Try these five tips to catch more walleyes

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By Jason Mitchell

Fishing can be frustrating, humiliating and humbling, regardless of how often you fish or how much you think you have learned over the years. When it comes to catching fish, and, more specifically, catching walleyes, there will always come a time when you feel like you just hit a wall.

Anglers who say they’ve never been stumped on the water aren’t being honest or they haven’t backed the boat down the ramp too many times. Truth is, we have probably all pounded a lake from before sunrise to after sunset with our pride seriously tarnished by the time we pulled out of the boat ramp.

I can’t tell you how many lessons I have had to learn over and over in my life, but, at the end of the day, I have learned some things that help me stay consistent and catch fish more often than not. None of you want to know how many tough days of walleye fishing I have had in my life, but believe me when I tell you that some of this is hard-earned intel.

Here a few guidelines I had to learn the hard way that just might help you catch a few more walleyes this season.

Understand water clarity

One of the secrets to consistently catching walleyes is simply staying away from bad situations. Extremely clear water and extremely turbid water are two conditions to avoid when possible.

You can sometimes find the “right” water by using wind. On really clear bodies of water, wind will give the wind-blown area of the lake just enough stain.

On the flip side, what often happens on wind-swept, dish-bowl lakes is that prairie wind can whip up too much turbidity in the water. If that happens, I look for areas that are out of the wind so that the sediment can settle.

There is a difference between stain and turbidity. Fish can still see well in stained water, but they can’t see well if the water is too turbid. Fishing is usually better in stained water that has some color, and this stained water often gets moved or pushed around the lake with wind or current.

This is why mud lines have a life cycle. Mud lines create an opportunistic window when waves crash up against a bank until a veil of turbid water protrudes from the shoreline. In the early stages of the mud line, the plume of churned-up, muddy water reaches out and hangs like a veil in the top of the water column.

At this stage is typically when mud lines are the most productive. However, as the wind continues to pound and the veil becomes bigger and sinks down through the water column, the bite will often dissipate.

When wind churns up sediment and clouds the water, the day after the big wind can often be the best time to fish. As sediment sinks, water visibility increases yet still offers some stain in the water.

What also happens is the water will get a green color as it warms up, so stained water can also be found by using the temperature gauge. Colder water is often much more clear, and warmer water is typically more stained.

Focus on the process

So often with walleye fishing, the key to catching fish is finding fish. This may sound too simply, but the fact of the matter is there are times when your go-to lakes will let you down, specific spots on those lakes will let you down, or tried and true patterns will let you down. That’s just how fishing goes sometimes.

However, if you have enough time, what never fails is an honest and thorough process of elimination. In order to truly be successful, you have to almost turn off human emotion and start checking off possibilities from the list.

For example, when walleyes should be shallow but aren’t anywhere to be found, the next step is eliminating main lake structure in depths from 20 to 40 feet. If they’re not hanging out there, then move on to the next spot.

The key is to keep checking off possibilities even if the possibilities don’t feel right at the time. Quite often there are things happening in an fishery’s ecosystem that we can’t quite grasp until after the fact.

When it comes to finding fish, the less you know going into the day is sometimes better because you can adhere to the process of elimination easier. If you give something a good, honest effort and it isn’t happening, turn the switch. It is always amazing how many anglers will cling to a spot or pattern for agonizing amounts of time with little or no results.

I’ve been guilty of beating a dead horse myself, and this is why I’ve learned that a clock is an invaluable fishing tool. Use the element of time to force yourself out of ruts and also use the clock to slow yourself down when you begin to scramble.

What can also happen in search mode is not giving any one spot enough time. Commit yourself to hour increments as you begin the process of elimination so that your day has some structure and you can stick to the strategy.

Worry about efficiency

I honestly believe that most anglers worry about the wrong stuff. They get hung up on matching the hatch or they simply outthink the fish. With everything that you do in fishing, focus on becoming as efficient as possible, because this can greatly increase your likelihood for success.

Consider this … if you can become twice as efficient, you can basically become twice as successful. Conduct a thorough and honest self-evaluation, and try to do an honest assessment of how much you actually have a lure or hook in front of fish. What you learn about yourself might surprise you.

If you can take steps to become more efficient, you will basically increase your success exponentially. If you can land a higher percentage of the fish you hook or hook a higher percentage of bites, your success climbs.

Most people want some secret walleye formula. Examples include the ill-founded reasoning that if there is sunshine you need to use bright colors, or if there are perch in the lake you need to worry about using a perch pattern or color.

My simple advice is ditch the secret-formula myth and worry about being in the right place at the right time —and when you get an inch, take a mile. You do all of these things right and you can use the wrong color to catch all kinds of fish in the right spot at the right time until the paint is all chipped off.

Chameleons catch more fish

We all have our favorite way of doing something. We all have something that gives us confidence. Sooner or later, however, there will come a time when you are simply an observer and all you can do is watch while somebody else catches all kinds of fish. A little humility can do an angler a lot of good, if he or she lets it.

When it is your turn to watch somebody else put on a clinic, embrace the opportunity and let the experience make you a better angler. That means no excuses or over-evaluation. Adjust and match. Be the chameleon.

Again, don’t get hung up on cosmetics, but monitor and break down the big picture — watch the jig stroke, the rate of retrieve, casting angle, etc.

Visualize what the lure or presentation looks like and what it’s doing in relation to the structure and fish. If you are fishing below the boat, look to see what the angle is from the rod tip to the water and match that angle with the angler catching fish.

Test location versus presentation so that you gather better information. Locational nuances to test might be pushing the boat up or out of the break.

When somebody is catching fish and you are not, the best thing that can happen to you as an angler, is to figure out why. This often means you will have to swallow some pride.

Make time to learn

It’s easy to go right back to the same old well because of the familiarity it provides, such as going back to a good spot or sticking with a presentation that worked well in the past. There are times when we cling to the past with too tight a grip, because that experience that works so well for catching fish can start to work against us.

Spend parts of your day exploring. Make a point to try something different each day. Mix up exploring the unknown with the tried and true. Force yourself to embrace the unknown. Experiment with new lures, new tactics and, most of all, new locations. Try approaching old locations with a different mindset.

What I have found in my own experience is that learning new things keeps fishing exciting and fresh. I sometimes hear anglers complain that there is nothing new in walleye fishing, but I would argue that anglers who refuse to learn are not making an effort.

By forcing yourself out of the rut, you not only expand your knowledge but also increase the amount of satisfaction fishing can provide.

About the author: Jason Mitchell Outdoors airs Saturdays at 9:30 a.m. on Fox Sports Midwest and Sundays at 9 a.m. on Fox Sports North.

If open water ever returns to the Dakotas this spring, use these five tips to put more walleyes in your boat. Photo by Jason Mitchell Outdoors
Learning new tactics and approaching things from a different perspective can keep fishing fresh and interesting. Photo by Jason Mitchell Outdoors