Walleyes are a finicky species, and big walleyes—10 pounds and bigger—are even more difficult to predict. In order to bamboozle a trophy walleye in spring and the approaching summer, you need to follow a very specific strategy.

Friday Evening
A call to a bait shop this evening is the first and best intel you can get. Ask them when they open on Saturday and how the guys did today. Ask about how deep the walleyes are, ­water clarity, general locations, and how they’ve been caught. Compare what you’ve learned with what you’re seeing in online forums or websites about tournaments.

If you don’t feel that you’ve gotten enough good info, check lake and river maps for deep basins in close proximity to spawning grounds. Typically this translates to large rivers or reef complexes and the deep mudflats that are nearby. Postspawn walleyes will use these areas to rest and feed before heading to their summering grounds.

You’ll begin tomorrow by trolling, so prepare line-counter reels and planer boards tonight. Hot baits vary from lake to lake, but large deep-diving crankbaits are capable of working from the top of the ­water column all the way to 30 feet. The Reef Runner 800 series is a mainstay for trophy hunters regardless of the lake; choose transparent finishes (such as Bare Naked) for clean water and white (Mooneye Minnow) patterns in stained or off-color ­water. Another prime weapon is a large-bladed spinner rig trolled behind bead-chain sinkers or snap weights. Start with a selection of No. 6 and No. 8 Colorado and Indiana blades. The bigger the lake, the bigger the blades you should be using; and usually the bigger the blades, the bigger the fish. Experiment with size and color frequently.

Saturday Morning
You don’t need to be the first boat on the lake. The water warms up several degrees as the sun rises, and fish tend to bite better as the day goes on. Visit the bait shop in the morning for some last-minute intel. Lacking specific info, start trolling a deep-diving crankbait around shoals, reef edges, and tight contours that offer quick access to deep water. Once you find how walleyes are relating to these features, the pattern will be the same in other parts of the lake.

Even if you haven’t hooked a heavyweight yet, you should at least have a feel for whether the type of water you’re fishing is productive. If it’s not, you may need to relocate. When the water temperature is above 45 degrees, tie on spinner rigs and fish them from shallow to deep. Use chain swivels and planer boards to help spread the lines out both above and below the water to improve your chances of dialing in a pattern.

If you still haven’t managed to figure out the fish by now, move your lures drastically high or low in the water column to see if you missed something. Meanwhile, put a game plan together for Sunday. See if other boats on the lake are all over a particular depth or structure, or working mudlines, clear water pockets, or dirty patches.

After a successful Saturday, go back to what worked and try to fine-tune the pattern. Note lure preferences, productive depths, whether strikes came on turns. If you caught a lot of smaller fish, make changes. Slow down your trolling speed, because big walleyes generally won’t chase as much as the smaller ones. Trophy walleyes often will be schooled near but not mixed in with smaller walleyes, so look deeper or shallower from where you’ve caught the little guys. If Saturday was a bust, do some research and make adjustments. Online forums and fishing-club websites post Saturday tournament results promptly, so you can see if it was a tough day for everyone or if you weren’t on the right pattern or place. Don’t be afraid to hit new water if you aren’t getting the results you want. You’ll get your trophy.

Essential Lure

Photo by Cliff Gardiner & John Keller

Reef Runner 800 Series: Big deep-diving crankbaits are proven baits for trophy walleyes. Troll clear colors in clean lakes.