By Richard Hines
With Thanksgiving approaching, I suspect many of you have already given up the thought of fishing. Most of my friends are either in a deer stand or sitting along a duck marsh and if there is any thought of fishing, it will happen next spring.
Some areas still have open water and depending on your location, walleye may be within your reach and best of all, this early winter period is a very productive time to go after this species.
A couple of weeks ago while I was on a duck hunting trip in North Dakota, we were all taking it easy after a morning of duck hunting until I got an invitation from Wallace Berg to try an afternoon trolling for walleye on nearby Stump Lake. Wallace and his brother Frayne grew up in Nelson County, ND and they told us about how Stump Lake was just basically an alkaline lake. The pH was too high to support fish, but the lake was a regular stopover for waterfowl.
Over the past several years, rainfall in the area has increased and as a result nearby and well-known Devils Lake began overflowing into Stump Lake which is now 45-feet higher than in previous years.
While we were fishing, Wallace said, “I remember folks combined wheat right here” as he pointed out into the lake. “When Devils Lake overflowed, fish moved into Stump Lake [and] several of the neighbors told me that the North Dakota Game and Fish Department also stocked the freshly filled lake with walleye, yellow perch, and northern pike.”
When Wallace invited me, he added the weather would be a little “chilly” which in North Dakota is a 15-20 mph wind and temperatures in the low 30s. Wallace added, “It just makes a perfect walleye chop,” referring to the waves on the lake. Wallace also knows the lake like the back of his hand having walked and boated over the lake, both above and below the surface!
Wallace said, “I use Reef Runners almost exclusively here in Stump Lake.” After rigging up, we began letting out line into Stump Lake which has an average depth of around 29-feet and with 15,7432 acres of surface, anglers will find plenty of room to troll.
Scott Stecher, of Reef Runner Tackle Company pointed out, “Our Reef Runner 800 is perfect for trolling on lakes such as those in North Dakota. The recognizable banana-shaped bait wobbles from side to side creating a blinking look as fish alternately see the belly and back as the lure zigzags through the water. The unique thing about Reef Runners is how their design enables them to dive down to 30-feet.” Stecher added, “1.2 to 2.8 mph seems to be the ideal trolling speed.”
Wallace explained how letting out line determines the depth your lure is running. We found that 85 to 105 feet was about right. A general formula is 20 feet of line drops a lure to 8 feet, 40 feet of line drops a lure to 14 feet and 100 feet of line drops your bait to 22 feet.
Depending on your location, temperatures are no doubt dropping, if you are in the range of walleye, this can be a very productive time. If water temps are still hovering in the 40s, walleye are still wanting to add on some protein before water temperatures drop further.
Why fish for walleye this late in the fall, you ask? For one thing, fisheries researchers have discovered that about eighty percent of a walleye’s annual growth, both in length and overall weight is obtained in late summer and into early winter. This means walleye are trying to pack on the pounds to survive the winter. By January, this growth has slowed.
When fishing for early winter walleye, variables such as wind are important. While Wallace and I were fighting the wind on that trip, the chop on the water is changing the reflectiveness in the water allowing light to penetrate rather than bouncing off a smooth surface.
To improve your success, a good selection of lure colors is a must. A good rule of thumb is to use chrome, natural shad, gray, and pearl patterns on clear sunny days and stick with darker baits in dirty water. Gold, copper, and even white baits work well in murky to moderately stained water.
Stecher commented, “Reef Runner dot patterns in certain light situations may appear as a tight school of bait fish.”
There is always some discussion on speed while trolling. Remember, a walleye is an attack fish and can move quickly. Start your trolling slow, say 1.4 to 1.8 mph, but just because it’s cold, do not hesitate to increase speeds up to 2.2. Stecher pointed out that one way to look at increasing your speed is that you are covering more area and probably locating more aggressive fish.
Wallace Berg and I caught several nice walleye that day including one that hit the 28 inch mark. Not a bad way to wrap up duck hunting and fishing in one day as well as learning about the history of a unique piece of water.