Walleyes live in a variety of aquatic environments, although they are usually found near rocky points, in places where the lake bottom changes from mud to gravel, along with weed lines, near reefs, and in areas with current. The trick is learning where walleyes are likely to be located throughout the year and to focus your fishing efforts in those places.
The sunken island is sometimes referred to as a reef, a hump, maybe even a mudflat. These raised structural elements are a variation in the floor of the lake, river or reservoir. For example, you can be running across your favorite lake looking at your depth finder and see the bottom come up from 40 feet deep to a 5-foot range. This is a “sunken island.” No, there hasn’t been sudden volcanic activity on your lake, but this structure is something that you should key in on when fishing for walleyes.
People often mistakenly go on a lake and look at it as a big fishbowl, but fish only hold in certain areas. So the key is to locate areas where walleyes live on a seasonal basis. Many fishermen are trying to cover too much water too fast and aren’t spending enough time in specific areas that hold fish. I always pick 3 or 4 spots that look good on a map and concentrate on them.
For example, a sunken island may have a series of spots where the bottom changes from one type to another. Transitional zones might be changes from hard to soft, or sand to rock. These zones are just subtle changes and they could be very narrow bands on a specific piece of structure. Often a point or inside bend is present, too. Most anglers tend to fish the whole structure. Concentrate your efforts on the 2 or 3 key spots rather than fishing a whole flat or a whole sunken island.
During the summer months, walleyes like to move out over deeper water but will identify with some type of structure for food and protection. Minnows begin cruising the shallows and weed growth attracts more and more minnows as well as walleyes, in large numbers. A sunken island allows escape routes for walleyes to sink deeper into the depths of the lake or out of the penetration of light. In fact, many times you can find walleyes on the shadow side of this island out of the direct sunlight, especially in clear water lakes. In stained lakes and in turbid water sometimes it might be the middle of the day before enough light penetrates to get the food chain started.
During our stay at Andy Myers Lodge on Eagle Lake, Ginny and I had the opportunity to learn first hand from Danny Herbeck that you can catch fish virtually in 2 feet of water at a spot called 5th and Broadway and he conducted an on-the-water seminar showing that they can be caught, even in the gin clear water of Eagle Lake, adjacent to a sunken island.
The most active fish will probably be just off the weed line. Usually, this is about seven feet down off the island. They will sometimes travel in circles around the great island at this depth to find their food. Each lake or river might be different, but more than likely if you find a depth at which fish seem to be the most active, stick to that depth and work it before moving deeper or shallower.
Therefore, in order to find these fish and the island, a good depth finder is essential. I prefer the Lowrance depth finders. This gives me a good picture not only of the bottom but also weed growth and active levels of fish. When fishing with live bait it’s tough to beat a Lindy Rig. Keep your bail open and a finger on the line as you slowly troll. When you feel a pick-up, drop the line. The slip sinker rig allows the fish to take the bait without feeling any weight. You can vary the size of your sinker and hook, and change the length of the leader to match conditions. Line is an essential tool in any fishing situation, but in shallow water fishing, it is crucial. The Berkley fluorocarbon line Vanish has almost the same refractive index as water and essentially becomes invisible when submerged. I love it for walleye fishing because it gives me a low diameter line, which is easy to cast; it also provides me with high tensile strength to rip walleyes or bass out of heavy cover. Use a floating jig to lift your bait off the bottom.
Many times anglers get caught up in a certain type of fishing. These people might retrieve a jig the same way or troll a crankbait at one speed. Also, many anglers use a pre-tied live bait rig with a standard snell when the fish are 3 feet off the bottom. The standard snell length might be placing the bait below the feeding fish. Or they may be casting a #7 Shad Rap that runs 7 to 8 feet deep to fish that are 10 feet down. That means that the fish have to be super active for them to come up after the bait. I always determine where the fish are positioned in relationship to the bottom and what depth my bait is running. I try to find a presentation that will put bait right in front of the fish’s nose and make it easy for the fish to locate the bait or lure.
When fish are suspended 1 1/2 to 5 feet off the bottom, the length of your snell, the position of your boat, and the presentation speed are important. Many times, you have to stop and work the bait slowly through the fish. At times, I’ve had my best luck with an almost motionless presentation. And, by changing the length of the snell you can get fish on the bottom or suspended. In fact, you could anchor, cast out and let the leech or crawlers do its thing. This is a great method for catching spooky or inactive walleyes.