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West O Walleye- A deep down search.
By: M. Doug Burns
Deep and clear, covered with power boats and jet skis, West Okoboji
in northwest Iowa can cause any walleye chaser to scratch their head. But
the fish are there, waiting, for the taking or releasing. But how, trolling?
Certainly. Jigs? Why not. The biggest key is patience and a willingness
to get out of bed early or stay out late. Of the two early is better, because
many of the power boaters stay out late also.
“I like to be on the water as soon as it is light enough to see. Maybe
earlier.” States Bill Leonard, a local realtor and touring MWC professional.
Leonard has been fishing the Iowa Great Lakes for years and knows many
of their secrets. “Fishing effectively past 10:00 am in the summer is almost
impossible with all the boat traffic.”
West Okoboji is crystal clear and one of only a handful of lakes in
the world that is classified as a true blue water lake. Visibility can
reach twenty feet at times which means light penetration can be well over
forty. Summer fishing for walleye often means starting as deep as thirty
feet and reaching into depths of seventy plus.
“By August the young of the year baitfish, perch and bluegill mainly,
are two inches or so long. Just the size of a medium diver Frenzy.” Leonard
commented “Now, that lure won’t reach the fish on it’s own so I need to
weight it and I like leadcore line for that purpose. With leadcore I can
place my baits within inches of the exact depth that I mark fish. And I
can do it over and over again.”
Leadcore line is a nylon line with a thin strand of lead running through
it. Most leadcore line is color coded every thirty feet so an angler can
adjust the amount of weight in front of the lure by letting more line out
or reeling some line in. The more line or weight the deeper a lure will
An alterative to leadcore line is snap weights. Snap weights consist
of a clothespin type device that snaps onto the line. A weight anywhere
in size from ½ ounce up to 8 ounces or more is then attached to
the other end of the clip. I am more accustomed to snap weights.
Both systems work to take lures into the extreme depths walleye use in
the heat of the summer. The best advice I can give is pick one system and
learn it, so that you have confidence your baits are in the zone.
Leonard continues. “Leadcore is speed sensitive. In other words if
I increase my trolling speed water resistance on the line will cause the
line to lift higher in the water column. If I slow down there is less resistance
and the line and lure sink. Monitoring your speed is paramount to success.
This speed sensitivity also provides options. Let’s say I am concentrating
on fish in the forty foot level and I have placed my baits just above them
at thirty-nine feet. Now, I mark some fish a little higher, say 36 feet,
just hit the throttle and your lure rises slightly. The same thing goes
for raising your lures over a hump or reef. Hit the throttle; lift the
baits. Once you are past the structure slow back down and your lures are
precisely at the depth you started. I don’t mean to make this sound simple,
it takes practice, but it is not that hard to learn.”
Snap weights are also speed sensitive. More or less sensitive is a
matter of opinion. With leadcore's thick diameter the entire length of
the line offers resistance. With snap weights the bulk of resistance is
placed right at the clip and weight. Since I know how deep my lures will
run on a given line, I release the prescribed amount of line put on a snap
weight and release the necessary line to reach my desired depth. It sounds
more complicated than it really is. Purchasing a Precision Trolling book
will help you get started with either snap weights or leadcore. The book
is a troller's bible and contains graphs for both leadcore and snap weights.
Leonard and I agree on one thing when it comes to targeting these
deep fish and that is the line between our weight system and our lure.
We both use 6/2 FireLine. Leonard explains. “ I use a fifty foot
FireLine leader in front of my leadcore. The no stretch quality of the
FireLine allows me to feel the bait wobble and helps insure a good hookset
with the large amounts of line I have out.” I must agree. Sometimes I will
have 200-300 feet of line out to reach the desired depth and although mono
will work I find I lose less fish with FireLine.
Fishing with bait in 30 foot plus depths also requires a change in
the anglers thought process. For jigging the many deep rock points and
humps that West Okoboji has to offer using the lightest jig possible is
not an option. In fact my philosophy for deep water jigging is just the
opposite. Use the heaviest jig the walleyes will hit. Start jigging with
at least a ½ ounce jig. In high winds jigs of 1 ounce or more may
be needed. For summer jigging I rarely use live bait anymore.
Powerbait has proven more effective and less of a hassle. The different
styles of Powerbait as grown immensely over the past few years and it pays
to experiment. I like the Power grubs of course, but the minnow style and
even the standard seven-inch worm work on a jig. With the worm I pinch
off an inch or more of the head of the worm so it is five to six inches
long. The fish seem to like the hard thumping action that big auger tail
produces. Play with colors too. Start with the more natural colors and
work your way into the bright Neonz, especially on cloudy, windy days.
Jigging can produce some very big fish for those willing to sit on a small,
tight piece of structure that is holding fish.
I guess Bill and I agree on two things West Okoboji is
one of Iowa’s premier walleye lakes and if your going to catch’em in the
summer you better have the tools and the know how to get lures down deep.
Editor’s Note: Doug Burns is a touring PWT pro and operates the Iowa
Guide service. He can be reached toll free at 877-397-5641. or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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