Weeds, Plastics, and Summer Walleyes

Walleyes slip into the first weeds to pop up and slide their way through the jungle all summer long,, beginning with beginning with the perch spawn. Perch need upright weed stalks to support their eggs. Perch make
perfect targets for walleyes during the daytime hours as water temperatures approach 50° in spring.

From that point on, some walleyes stay in the weeds and rarely leave. The most active rise right up into the weed tops to predate on whatever might be using the jungle for cover. Those fish are susceptible to lipless cranks - especially the Cotton Cordell Spot - ripped along at high velocity over pockets and points in the weeds. Famous guide Brian "Bra" Brosdahl often tethers a jig tipped with a crawler 10 feet behind an Off Shore trail board to keep it among the weed tops while trolling at 1 mph or so.

But another famous guide - Greg Bohn of northern Wisconsin - has developed a unique, universally effective method for targeting big walleyes in weeds with jigs and plastics.

"It took a long time to convince myself plastics would work," Bohn said.

Bohn averages 26.7 walleyes per day when using only plastics, with no live bait on the boat. Soft plastics stay on the hook when walleyes bite and the hook-set comes early or late. One piece of plastic can catch a dozen or more walleyes before it needs to be replaced. And no time is spent aerating, cooling, or chasing plastics across the floor. When summer walleyes invade weedbeds, I never consider wasting time with live bait anymore."

Weed Specifics

The first key is selecting the right weedbed. Cabbage - the tall stuff with spear-point leaves that grows on deep weed edges - is the favorite of most species of fish, and walleyes are no exception. Cabbage often reveals itself with a bulbous top that protrudes just above the surface. In the absence of cabbage, walleyes often use dense walls of coon tail, a weed with soft, bushy branches. Milfoil is probably third on the list unless it dominates the flora. In dark, stained lakes with little weed growth, walleyes often invade the edges of reed beds in 3 to 5 feet of water.

"First you find the deep edge in 5 feet, then 7, then 10, and by the end of the season you're out to 25 feet or so fishing green sandgrass," Bohn said. "I start looking for cabbage because it's the first weed to grow tall and pull walleyes in. Coontail becomes important a little later in the year. Eventually I'm in that 25-foot sandgrass at the end of the season. Greenest weeds are always growing out deeper every week it seems. Every body of water I fish has only a handful of key weedbeds. It's not like you're going to find walleyes in every weedbed in the lake. In fact, I generally find only one, sometimes two, dominant weed beds in a lake. And it always has rich, green, vibrant weeds. No dead stuff. The same weedbeds produce best year after year. Once you find a good one, you're in. Lakes don't develop new weed beds, so if you find fish in weeds they've probably been using it for generations."

Various portions of key weedbeds probably harbor the right substrates or mix of bottom types for producing excellent year classes of baitfish like perch, golden shiners, and young-of-the-year bluegills and crappies every year.

"Walleyes know where the food is and they find it," Bohn said. "But so do all the other predators. If you find a weedbed holding a variety of fish with lots of largemouths, pike, smallmouths, or big crappies, you know it's a key spot. Catching multiple species from a single weedbed is an excellent sign. It's a food-rich target. If you can't find any activity at all around a weedbed, keep moving."

Bohn says active walleyes move in-and-out of the weeds. "When the surface is choppy, walleyes are more likely to position outside or up on top of the weed edges," he said. "When it's calm, they tuck down into the shadowy edges of the jungle."

In a vast weed bed that stretches for hundreds of yards, wind tends to dictate where walleyes will be. Walleyes will tuck deep into the weeds on calm days. You need some wind to bring them out to the edges. Concentrate on those areas where the wind is blowing directly into the weed bed."

Bohn likes to start the season by looking for new cabbage growth around those key spots in 2 to 5 feet of water. Water clarity has a lot to do with how deep weeds grow and how early they start growing, so start shallow in dark or cloudy lakes and start looking as deep as 8 feet in crystal-clear lakes before water temperatures climb into the high 50°F range. As the season wears on, Bohn follows the edges of the growth out and down, ending the season deep, but back where he started in terms of plastics - slipping Walleye Limit Minnows over and through sandgrass beyond the deep weed edge.

Edges of weed beds are walleye highways. "It's always fringes that are important," Bohn said. "Fringe areas and clearly-defined edges along points and pockets in the weedline are the key spots. Weed beds are always bigger than we think. Large points and extensions might be missed, but usually it's a gap between the deep edge and isolated weeds. Those isolated weeds growing out beyond the deep edge are big walleye magnets. The way we fish, we find them with our jigs by making a little longer cast every once in a while. Big walleyes are almost always isolated, just like those isolated weeds." When isolated fish meets isolated weeds, those walleyes are biters.

"Use your jig head to gather more information on what weed types are down there," Bohn advised. "Let it sink into the weeds and slowly pull to collect a few samples. Sometimes one particular weed type is going to hold all the fish. But, all else being equal, wind direction often determines where walleyes set up and which weeds they use."

Nit-Picky Details

“Details start with the plastics. A lot of great-looking soft baits out there could-a, should-a, would-a caught a lot of walleyes, but don't and didn't," Bohn says. " To me, the critical features are flexibility, style, lifelike texture, size, and color. I had a hard time finding the right one. A soft jerk style of plastic with a forked tail is the thing to use when water temperatures on top range from 50°F to 65°F.” After surface temperatures climb above 65°F and stay there all night, Bohn switches to a Kalin's 5-inch pumpkinseed grub on a 1/4- to 3/8-ounce jig. "I try to use a Northland perch-colored or parrot head. After 65°F, grub bodies with the tail moving all the time work better. I just reel it in. Don't jig it or snap it much. You hang up more when you snap-jig in weeds. Better to slide the jig through. If you feel weight, set the hook. That's how most strikes feel-just like a weed. Size and color should match predominant forage, so always be on the lookout for minnows walleyes spit up at the net or in the livewell. Pay close attention to size and color. Gold-black, blue-white, firetiger, watermelon-red flake, and green pumpkin can be right at times. Lake choice and region have a lot to do with color selection."

Walleyes often tear into plastics so aggressively anybody could feel the take. But the bite is often subtle, too. And it's not unusual to miss fish that strike even when the strike is obvious. "Fooling wall eyes into striking plastics in the first place isn't always easy," Bohn said. "Then how the plastic gets hit tells you a lot about your delivery and presentation. Most clients misinterpret the strike for a weed. The feel is pretty similar."

The key is watching the rod tip. "Watch out for pull-downs," Bohn said. "Walleyes often try to undress the jig first by biting short. Some days you need to keep jigging through 2 or 3 bumps before setting the hook. Some days you need to strike immediately. Learning to tell the difference is one of the hardest things to figure out. Did the line jump? Or do you feel weight? In those instances, set immediately."

Bohn works through weed edges by increments, inch-by-inch. "Pick that weed bed apart, inches at a time, from every angle," he said. "When the line is vertical, you can jump the jig vertically or to the side. Either way can be effective. After catching a fish, before casting again, look at that plastic body and straighten it out. It has to be straight and it has to be lined up perfectly or you can fish for hours for nothing."

It's like being on safari. But don't hack your way through. Slip, slide, and pick through the jungle to find the most overlooked walleyes in the lake.

By Matt Straw – Great Lakes Angler