Let’s face it, walleyes can be elusive, but the challenge (along with great table fare) is what keeps us trolling, pitching, rigging, and modifying our patterns day-in-day-out.
I’ve dedicated much of my adult life to studying walleye patterns and seasonal movements. And if I’ve learned one thing it’s that I’ll never learn everything about these amazing fish. But, if I keep an open mind and stay versatile I can continually put the odds in my favor.
I was out pre-fishing for a tournament some years back on Mille Lacs Lake in central Minnesota. Although the lake has a fierce reputation for wind and waves, it was fairly calm. I decided to focus on the lake’s mud flats and isolated rocks on the edges. I jigged, rigged, and tried just about everything I could think of, but the fish remained tight-lipped.
Puzzled, I put my rod down, took a drink of water, and started up the motor to head to another flat. Then it hit me: tight-lipped fish often require ultra-finesse presentations. Why not drop-shot?
Now I had never heard of anyone adapting the bass tactic to walleyes, but I knew it was winning tournaments in the bass world. Long-story-short, drop-shotting worked great for us that day and the rest of the walleye tournament.
This was a big eye opener for me. I placed in the tournament’s top three and walked away with a technique I could add to my walleye arsenal. But it wasn’t cut-and-dried—I didn’t just use the same old bass drop-shot techniques on walleyes. There are a number of factors to keep in mind when drop-shotting walleyes. Here are a few factors I’ve learned over the years while trying to modify to approach to walleyes in lakes and rivers.
|Guide/Tournament Pro James James Hodgin Jr. And Two Drop-Shot Victims
When To Drop-Shot
Drop-shotting can be especially effective after extreme changes in weather. Shifts in wind direction, low and high pressure fronts, as well as high light penetration due to either clear water or little-to-no-wind are all situations where drop-shotting can greatly increase your odds. Fishing walleyes on a lake with heavy fishing pressure? Try drop-shotting.
River currents also dictate water clarity and where fish will hold in a given river system. Drop-shotting can be particularly deadly in rivers; don’t overlook it.
I’m sure there are other circumstances when drop-shotting will work, but I’m sticking strictly to what I’ve studied and learned. Basically, the next time you’re fishing walleyes and they’re holding tight to a specific spot and staying tight-lipped, borrow from the bass guys and drop-shot. It’s been my experience that the technique will pull fish out of structure—and make them bite—when nothing else will.
Where to Drop-Shot
In terms of location, drop-shot when you find walleyes holding super tight to structure or bottom content transitions. Points, inside corners, deep weedlines, and sudden changes in the bottom content are locations to keep in mind. Slack water and ambush areas where walleyes sit inactive are good locations. Basically, anywhere you find walleyes stacked up is a good place to drop-shot.
Spend enough time on a body of water reading your electronics and you’ll find these spots.
The technique also lends itself to boating fish that are roaming over flats or back and forth on break lines. I’ve found it works great on “The Spot on the Spot” locations.
Rivers can get tricky. Keep in mind that current is the main factor in locating walleyes in river systems. Drop-shotting is a go-to when fish are inactive, so key in those areas behind current breaks where inactive walleyes congregate. Wing dams, river bends, log jams, and rock piles are great places to start looking. More often than not, inactive walleyes will locate on the downstream side of these structures.
If you find fish on the upstream side of these structures and they shut down, look immediately downstream. A lot of times walleyes will simply slide downstream and into the slower water. In rivers, walleyes typically don’t move far from their primary feeding areas. They need to conserve as much energy as they can because they’re constantly fighting the current. At the same time, they take advantage of it for feeding, seasonal movements, and resting.
I like to drop-shot with a fast medium-action 7-foot spinning rod. I like a #4-6 octopus hook tipped with a soft plastic bait like a Gulp! or Trigger-X minnow, leech or crawler. You also need a selection of drop-shot weights, but in a pinch you can use bell sinkers or split shot. Split-shot works well in areas where there are a lot of snags. If you get hung up, simply pull back and the split shot will slide off your line. In terms of line, 6-8-pound line is perfect for drop-shotting walleyes. Mono works well, but I’ve found that fluorocarbon’s reduced stretch aids in quick and solid hooksets—and fluoro’s reduced visibility can be key on finicky fish, especially in clear waters.
In terms of technique, simply modify your jigging approach and let the fish tell you what they want. But remember that you’re not only jigging the weight—you’re also jigging the soft plastic on the hook. A shaking motion with slow falls and show rises will trigger 90% of your bites.
Be patient: It does take some time to get used to just working the plastic, but once you do, figuring out how the fish want the bait presented comes quick!