Six Tips for Catching Walleyes with Bait
Walleyes have a reputation for being short strikers. They’ll hit the bait without getting hooked. But walleyes aren’t tentative eaters,...
Walleyes have a reputation for being short strikers. They’ll hit the bait without getting hooked. But walleyes aren’t tentative eaters, says South Dakota walleye pro Mike McClelland. “Usually, the walleye makes a sincere attempt to eat the bait. The fisherman just didn’t allow the fish to succeed.”
Avoiding this problem—and consequently hooking more fish—is a two-step process, according to McClelland. Step one is to understand how a walleye eats. “Sometimes a walleye will slash a bait like a pike or a muskie does,” he says. “But usually they’ll swim up to it and flare their gills, inhaling their prey and the water surrounding it. If anything happens to interrupt that flow of water, you get a short strike, or nothing at all.”
Step two, says McClelland, is adapting your presentation to decrease resistance in the lure-and-line combination, and thereby permit your bait to flow right into the walleye’s mouth. To that end, he offers the following six tips:
 Use Light Line Light (4- and 6-pound-test), thin-diameter lines offer less drag, or resistance, on a lure. This lets a walleye suck it in more easily.
 Bounce the Bait When you’re using live bait, McClelland recommends also using a bottom-bouncer rig. Bouncers are L-shaped wires that have a lead weight molded to the shaft. As an angler retrieves the rig, the weight bounces off the bottom and creates slack in the line, which allows the fish to inhale the bait more easily.
 Shorten the Stroke Many jig fishermen pump their rods too vigorously, using long vertical strokes that can pull the bait out of a fish’s mouth. Use short lifts instead and you’ll hook more walleyes.
 Offer a Bigger Bite Adding a plastic body to a jig also helps by increasing the surface area to which the fish’s sucking force is applied. It may seem counterintuitive, says McClelland, but a slightly bigger bait is easier for the fish to inhale.
 Pump a Crank With crankbaits, steady retrieves may hook aggressive walleyes, but a stop-and-go technique is better for deliberate feeders. Once the lure achieves proper depth, lift the rod tip, reel in the slack, and repeat.
 Troll With the Flow When the water has a chop, trolling with the waves imparts that necessary slight slack in the line. Also, keep a close eye on your inside planer board as you make a turn; it will give you that small amount of slack that allows for more solid strikes—and more walleyes in the boat.