Every year I take a big walleye trip with my family. This year, it was to the popular Leech Lake in north-central Minnesota. Known for its large size, diverse structure, muskie, and big walleye, it’s really a fantastic destination for anglers looking to score some finned trophies.
Of course, I’m always in search of these trophies, and that was my number one objective for this trip. It’s been a while since I’ve scored a serious fish and this was going to have to be the place to do it.
However, as we all know, finding these trophy fish is really never that easy, no matter how great of water it is. That would prove true this trip more than any.
The conditions were tough. The bite was tough, and fishing became frustrating.
Below I go through how I broke down Leech Lake, adjusted to the conditions, and became resilient. This is exactly how I got one of my biggest walleye of the year.
Let’s face it – I also got really really lucky.
LEECH LAKE CONDITIONS
Conditions on Leech Lake over labor day weekend were challenging to say the least. A strong storm system had just gone through earlier in the week. This produced a strong west and northwest wind, stirring up the entire lake – especially across the east side. If there is one factor I find affect fishing more than any – it’s a post system wind change. Strong winds not only stir up the lake but drastically change baitfish patterns. Everything that worked one day, will be completely different the next in this situation.
As I just mentioned, with the changing atmospheric conditions comes changing water conditions. The lake was so stirred up from days of being blown that the clarity was terrible. I put 3 different underwater cameras down and none of them did well. There was too much sediment, debris, and microbiology to see anything. Of course, all of these factors influence fish behavior and vision.
Water temperatures were also a big surprise. They were already in the mid to low-60’s (of-course due to the storm system the week before). Fish body temperature is influenced by water temperature. Therefore, this means their appetite and patterns change as the water changes as well. That’s why oftentimes cooler temperatures mean slower presentations.
Because of this, we tried jigging and bottom bouncing. However, neither would end up producing fish during the day.
OUR LEECH LAKE EFFORTS
We put in plenty of effort. We tried numerous different presentations, locations, and techniques throughout the day.
That’s why I truly believe the conditions greatly impacted the bite for that weekend. Only once did we pull up a walleye during the daytime. It was in 5 feet of straight weeds and on a large spinnerbait. Something that I typically don’t see producing 22” walleye.
That was the only walleye we had caught in 2 days. That’s why we ended up switching gears in the evening – to crank-baits. We found a long flat stretch in a channel, a place that walleye would likely move to later in the evening. People say channel fishing is better in the spring – and I completely disagree.
It’s effective anytime.
I trolled the flat for a solid hour without much luck, varying from 2.5 to 3.5 mph in speed. As for depth, we were each running something different. I was running a deeper runner, while my Dad and brother were running really shallow. It wasn’t until I broke across a 4 foot (in-depth) point (I was the captain) and let off on the gas, that we finally hooked up.
My brother, pulling a shallow runner, connected with this 25” fish. The only walleye of the night!
My brother Nate with a trophy from the night before.
KNOWING WHERE THEY HOLD
One of the joys of walleye fishing is that if water conditions stay similar from one day to the next (meaning no major storm system to mess up temperature and clarity) fish tend to hold to the same places, and this situation was no different.
After the storm system, we had a few days of consistent wind and temperature. Meaning what happened one night very likely can be replicated the next.
Also, big fish tend to pod (walleye are generally in “pods”, not “schools”) with big fish, and I knew that would hold true now as well. I was convinced that fish would move into that shallow point after dark again, and it would just be a matter of patience until we got it done.
Roughly an hour in my brother and Mom had left, my husband had given up, and I was left giving it my all. I kept crossing over that same point that produced the fish the night before. It was weedy, shallow, and I kept hitting the breakline over, and over, and over again.
Of course, it took until after dark, but those fish did show up.
THE LURE & GEAR I USED
As for presentation, I used one of Rapala’s shallow running scatter raps in pike green. I ran it straight to braid – which I do frequently. Braid is tough and in my opinion, doesn’t interfere with the action of the lure. I also used an old Gander Outdoors rod – a cheap combo from years ago. That’s why I LOVE trolling with cranks – no expensive gear or fancy equipment needed.
I simply hooked up the lure and ran it back a ways, (sometimes I’ll count under my breath to have a very general idea as to how far my lure is back for comparison purposes). I then started trolling, varying my speed between 2.5 and 3.5, curving in and out of the break-line.
I drove across the weedy point over and over again, trying to hit the break-line from as many different angles as possible. It wasn’t until the sun went down that I would see any results. Finally, as the boat crossed the point for the last time I started reeling in, ready to call it a night.
It was in that moment that I started yelling “big fish, big fish, big fish!”
The walleye hit my line so hard that it ran the drag. In fact, for a mere moment, I thought I had a muskie on.
After that initial few seconds, the fish gave up and came to the surface. As she surfaced, I started second-guessing my conclusion, only to find that she was an absolute giant when she reached the boat.
I had caught my trophy walleye. All it took was my favorite presentation and a whole lot of patience.
You can watch the details in the video above.
That would be the only fish we caught that night.
I truly believe the extra speed my lure had during my retrieve contributed to that catch. Those fish were holding there for the night, and that change in speed caused a reaction strike. I got lucky, but I was also persistent. I was paying attention to what worked the night before and tried my best to replicate it.
As for additional details, here they are:
We stayed at Pikedale Resort. It was a fantastic destination – complete with a bar and clean and spacious cabins.
We generally fished from sun up to sundown. Conditions were tough and nearly every angler we talked to struck out that weekend. Again, I blame the storm from a few days before.
We tried spinners, jigging raps, jigs, leeches, crawlers, spinnerbaits, and cranks. However, we didn’t try minnows. We had heard that the cooler temperatures had finally initiated a minnow bite – so perhaps we would have had more luck trying that.
It was overall a fantastic trip – and I couldn’t have asked for a better ending.