Windy Walleyes

By Ben Leal

When it comes to fishing in the wind there are two camps; there are the “I don’t fish in the wind” campers, and then there are the “I love fishing in the wind” campers. Ironically enough, both camps and fishing styles do yield results. But, when it comes to the walleye’s predatory nature, the wind can really be your friend.

I was introduced to walleye fishing when I moved to Iowa. My first walleye didn’t even come from a local area lake or even a lake in the United States. The first one I ever boated was one of those deep bronzed back walleyes that many of you know of in Canada. There were so many new things and terms to learn. One that quickly jumps to mind when it comes to discussing wind is “walleye chop”. I’d never heard of it and in all my years of angling I was a regular in the “don’t fish in the wind” camp. Ahhh…but that would soon change. Wind became my friend.

Let’s take a closer look at what causes wind. We’re going to throw a bit of science in here so there is a better understanding of the effect this wind has on our walleye fishing. Wind is caused by differences in the atmospheric pressure. When a difference in atmospheric pressure exists, air moves from the higher to the lower pressure area, resulting in winds of various speeds. On a rotating planet, air will also be deflected by the Coriolis Effect (we’ll take a closer look at this in a minute), except exactly on the equator.

Globally, the two major driving factors of large-scale wind patterns (the atmospheric circulation) are the differential heating between the equator and the poles (difference in absorption of solar energy leading to buoyancy forces) and the rotation of the planet. Near the earth’s surface, friction causes the wind to be slower than it would otherwise be. Surface friction also causes winds to blow more inward into low pressure areas. Wind on a lake will create current which moves downwind and to the right. This movement to the right is called the Coriolis Effect.

Many of you reading are now scratching your head wondering…”where is this dude going with this”? I’m glad you asked! The Coriolis Effect actually changes the direction of the current below the surface of the water, which in turn will change the orientation of the walleye you are desperately seeking to carefully place your bait in front of.

So let’s break it down a bit more and how it effects walleye orientation in a body of water. As the wind blows the current at the surface will move in the same direction and confirmed by the waves you see as you fish. Due to the earth’s natural rotation, as current below the surface moves it begins to bend up to 20 degrees to the right of the wind. Assume then that in most lakes the deflection is slightly right.

We also know that wind will push bait fish towards obstacles; be it a dam, an island or the windward shoreline. Walleye will follow the food source and position themselves facing the subsurface current. As you approach the windward side of a body of water close to shore, that subsurface current may actually be in the opposite direction. Why? It’s simply a matter of physics; currents that hit shorelines also are deflected clockwise, which affects fish position and location. All of these will play a key factor in where you aim your cast as you look for active and feeding fish. The direction walleyes face affects presentation. Presentations should move toward or quarter in front of walleyes, instead of sneaking up on them from the rear.

Say the wind is blowing onto a bar that drops abruptly into 4 feet of water just offshore, then slopes to 10 feet, then plummets to 30. The tip of the 10-foot drop-off is a key area. Most fishermen consider the wind and the wind-generated current washing this bar. And because walleyes usually face into current, they picture walleyes facing the wind. Wind blowing into shore produces a right-moving current. Follow the shoreline drop-off to the right until you meet a bar. The inside-turn on the side of the bar that meets the current likely holds active fish. The tip of the point on the current side of the bar also likely holds active walleyes.

So it’s easy to see how important it is to understand what’s happening below the surface as wind blows across a body of water. How and where you cast or troll when it comes to subsurface current will aid in your success. One great way to learn how the Coriolis Effect actually works is to stand on the shore line on a breezy day and cast a shallow diving crank bait, something that goes to about 5 feet. As you slowly retrieve you’ll notice your crank bait not coming back to you in a straight line. The subsurface current is having an effect on the direction of your retrieve.

Another example is fishing on a breezy day with a minnow suspended under a bobber. The wind blows in one direction yet your bobber is moving completely the opposite way; subsurface current carrying the minnow with it. And what do we do…we slowly reach down and grab that fishing pole in anticipation of a wicked strike. And then scratch our heads after reeling in only to find an unharmed and untouched minnow.

Tips and Tactics
Okay, we’ve got the science down, now what? Well let’s talk about equipment, some basic rigs and how to employ them properly with our new found knowledge. I’ll be the first to admit that I have my confidence bait when it comes to walleye fishing. Why? Well I’ve had a ton of success using it but it’s also one of the basic baits and easiest presentations to use, and one that I’m sure is the first used by most walleye anglers…the jig. By far the most used and as previously mentioned the first used. It’s easy to employ, easy to learn and you can fish it in a variety of ways.

There are any number of combinations that we can talk about here, but there are a few that I know work, work well and can be used across the board. First off is jig size and color. I keep a variety of colors in my jig box as well as sizes. Load up on an arsenal of jig heads; 1/8, 1/4, and 3/8 ounce jigs are usually what I carry in my tackle box. I keep a variety of colors but try to keep in basic. I also do the same with the grubs; white, black, orange/brown, and chartreuse are colors that will work under most conditions.

Paddle tail baits are also very popular with walleye anglers. Great action, tons of color options and the design allows you to vary the speed of your retrieve and still have optimum action from the bait. You can vary your depth by adjusting the size of your lead and or increasing or decreasing the size of your swim bait.

Now that you’ve got your jig and you’ve either threaded a grub, minnow or some sort of bait on to it you have to cast out and start fishing. If you’re just starting out, I’d recommend just swimming the bait from the point you cast your line, retrieving it back to the boat or shoreline. A slow steady retrieve works best. My first experience with catching walleye was learning when to set the hook. Many times there was a nip or a tug and I’d rear back like I was trying to set the hook on a marlin and I’d miss the bite fifty percent of the time. Sure, there were times when the fish were aggressive and took the bait readily, but at other times the bite was subtle.

There is a distinctive “thump” when you’re fishing for walleye and when the fish aren’t crashing into your bait as you retrieve it. Experience taught me that the thump I felt was actually the fish flaring its gills, sucking water in to its mouth and thereby drawing the bait in. But, the fish’s mouth was still wide open. So if I felt the thump and immediately set the hook, I’d pull it right out of its mouth and miss it completely. So the key was to count to 1…I felt the walleye “thump” and would say to myself, “one thousand one” and then lift up and set the hook. By doing so I was giving the fish enough time to close its mouth down on the bait increasing the chances of a hook up!

Another great to way to employ the jig, especially if you can find turbid water, and by turbid I mean water that is moving or being moved by the wind or you’re fishing a river, is to bounce the jig off the bottom. Fish instinctively will orient themselves to face upstream so that the water is flowing past them, allowing the moving water to bring bait to them. Cast your jig up in the same direction the fish are oriented and slowly retrieve and bounce the jig off the bottom. Again, you’ll feel that distinctive thump telling you that a fish just took your bait, wait a second and set the hook!

Trolling is another great way to put fish in the boat. The ever popular and very effective method is the worm harness, a tried and true technique that with a little practice can be easily mastered. Crank baits that mimic the walleyes natural forage will also prove to be successful. Some of these baits have echo chambers built in to them with small metal beads. As you retrieve or troll the bait, not only do you get the vibration from the baits action, but the fish can “hear” the bait as it travels through water.

Wind is your Friend
So the next time the wind is blowing a bit and your favorite walleye destination seems a bit churned up, don’t be afraid to head out and chase after those feisty fish. Take a few extra minutes to figure out where that subsurface current is moving and adjust your casts or trolling accordingly. Success will come and in some cases you’ll have better success than you’ve had in the past…tight lines all!