Walleyes don’t give legendary Northwoods guide Greg Bohn the slip. He gives the slip to them — a slip bobber, that is.
Known as Mr. Slip Bobber, Bohn has spent the last 30 years in northern Wisconsin perfecting the tactic that is one of the most used and least understood in walleye fishing.
Most anglers view bobbers as a secondary tactic. Not Bohn. As a guide whose clients include novice anglers, he was forced to fine-tune a method of fishing that was both effective and easy to use. Slip bobbering is it.
“I needed something more than jigging or drifting,” said Bohn, who authored the new book, “Master the Art of Slip Bobbering: the Deadliest Method for Walleye”, with outdoor writer Scott Richardson.
“You can’t learn jigging in a half day. Heck, I’m still learning how to jig after 30 years,” he said. “But, slip bobbering allows people to catch fish right away.”
But, slip bobbers are for experienced anglers, too. The bottom line is that slip bobbers work. On one recent outing, an elderly doctor and his wife boated 155 walleyes while Bohn did nothing but bait hooks and net fish. The same couple ended with 250 walleyes over two days.
“My question is, what else is out there that can catch 200 walleyes in a weekend,” said Bohn, who designed the new Thill Pro-Series of slip bobbers for Lindy Legendary Tackle which are due to be in retailers shops by late 2005. “It usually out-fishes everything else we are doing. After a while of watching someone catch fish after fish with a slip bobber, it’s like, ‘Hey, give me one of those things.’ ”
Slip bobbers have other virtues. For one, they’re versatile. Where crankbaits are designed to catch walleyes at a certain depth range, slip bobbers can be fished from near the surface to the bottom no mater how deep the bottom might be. That’s a plus with a species like walleye who loves to suspend. “What else can you use which will do that?” he asked.
Slip bobbers also can be used over weeds, wood, rock, boulders and mud. Slip bobbers are good from ice out to ice up. And, in states where multiple rods are legal, slip bobbers give anglers a potent way to present more bait to fish while they cast lures or drift jigs.
Be advised the slip bobber rigs Bohn describes are not what commonly passes for slip bobbering. Most people start by sliding on any old slip knot or plastic bobber stop followed by a cheap bobber. They tie on a hook and crimp split shot on the line. Make no mistake. That’s not a slip bobber rig. It’s a recipe for disaster.
True enough, plastic and rubber bobber stops have their uses, especially when you have to retie when bites are coming fast and furious. But thread stops are best to hold at the proper depth longer without slipping out of place or damaging the line.
Don’t follow the advice of companies that suggest using slip bobbers without a plastic bead between the bobber and knot. The beads they provide are often inferior and stick, causing the bobber to stand upright before the bait reaches the desired depth. Frustration causes many anglers to abandon beads altogether. But, seeing the bead in place at the top of the bobber as it stands up is critical to insure the rig is working at the right depth. Bohn has searched the world for the best uniform beads to insure they slide easily and don’t stop the bobber before it reaches the knot. He markets them as a Pro Bead Rigging Kit which work great partnered with the Thill weighted and unweighted Pro Series bobbers.
Split shot? No. With rare exceptions like the Thill Soft Shot, split shot damages line and reduces perfectly good 8-pound test to 4-pound or 2-pound.
“As soon as you pinch split shot on the line and lose a 5-pound walleye at the boat, you’ll know you have the wrong weight,” Bohn said.
Instead, small rubber core sinkers are line friendly and damage free. Another advantage of rubber core — when line is snagged, it’s usually the weight that’s caught. With split shot, that means a break off and losing precious time as you retie. With a rubber core, simply pull. The rubber core slides and works free. The rig also can be modified with Timb’r Rock Jigs or NO-SNAGG hooks to avoid snags in the first place.
For most uses, the business end of the rig usually consists of a #4 or #6 Aberdeen gold or red hook. Aberdeen-style hooks are best to avoid damaging bait, which must stay lively to do its job. Jump to a #2 for big chubs and leeches.
Bohn also designed a hybrid between a jig and a hook he calls the Jig Bug. It has a small amount of weight of one-thirty-second or one-sixteenth ounces, on an oversized hook. That helps keep the bait from swimming out of the strike zone, but it’s small enough to be inhaled with the bait when a walleye strikes. Bohn adds another red bead above the jig, hook or Jig Bug for extra attraction.
How deep to fish? Bohn starts with the one-foot rule. In his experience, many walleyes are that close to the bottom most of the time. He uses a clip-on weight used for ice fishing to set the depth.
Where to fish a slip bobber changes with the seasons.
The slow natural presentation of a slip bobber offers is perfect for fishing cold water as walleye season opens. He targets rock bars or emerging weeds. Slip bobber rigs are great to use over the low, uniform tops of vegetation. Minnows are best in water colder than 60 degrees.
By summer, he focuses almost exclusively on weed beds on flats and bars that host the green stuff. Slip bobbers are a tremendous stealth presentation in dark water, where weeds could be in 5 feet of water or less.
Leeches become more favored as water rises through the 60s until they are used nearly exclusively when the temperature reaches 68 degrees and above.
As the season progresses, weed beds thicken, limiting anglers to targeting pockets or weed edges that could be 20 to 35 feet down. Sand grass and coontail are his favorite weeds that time of year. The edges are so sharp they seem to have been cut with a lawnmower, he said. Concentrate on points and turns in the weed line.
Bohn moves to the windy side of the lake where the food chain will be most active and his bobbers can be used most effectively. He sets the depth one foot from the bottom and casts near the weeds, letting the wind drift the bait to the edge. Wind creates waves too, so the bait’s own movement is augmented by the up and down motion of the bobber and the movement toward the weed edge. “You have a lot of things going for you,” Bohn said.
Most people who bother to use slip bobbers in spring and summer at all abandon them in fall. Bad move. “It will perform in fall just like it did in spring and summer. There is no stopping this rig,” Bohn said.
The key is to follow the walleyes out as they vacate weed beds as vegetation starts to age by mid-August. Plants still look green, but cooler nights and shorter days are beginning to take their toll. Some walleyes, especially in clearer lakes, will stay in the weeds into fall. But, others move to sand or mud bottoms, rock bars, mid-lake humps and deeper dropoffs. Bohn concentrates on mud flats where walleyes stage to eat mayfly larvae. He drifts with slip bobber rigs watching his sonar for telltale bumps on the bottom. When he gets strikes, he enters the waypoints on his GPS or tosses a marker buoy over the side so he can return, anchor and work the area.
By late fall Bohn targets trophy fish on deep rock bars in depths of 45 feet and more. Best bait then becomes big chubs. Nightcrawlers work in fall, too. Fellow guide and friend Lyle Chapman proved that to Bohn one day by boating six walleyes over 7 pounds on nightcrawlers.
Give walleyes the slip. Bohn’s book is available by writing: WC Strictly Walleye, 6087 Highway 51 South, Hazelhurst, Wis., 54531. Cost is $13.95 plus $5.95 shipping and handling. Wisconsin residents add 5.5 percent, or 85 cents, sales tax.