High Country Walleyes by Greg Munck
Well another year is coming to an end. The days are shorter, nights much cooler, and the leaves have turned. Most outdoorsman can no longer hear “the call of the wild” and they have given into the call of the recliner and football games. Before you decide to put that last rod and reel in storage for the season. You might want to consider an early winter fishing trip. You won’t have to wait to launch the boat, and best of all the fish are feeding before ice up. Walleyes are a good species to target during the early winter transition. The big eyes are aware that winter is on its way and must fatten up to survive another year. Now is when they help each other by schooling up and herding baitfish against structure and slaughtering them.
The last few years in the southwest, I’ve witnessed our Indian summers arriving later in the year and sticking around longer. This weather pattern has kept the water temperatures higher than normal, delaying the turnover in our lakes.
When you still have water temperatures in the low 60’s to the mid 50’s then long lining can be an effective tool in locating walleyes. Use the lightest line possible. Six-pound test is a good place to start, with a bait holder hook in size 6 to 8 range with a split shot at least 18 inches in front of the hook. A night crawler works great in the southwest. When the walleye appear inactive, I will hook the crawler through the tip of the nose, making them squirm, just enough to turn those non-biters into biters. Now you let out between 60-100 feet of line depending on how deep you’re marking fish on your graph. Adjust your line length and the amount of split shots to reach the desired depth.
First we need to pick out a lake, and that’s not an easy task because there are so many excellent choices in the southwest. In Arizona, marble eyes can be found in Saguaro Lake, Canyon Lake, Apache Lake, Lake Mary, Lake Powell, Fool Hollow Lake, and of course Show Low Lake.
Here is a short list of walleye lakes in the White Mountains of Arizona that I would recommend. Show Low Lake and Fool Hollow Lake are within 10 miles of each other and are both famous for holding “lunker eyes”, but don’t forget these lakes are nestled above 6300 feet in elevation so come prepared for possible frontal conditions.
We discussed long lining as one method for locating fish. Another technique that can be deadly is trolling or casting a Rapala, minnow bait, Shad Rap, Smithwick Rouge, or Husky Jerk. I Prefer colors that have a dark back and light belly. These lures can be found in floating, suspending, and countdown models depending on the water temperatures you desire to fish. Then suspend dots and sticky weight can be used to tweak these lures to perfection.
Walleyes gravitate to structure and patiently wait to ambush their unsuspecting prey. Marble eyes can be found on riprap, boulders, timber, this includes standing and lay downs, and the flats. Generally when you locate the baitfish, the walleyes won’t be too far away. If you are in a concentration of walleyes that are holding near the bottom, but are finicky, a Mo-Jo rig can get you a couple of bites. Some call it a mini Carolina rig, while others refer to it as split shotting. I use cylinder shaped weights because they will work through cover the best. Start with light line around six pound test and add a 3/16 ounce cylinder weight with an 18 inch leader and tie on a 2/0 XGAP X-point hook. I like finesse worms, craws, grubs, shadows, and on occasion French fries. You can also try live bait for this application. The tougher the bite, the lighter the line, and the longer I make the leader. This longer leader helps create a more natural and enticing appearance.
During this time of year you will have to deal with fronts and dropping water temperatures from time to time. When you are faced with water temperatures below the fifty-degree mark and frontal conditions I prefer to vertical jig for walleyes. The more severe the front is, the deeper the fish will hold. They also pull tighter to structure and their strike zone becomes smaller. When this happens I like to use a little heavier line, because of the structure, but light enough that you can stay in contact with your jig. The heaviest I’ll use is 12-pound XL Trilene, with a medium action rod. The plastics I primarily use under these conditions have little to no action. Such as tiny craws, leaches, and finesse worms, in dark colors and black. I’ll Texas rig these on a 2/0 or 3/0 XGAP X-point hook. Remember the strike zone has shrunk and you must be in their face to entice a bite. Never lift the jig more than six inches off the bottom. Always stay in contact with the jig. Occasionally stop the jig when you lift it for a second or two, before letting it drop. At times shaking the jig in place will buy a bite. No, I don’t use a rattle when I’m this tight to structure. The “wise eyes” already know you’re there. What a tremendous year on the water! Come on guys, we can get one more fishing trip in. That snow won’t bother the walleyes.