as you reel. It also features a unique, seven-strand adjustable weed guard to prevent hang-ups and a super sharp Gamakatsu hook. The 1/16- and 1/8-ounce sizes are best for most sand-grass situations.
Start with live bait. Early in the season before a new batch of young-of-the-year fish hatch, use 3- to 4-inch redtail chubs to mimic the size of perch born the year before. Switch to large leeches as the season progresses. Try whole nightcrawlers. Thread them nose-first onto the hook and over the barb.
Standard perch colors like orange, chartreuse and green are good to start. Alternate colors with your partner. Mark the deep weed edge with a marker buoy for a point of reference on the surface. Cast to the weed bed, let the jig fall until it's just over the top of the sand grass, then give it a pop and reel. Actively feeding walleyes will come up and smack it. Count your jig down so you can return to the effective depth once you determine it.
Avoid letting the jig hit the top of the weeds. This allows the walleyes to see your jig and come up after it. Watch your line closely to see if you've hit the weeds or to detect a bite.
Provoke reaction strikes from neutral or negative walleyes with a Veg-E-Jig dressed with plastic. Try the 4-inch 'Lil Jerk twitch bait shaped like a small smelt. Thread the body onto the hook and over the barb. Cast as before. Pop it, let it fall. Pop it, let it fall again as you reel. Plastic also is a good choice when perch or bluegills tear up your live bait.
Have a second rod ready with a float, No. 2 hook, a few split shot and live bait. Use a leech and set the slip-float so the bait rides just above the top of the weeds. Sand grass walleyes don't want bait that stands still. Move about slowly with the trolling motor.
Shallow tactics not working? Try going deep in the grass. Sand grass, that is.
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