Suspended Walleyes & Slip Bobbers

February 23, 2009 by  

By Jason Mitchell

The author with a nice spring walleye casting crankbaits

The author with a nice spring walleye casting crankbaits

Walleye suspend an awful lot, much more I bet than most anglers want to imagine. I say, “want to imagine,” because many anglers do in fact hate the idea of fishing in “no man’s land.” That is off the bottom. The bottom is such a nice constant, something so definite. When we fish an area, we like fishing the bottom. If we don’t catch anything, we move, try a different depth, and try something.

Most of the time, we have to find the bottom to find walleye. There are sometimes however when walleye aren’t anywhere near where they are supposed to be. I think the biggest misconceptions about walleyes and walleye fishing is the fact that we want to make so many rules. Vague, general rule of thumbs are about as close as we are ever going to get when it comes to fishing.

I have often noticed walleye in aquariums just floating around, suspended in the water column. Granted, this isn’t the natural environment but it tells us something. Not all suspended fish are indeed ferocious or active as we are so often intended to believe. Some of the fish suspended in some of the aquariums I have watched seem almost frozen. Some of these suspended fish really do not appear very aggressive at all. Other fish however are wandering all over the tank; making passes high off the bottom. Maybe they are looking for food or just a way out of the tank. Just the fact that walleyes use the whole water column in an aquarium is very interesting however when we consider that most walleye fishing applications are indeed designed to get us fishing on the bottom of the lake.

Some people also believe that walleyes don’t suspend on the lakes they fish. Most will agree that walleye will suspend on some lakes more than others. Some of us fish on a lake where walleyes suspend, some of us don’t quite as much. I am to the conclusion however that there is no such thing as a lake where walleye never suspend. I believe there are general suspending patterns or reasons to make fish leave the security of the bottom and walleye anglers by and large have only begin to recognize some of these patterns.

The most popular pattern we find walleyes suspended is when coldwater fish like smelt or ciscoes become the forage. Other well-known scenarios for suspending walleyes deal with large basins and stratifying layers of water in the water column. Most suspending walleye patterns seem to be associated with big water. Many people realize that walleye suspend in the Great Lakes, and targeting these suspended fish is becoming very common. Some of the really large natural lakes in Minnesota and Wisconsin have a lot of suspended action, not to mention some of the large western reservoirs. Many anglers also don’t mess around looking for suspended walleyes where trolling techniques aren’t applicable. Many small lakes in Minnesota and Wisconsin are “no troll” lakes or prohibit using multiple rods. To date, most of the suspended walleye patterns revolve around trolling, using a crank bait or spinner to maintain a known constant depth in the water column.

Many anglers are trolling for suspended walleyes. Many other anglers are deciding that trolling isn’t applicable to their favorite lakes or that walleye’s don’t ever suspend on the lakes they fish. More and more anglers are discovering however that walleyes can and do suspend on some of the small lakes not known to have a suspending walleye pattern. Anglers are finding suspended walleye far from the basins of Saginaw Bay and Lake Erie, perhaps even on a small lake right down the road. More and more anglers are also discovering that trolling isn’t the only way or even the most effective way for catching walleyes up off the bottom. Small water suspended walleye patterns can often be very spot specific. Walleyes might be suspended in flooded timber, over the tops of weed beds, rock outcrops or riding high above a mud flat. These fish are sometimes found on accident by anglers and only regarded as a fluke. These fish often won’t show up in electronics, especially if you are less than ten feet of water or if the fish are in the top ten feet of the water column. While fish might not show up, baitfish often will show up in less water as just a clutter on the screen of most LCD units. Sometimes anglers can see lots of baitfish close to the boat, right under the surface of the water. Finding baitfish has long been regarded as a good way of find predators like walleye. Bug hatches are another reason for a seemingly bottom orientated fish like a walleye to suspend. We have also found fish suspended early in the season when the top few feet of the water column was significantly warmer than the rest of the lake. Walleyes have plenty of reasons to suspend in any lake.

How does a person target these fish? Especially in the tight spots that aren’t conductive to trolling or on lakes where trolling isn’t allowed? Chances are, you already know the answer and probably already have the rod rigged up in your boat. Think of how many nice walleyes you have stumbled onto over the years while fishing for crappie. The accidental walleye might often be out of season or just regarded as a bonus but these fish are telling us something. Slip bobbers are an ideal way to look for and catch suspended fish of any kind, walleye included. More anglers are experimenting with the depth in which they present bait for walleyes and anglers are discovering walleyes using the entire water column. Slip bobbers are ideal for this application. Precision depth control made simple.
Anglers often anchor upwind or up current from where they intend to find fish and let slip bobbers drift through the area. A group of anglers can dangle bait at different depths until a depth pattern emerges. Flooded timber, emerging vegetation and complex rock piles can literally be picked apart from top to bottom. Slip bobbers come in countless sizes and styles with most slip bobbers made of either balsa or hard foam. Balsa was long regarded as the most sensitive and easiest to cast while hard foam was much more durable. A new soft foam float however called the Wave Buster is rewriting the classifications of sensitivity, durability and casting ease. The Wave Buster is soft-foam which can be trimmed if needed to be extremely sensitive. The float is weighted for easy casting and has a unique sliding balance bar that adjusts how buoyant the float is. Unlike other weighted floats, this float will still tip on its side when the weight below is on the bottom and you can step or even stomp on this float and won’t break it.

More anglers are starting to understand suspending walleyes and are getting more confident fishing for them. Trolling tactics geared for suspended big water walleyes have really taken off in the past couple of decades. Now anglers on smaller walleye waters not known for suspending fish are going through a similar revolution. Precisely fishing the entire water column with slip bobbers has proved to be an efficient tactic for pulling walleyes where trolling doesn’t work.

Editors Note: the author Jason Mitchell is a legendary guide on North Dakota’s Devils Lake and designer of a lineup of high quality walleye fishing rods called the Jason Mitchell Elite Series Rods,


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