Chris Huskilson - May 5th 2021
It’s Finally Spring!!This time of the year is quite literally a favourite for me. Walleye season is opening and the Crappies are biting! What better time to share some recommendations.
As the water temp approaches 55°F (or 13°C), the Crappies move shallow in large schools to start their spawn. I typically have great success casting small soft plastic artificial baits under a slip float through the schools of fish, while suspending the bait directly above them. This typically generates some very aggressive strikes and is a very common technique. But when the weather turns quickly and the fish are feeling pressured, I have a few other tricks that I like to implement to increase my odds of success.
My first efforts will involve removing the float from my setup and casting my small soft plastic bait on a very light 1/32oz. jig head and swimming it through the school.The Punisher jigs crappie tube heads are perfect for this. I push the lead into the bait entirely so the hook eye is the only thing exposed.
Gentle twitches directly above or in front of these fish are difficult to refuse and often generate success when the float will not.Another option is a drop shot rig. This is not something typically used for Crappies, but has proven very successful for me when times are tough. The ability to cast the bait to the fish and hold the bait stationary creates a very realistic appearance in my offering and flat out catches them when nothing else will. These fish are excellent table fare, so don’t hesitate to keep a few for a shore lunch. Just be mindful and release any over 12-inch as they are the “breeders” and their conservation is key to the continued success of the species. My humble yet personal opinion.
Some (not so) Crappie Pro Tips
Lake Fork Baby Shad would highly recommend swimming baits through schools of Crappie. This little morsel seems irresistible at times. A slender profile imitating forage fry will often be the ticket to get the job done for me when times are extremely tough.
A great place to start is with a slip float setup. You will be able to detect the mood of the fish rather quickly to determine if changes are necessary. This is often a starting point for me.
Just as the Crappie fishing peaks and begins to taper down we enter the season most anglers are waiting for. The opening of Walleye season, in Zone 17, is the Second Saturday in May and do we ever have some great fishing in the region this time of year! The zone does have a slot limit however. They must fall within the slot size to keep (13.8 – 19.7 inches). By this time the Walleye have finished their spawn and have fallen back from the current they have done their business in. They can be found in numbers in weed clumps or pockets out at the mouth of the tributaries they have spawned in. I spend a great deal of time on Rice Lake during this period utilizing a few key techniques to catch a boat load of fish. Catches of 30 to 50 fish in a day are not uncommon, with plenty of over and slot limit sized fish.
Some Walleye Pro Tips
Hand tied hair jigs courtesy of Big Jim! Hand tied Hair Jigs are a mainstay during this time of year when targeting Walleyes. Short pitches into pockets in weeds followed by very erratic “rips” of the rod tip will catch you a tone of post spawn walleye. This technique is typically referred to as “rippin hair” and is a lot of fun. Strikes often occur while the bait is falling, making the hooksets very heavy! There will be times that an aggressive technique like "rippin' hair” will not be appropriate. Sudden cold front conditions this time of year are very common and will make the Walleye hold tighter to the weeds. A more subtle presentation is required when this takes place as the fish are not as likely to chase down the hair jig. This is when I like to utilize scent as well! I will choose a light button style jig head, with a light wire hook, and pair it up with a very simple yet effective soft plastic bait, imitating the forage the Walleye are feeding on in the area. The Scented Jerk Shadz from ZMan are perfect!
Last but not least...Scent! Liquid Mayhem Garlic Minnow scent is a must! Scent can be the single most important difference maker when it comes to finicky Walleye. Not only dos it mask any odor that I may impart on the bait, but it provides a natural scent trail. This will allow the fish to track down my offering and will typically cause the fish to hold the bait longer, allowing for a good hookset.
I will continue to make short pitches into pockets in the weeds but I will leave the bait in place much longer. The slower fall rate and more natural presentation, the more bites you will get during this time.I know that my good friend and coworker, Bobby Belmonte, will often approach things a little different than I at times. So I took the liberty of asking him a few questions. Bobby is a big fan of lipless crank baits for Walleyes. Have a read below for some recommendations from him;
With Bobby Belmonte
Q: What areas do you target for walleye when fishing a lipless crank?
A: "I tend to target areas that have clean healthy weeds and baitfish present. These areas could be weedlines, offshore humps, holes or long points. But in order for the walleyes to be there, they seem to need those two factors.”
Q: What is your preferred rod/reel and line setup?
A: “I like using a slightly stiffer crankbait rod so I can snap any weeds off my lipless crankbait throughout my retrieve. Currently I'm using a 7'0 Medium Shimano Expride with a low speed Shimano Curado PG (5:1). The low gear ratio really helps when fishing a lipless crankbait so you dont fish it too fast, it allows the bait to stay down so you can keep it close to the desired depth you're trying to target. For line, straight 12 lb Sunline FC Sniper is my go-to when fishing for walleyes, I normally like 10lb, but walleyes have teeth, and that little bit of extra thickness can go a long way and save you from breaking off a giant!“
Q: What lipless baits do you like?
A: “I choose my lipless crankbait depending on the depth that I'm fishing. If I'm fishing an area where the weeds are fairly juvenile and arent very tall yet, I like using a heavier bait like a Jackall TN70, if the weeds come up quite high I have found a Rapala Rippin Rap can be fished quite shallow over top of them and works well in these situations.
Q: How do you fish a lipless crank for walleyes?
A: “You can fish a lipless crankbait alot of different ways. I have found the most productive method for catching walleyes is to fish the bait as slow as you can without allowing it to fall and get stuck in the weeds. Some may refer to it as "slow rolling" the bait. Long casts, and a slow steady retrieve, allowing the lure to sink down just above the tops of the weeds is the goal. The noise of the lipless crankbait will trigger the walleyes to come up out of hiding and seek out the commotion which results in landing a pile of fish. A super efficient way to cover water and locate fish quicker.“
To say I am excited is an understatement. Spring is finally here! And the fishing is about to get REALLY Good! Good luck and tight lines all!