Bay of Green Bay Walleye
By: Jeff Boutin
Opening day of fishing season is upon us. Even though summer does not officially start until June 21st, I have always considered the first Saturday in May the start of my summer season. I, as well as anglers from all over the state, will head out to their favorite lakes and rivers in pursuit of the most sought after fish in the Midwest…walleye! My favorite place just so happens to be, the Bay of Green Bay.
The Bay can be a very intimidating body of water. When you head out to any one of the boat launches located around the lower portion of the Bay, the parking lot will be full of boat trailers but all you will see is miles and miles of open water and only a few boats in sight. Even though the surface looks the same as far as the eye can see, it’s what’s lurking below it that all of us are after.
Most anglers who come up to the Bay struggle with where to fish and which presentations to use. Either they setup near the boat launch, or they head out in the direction other boats are heading also looking for a group of boats. When they find them, they throw a few lures in the water and start trolling. Well that’s a good start, but most people spend countless hours on the water only to go home disappointed. We’ve all been there.
Here are a few tips and tools that will make you a more successful angler. First and foremost, you will need a good GPS locator. I prefer the Humminbird Helix series locators. They are high definition and very easy to use for the average angler. For those of you that are more experienced, the upgraded units are equipped with Side and Down Imaging. The next thing you will need is a map chip for your GPS. The Lake Master chip is made for your Humminbird unit and can highlight different depths of water making it easier to see the areas you may want to fish. This is going to show you where the structures are, eliminating the areas without structure and water that is deeper than 20 ft. That just eliminated 90% of the water! I recommend a set of trolling rods with line counter reels, spooled with 10 lb. to 12 lb. monofilament line. I suggest a quality set of planer boards. I use Churches Tackle TX-22 boards simply because they are of high quality, they cut through the water nicely, and when you stop, they won’t fall over and tangle up your lines. The last piece of equipment is a Minn Kota trolling motor. Most fishing boats sold today come with one mounted to the bow. They work so well, it’s almost standard to have a Minn Kota on your bow. When the Minn Kota trolling motor is equipped with I-Pilot, you will be able to fish and let the I-Pilot steer your boat for you. Just set a course, set the speed, and fish, it’s that easy.
Now for the fun part; catching the fish. We’ve reviewed the Lake Master maps so now we can focus on the areas we want to fish. In May, the walleye tend to feed on the rocky reefs and the areas with shallow weeds. The baits of choice in these areas are the Flickershad. Start out with the basics; purple, chartreuse, maybe a gray or white. Since it is early and the bait fish are small, use number 5’s and 7’s. It is a good idea to get the trolling app. This will assist you in determining at which depth the bait will run. The App will tell you how much line to let out in order to get your bait to a certain depth. For example, a number 7 Flickershad with 30’ feet of line let out will dive down 6 feet. With 40 feet of line, the Flickershad will dive down 8 feet. Speed will not affect the depth at which the lure will dive. You will attach the Churches Tackle planer board after you let out your set distance of line. The next part is speed. Since the waters are cold in May, you are not going to want to troll too fast. Keep your speed between 1.3 and 1.7 mph changing it often until you find a speed the fish prefer.
When setting your lines, start out with several colors and set them at various depths. Be careful not to set your baits too low in the water column. Walleye feed up and you do not want to put your bait underneath them. As you work your way over and through different reefs and humps and that first board goes back, make sure you keep track of the depth the bait was running. In addition, note your speed and hit a waypoint. This will be your first waypoint of many. Troll another 5-10 minutes and if you have not gotten another bite either turn around, if it is not windy, or pick up and go back to make another pass. The biggest mistake I see anglers make is when they catch a fish they just keep on going and do not return to that spot. This is your chance to make your first adjustment. Set a few more baits at or near that depth and make that pass right over the same spot. If you catch more fish, repeat the process and make another adjustments to your presentation, color. If the fish bit on the same color, add a few more of that color. Continue to refine your presentation until either you can’t keep your lines in the water, or they quit biting. If they quit biting, move on until you find the next bite. Sometimes you will have to go back to different depths and colors until you get something to work.
Another place you can find these fish is shallow. Yes, I did say shallow, 2 to 3 feet shallow. On bright days, in the mid to late mornings, the sun is warming up the shallows. Walleye will head into these waters even if the water is crystal clear, it’s warmer, and it only needs to be 4 to 5 degrees warmer. This is when your planer board comes in handy. I’ll run my closest planer board 100 to 150 feet from the boat. These fish will spook easy, so being stealthy is critical. Using the Minn Kota is really important. In this case, you are only going to put 6 to 8 feet of line out behind your planer board. These areas are generally sandy and you want the front lip of the bait to either tick or slightly dig right into the sand. This will help entice a strike. These fish are not the same fish as the ones you were finding on the reefs. These are generally the larger females coming into the shallows to feed. It is very important to keep your distance, if these fish even see a shadow from your boat, they will be gone!
Another bait I like to use is the Team-Outdoors inline blade attractor. They come in 10 different colors and 4 different sizes. These are attached to your line about 12 inches above the crankbait. These will attach to your line without tying a knot or cutting your line. Crankbaits rattle, and wiggle, but they don’t always have flash. The attractor blades are either a #3 Colorado or a #3 willow blade. This adds additional flash and vibration to your crankbaits without affecting the depth or action of the bait. If I pass over fish and they are hesitant to bite, I usually add these to a few of my lines. If the waters are a little murky, again this is a great way to add flash to your presentation.
Time spent on the water is always special, so enjoy it, have fun, and most importantly, be safe.
I’ll see you on the water,
Captain Jeff Boutin