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10 tips for catching Minnesota’s silent walleye in midsummer
10 tips for catching Minnesota’s silent walleye in midsummer

Minnesota’s greatest mystery is not the authenticity of the Kensington Runestone (would a guy named Olof Ohman be real?), but rather whether Marjorie Caldwell planned the murder of Duluth heiress Elizabeth Congdon (Caldwell lied at trial and was acquitted) or whether Marshall County Deputy Sheriff Val Johnson was actually attacked by aliens on that dark night in western Minnesota in 1979 (why not?).

No, the state’s biggest mystery is how to catch walleye in mid-summer.

Then these tasty finned specimens leave their spawning and post-spawning grounds in shallow water and seek out unknown places and depths.

Unknown…except to a relatively small handful of experts.

Here are 10 easy-to-remember tips to help you solve Minnesota’s mid-summer walleye puzzle.

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“As the water warms in June, walleyes migrate to cooler waters,” says Paul Radomski, a Minnesota fisheries biologist and author of “Walleye: A Beautiful Fish of the Dark.” “Cooler water has the highest oxygen levels in a lake, which the fish like, and the coolest water is usually found on or near the lake bottom. Temperature, oxygen and food all affect where walleyes are and how they behave during the summer.”

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That’s true, says guide Tony Roach, who fishes Mille Lacs, Winnie, Cass and other walleye hotspots. “But keep in mind that Mille Lacs and other Minnesota lakes have zebra mussels, which have made them much clearer and, in many cases, the walleyes much more shy. Consequently, you have to get your bait away from the boat to catch fish. Also keep in mind that while the walleyes in Mille Lacs are in 20 or 25 feet of water in the summer, I often find them suspended, so I often keep my baits 2 to 6 feet off the bottom.”

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Lure presentation is more important than most anglers think, says Bob Landreville, guide at Leech Lake. “When I’m float fishing or even pulling a spinner, if I’m using a jig and a leech or other bait for walleye, I use the smallest jig possible. Usually that’s a crappie jig or an ice fishing jig. Color can be important too. If it’s sunny, I like a gold jig. If it’s cloudy, a green or blue jig.”

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“In the Brainerd area, post-spawn walleye are often found in or around the edges of lake vegetation or ‘weeds,'” said Marv Koep, a semi-retired guide and former owner of Koep’s Nisswa Bait and Tackle, the original home of the Nisswa Guides League. “At this time, from late May to about now, I fish them with a bobber and a No. 2 hook with a leech on the edges or right in the vegetation. Redtail chubs are my favorite bait, and I hook them through the tail to allow them to swim and provide movement. But they are hard to find and expensive.”

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“On Rainy Lake, I call mid- to late June the transition period for walleye,” said Mike Williams, who guided on Rainy for about 55 years before retiring. “One trick on windy days — and the windier the better — to catch walleye is to fish the banks upwind. I fish in 2 feet, 4 feet or 8 feet of water and troll a hammered gold spinner with a swivel and, say, a 4-foot leader with a simple hook. Leeches or shiners work best.”

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Remember, said Radomski, Zander — thanks to their Wall-eyes – can see well in low light. But they can’t tolerate bright light. So they generally hunt in low light conditions, such as in the evening or at night. “Minnows and other fish that eat walleye can’t see as well in low light, which makes walleye efficient predators in these conditions,” Radomski said. “They’re also more vulnerable to anglers at this time.”

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Because light-shy zander often hang around in relatively deep water during the day – when most people are fishing and when the guides must Catching fish for their clients – in the summer, walleye anglers often have to go deep. “At Leech,” Landreville said, “I pull spinner baits with earthworms or leeches down to the deeper humps 20 to 25 feet. I like to use colors that match the spawning that is happening at Leech. The crayfish have just molted and are getting new shells, so orange and black jigs or spinner baits match their color.”

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“The cool thing about Mille Lacs,” Roach continued, “is that there are so many walleye in the lake that there’s no wrong way to fish for them. You can catch them on bottom baits and spinners. Or, depending on the wind and the time of day, you can jig or bobber them. If they’re feeding, you can get them to bite. But again, with the clear water, you have to keep your boat away from them. So these days I’m using less vertical jigging than I used to and casting more lures and longlines.”

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Which live bait is best in summer? Minnows are not very popular with zander anglers in summer. Is it because they don’t hold up as well as grubs and leeches in the warm months and are therefore not used as often in late June, July and August – while in May they are the bait of choice for zander anglers? Hard to say. But it’s best to bring a selection of baits.

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Finally, a comment from Radomski: “Guides and other professionals are better anglers than the rest of us because, after dedicating so much time to their craft, they know what should work at certain times and in certain places. When that doesn’t happen, they rely on their skills and experience to adapt. Maybe they change the baits or the presentation or the locations. Less experienced anglers in the same situation don’t necessarily know how to adapt. Experience makes all the difference.”