Dialing In Down DeepBy Dave Duwe - July 1, 2010
Two main factors come into play when targeting deepwater gamefish like walleye and smallmouth bass - weedlines and thermoclines. Walleyes love a deep weed edge in summertime so they can ambush their prey, whether it is a small crappie, perch or other baitfish. I'll target weedline walleyes by trolling crankbaits at 1.2 to 3 mph, staying right on the edge with the aid of my tiller-handle outboard. Boat control is imperative for ultimate success. Follow your locator and stay on the depth contour and weed edge to maximize success. Vary your speed and stick with what works first to gauge the "mood" of the fish.
It's also smart to identify the depth of gamefish and baitfish on your locator. Pick a crank bait that gets in front of their noses. For me, color is secondary as bait depth is the key. Fish too shallow or too deep and you'll be out of the strike zone on every pass. Occasionally ticking the weed edge with your bait can trigger strikes, but be careful not to get into them too much or you'll spend too much time un-fouling your bait. It also helps, from time to time, to put your motor in neutral and let the bait momentarily suspend. In the early morning hours or early evenings, I target steep dropoffs with heavy weed growth, while at night I concentrate on the outside edge of weedy flats. The most productive weedlines are close to deep water, typically those that are adjacent to the main lake basin.
As summer wanes on, one of my favorite fishing trips is targeting deepwater smallmouth bass on Geneva Lake, Madison's Lake Mendota or Pine Lake in Waukesha County. Smallies like to school up in the deep reaches of a lake hovering around the thermocline, that thin stretch of water that separates the warm surface water with the colder bottom water. The fun part is when you find the schools. Where you catch one, you'll likely get more. Search for rock and scattered deep weeds, preferably around main-lake deep points. Find the hardest bottom you can using your electronics. When smallies are down deep, I'll try any of the following three things - drop-shotting, Carolina rigging or live bait rigging.
With drop-shotting, I use an Xcalibur Tungsten weight below a one-foot leader with a red octopus hook. Tip the hook with a Yum Houdini worm that matches the forage. Watermelon with red flake is my favorite. Fish straight down and shake your rod tip four to five times before pausing to encourage a strike. On clear lakes like Geneva, go with a lighter line with this slower fishing method. If that doesn't produce, I'll try a Carolina rig with a baitcaster rod and reel combo using heavy line with a 10-pound test Stren leader. I'll rig up with an Arkie Crawlin' Grub or a green-pumpkin lizard. Make a long cast and let the rig sink to the bottom before dragging it back to the boat. Work the bait perpendicular to the structure so it glides over the structure.
When the artificials aren't producing, I'll switch to a tried-and-true method of using live bait. Slide a half-ounce walking sinker ahead of a No. 6 circle hook. Keep the sinker 18 to 24 inches ahead of the hook with a swivel or small split-shot. Hook nightcrawlers or small suckers through the head and backtroll them vertically over structure. If you let out too much line, you'll loose the feel of the presentation and possibly miss hookups.
Deepwater fishing presents some challenges many anglers aren't willing to accept. However, the rewards of a beefy walleye or a hog smallmouth bass on the end of your line are attractive enough to venture away from the shade of the shore and known shallow hotspots. Deep down, the results can be worthwhile.
For guide parties, please call Dave Duwe at 608-883-2050