How to Catch Cold Water Walleye
We have some great Columbia River walleye fishing tips from Stotts Fishing Adventures. Walleye fishing hooked me back in the mid 70’s and the bug bit hard! When I first started chasing Columbia river walleye it was rare to see boat trailers in the same parking. Fast forward 30 years, it’s not uncommon to see 50 rigs with boat trailers in that very same parking area. The thing that attracts me to walleye fishing is year-round fishing on the Columbia River system. Winter fishing throughout the Pacific Northwest is typically considered prime steelhead season. Most anglers put their rods up till spring . Eastern Washington and South West Oregon anglers have something else in mind. Walleye fishing on the Columbia River is best targeted during Northwest’s spring and summer months. The warmer days and water temps seam to be more favorable. Want a walleye fishing tip, the “Big Gals” are caught during winter and spring months.
Northwest Walleye Fishing
Walleye fishing is gaining popularity around the Northwest. The great lakes fish were introduced to the Columbia River system in the late 1940’s since thriving. There is big walleye throughout Eastern Washington’s Columbia River system and also resident lakes like Moses, Banks, Soda and Potholes Reservoir. Tournament walleye anglers seem to think the new world record is living between John Day Dam and Hanford Reach. The world record 25 lb. walleye was caught in Tennessee by Mabry Harper on the Old Hickory Reservoir back in 1960. Washington’s record of 20.32 lb. was caught in 2014, by John Grubenhoff. The giant fish was caught in February on the Columbia River, Lake Wallula section behind the McNary Dam.
Fish Trophy Water
I tend to spend most of my efforts fishing these areas where I feel like big fish are roaming, especially during winter months. I might run into a few other anglers and one might think that fishing pressure will hurt but I’ve actually found to be a more informational experience. Columbia River walleye fishing can be like trying to find a needle in a haystack. Another walleye fishing tip I learned was to communicate with other walleye anglers. Locating walleye on a big body of water is such delicate process.
Winter Walleye Fishing Tips: Keep a Cold Water Mindset
To be a more productive winter walleye angler, we must adapt to a different mindset. Walleye go through a transition period, migrating to their wintering grounds for preparation into the spawning phase. I know that the seasonal change can trigger walleye to more aggressive feeders while on the move. I’ll focus on covering plenty of water by trolling crankbaits and worm harnesses. I divide the two different baits into whether I’m chasing bottom hugging fish or feeders on the flats. Both trolling methods has its place and successful winter walleye anglers should learn both. If you’re like me, I don’t discriminate and just like to catch fish. Winter walleye fishing might also lead you to trolling cranks under the darkness of the night. Like I said, keep a cold-water mindset and cover your bases.
Cold Water Walleye Trolling Crankbaits
Why do I enjoy pulling crankbaits in dipping water temperatures below 50 degrees? Simply put, I put more trophy sized walleye in the boat pulling cranks. There are hundreds of lure choices and my bold statement shouldn’t come by surprise. Not all crankbaits are created equal. I categorize crankbaits into two classes, minnow divers and stickbaits.
Minnow divers are thought of as more deeper diving baits that achieves depths ranging from 15 to 30 feet using the normal trolling distance and speed. I troll these at 1.4 to 2 miles per hour and mainly upstream. Weedlines adjacent to ledges are great places to ambush feeding walleye. I’ll look for river breaks that embody frog water next to moving water. Pay special attention to your electronics looking for deepwater humps and ledges that hold ambushing walleye.
Staying Near the Bottom
It’s important to get your bait to the bottom which might require using lead core line or inline trolling weights. I’m in constant view of my depth finders and marking fish at specific depths. What you see will weigh into your choice of lure. I’ve fished all over the Great Lakes and learned that reading your graph and recognizing what you see is key to success. Mimicking their natural prey is the other equation. Fishing Eastern Washington on the Columbia river is no different. There are hundreds of minnow style crankbaits and some of my favorite are Deep Diving Bandits, Flicker Minnows, Flicker Shads, Reef Runners 800, Rapala’s Taildancers and Deep Husky Jerk 12.
Effective Slow Troll with Stickbaits
Slowing things down means water temperatures have dipped below 40 degrees and fish become a little more lethargic. Stickbaits have less ability to dive deeper depths and should be fished with lead core line or snap weights. The subtle action of stickbaits trolled at slower speeds are more effective at times under colder conditions. I’ll range my trolling speeds between 1.0 to 1.5 MPH, just enough to rock my bait back and forth. Your bait should give off subdued flashes of light from the lures paint characteristics that can trigger finicky walleye. Getting to the depth where fish are and keying in on precision trolling speed are major factors for success.
Communicate and Experiment
Buying the right stickbait lures can be confusing. Communicating with other walleye anglers and doing a little experimenting on your own will help the process. There’s no 1 lure that can do it all and fishing with an experienced walleye angler will speed up the learning curve. I have over 1000 walleye lures and compiled a short list of my “go to” baits which include the Rapala Husky Jerk 14, Smithwick Perfect 10, Rapala Floating Minnow, Smithwick Supsending Rogue. There are many others that I’m certain will work but these are my favorites.
Cold Water Walleye Tips Trolling Crawler Rigs
There are times that walleye get super finicky and downright stubborn. If I’m marking fish on my electronics and not getting bit pulling crankbaits, I will shift tactics. I try not to let my stubbornness get in the way and I do love to pull crankbaits. I will give my crankbaits my early morning attention with most of my time spent in shallow water. My other walleye fishing tip is trolling worm harness rigs. We pull the harness behind a 2 to 3 ounce bottom walker that will get your bait to the bottom and keep contact with the bottom most of the time. I’ll run a slider up the main line down to a 4 ft. fluorocarbon leader with a smile blade and 4 to 5 5mm beads that are stacked in front of a double hook set up. We also use slow death hooks and a single bead if we are getting short bit. A perfectly threaded nightcrawler on a Slow Death hook spins ultra-slow and can be deadly on bottom hugging walleye.
Keeping Things Slow
You have to think slow, and just enough speed to make your crawler harness spin. We like to troll speeds of .7 to 1 MPH and downhill is the ticket. During the late winter months and more towards the deep freeze, walleye metabolism drops and their willingness to chase bait decreases. You literally have to stick bait right in front of the fish and hope they like what they see. When fish are super finicky, I’ll switch up blade colors and even eliminate beads and blades, producing a lower profile bait. Make sure you pack plenty of nightcrawlers for those short strike, stubborn fish days.
Walleye Tips for Jigging Cold Water Winter Walleye
If chasing walleye year-round is your thing, jigging will be part of your arsenal. Eventually, water temperatures will drop to 40’s and even lower. This period makes for some tough fishing but to say you can’t catch walleye would be a mistake. As noted in the beginning of the article, change your mindset and “think like a walleye” We know that fish are out there, not very active but still have to feed. Choose the slowest of slowest presentations and stick it in their face. Late Winter, Walleye Anglers, introduce yourself to jig fishing! I try to keep things simple and use ½ ounce to ¾ ounce lead-heads painted in chartreuse or black. Stand up style jig head work great as well and the key is to be on the bottom. When fishing the jig head only, I always thread a nightcrawler up the hook. There are times when I use a 3 or 4 inch plastic grub tipped with a piece of worm that can be deadly.
Graphs and Electronics are a must
I’ll use my electronics first to locate fish that are typically holding around structure. Humps with drop offs and ledges are where you’ll find holding fish that ambush near-by prey. Using an electric trolling motor makes things easier when trying to isolate these fish. Once located, I’ll try and hold my position for jigging. Drop your bait to the bottom, keeping line tight and work you’re your bait with short jigging strokes, not getting too aggressive. I’ve found that 90% of the strikes will come on the drop so that short stroke and tight line is critical. Spend some time around the humps but don’t be afraid to work down the ledges, letting your jig slightly drag.
Use Electronic Trolling Motors
This can be effective by trolling super slow throughout your designated fishing area. You have to pay attention to the structure and bottom that you’re fishing, keeping from getting hung up on rocks. If your rod loads up and has a little give, set the hook, chances are this is a fish. There are plenty of other baits out there for the purpose of jigging up walleye like Blade Baits, Whiter Jigs, Jigging Raps and Spoons. I keep all my options open and stay equipped for most every fishing scenario.
Enjoy the Challenge
What I love about walleye fishing is the chase. One day you make hay on 50-60 hookups and the next day in the very same area, vanished like a ghost. These critters can be most frustrating at times trying to get them to bite or even locating them. The reward of catching them is delicious white meat that is perfect for the fry daddy. The more exciting thought is putting your hands around the new world record. The Columbia river definitely offers that opportunity to walleye anglers.
We have been fishing walleye on the Columbia River since the late 70’s and have seen the walleye population grow. We’ve fished over 400 miles on the Columbia from Kettle Falls down to the mouth of the Deschutes, everywhere in-between. Potholes Reservoir, Moses Lake and Banks all have thriving fisheries. There are places more known for numbers and play-ground water like the Mid-Columbia section near Umatilla that hold trophy fish. One thing for sure, I learn something about walleye every time I fish for them. Make sure you enjoy the process and embrace the challenges that follow this fishery.