Deep and clear, covered with power boats and jet skis, West Okoboji in northwest Iowa can cause any walleye chaser to scratch their head. But the fish are there, waiting, for the taking or releasing. But how, trolling? Certainly. Jigs? Why not. The biggest key is patience and a willingness to get out of bed early or stay out late. Of the two early is better, because many of the power boaters stay out late also.
"I like to be on the water as soon as it is light enough to see. Maybe earlier." States Bill Leonard, a local realtor and touring MWC professional. Leonard has been fishing the Iowa Great Lakes for years and knows many of their secrets. "Fishing effectively past 10:00 am in the summer is almost impossible with all the boat traffic."
West Okoboji is crystal clear and one of only a handful of lakes in the world that is classified as a true blue water lake. Visibility can reach twenty feet at times which means light penetration can be well over forty. Summer fishing for walleye often means starting as deep as thirty feet and reaching into depths of seventy plus.
"By August the young of the year baitfish, perch and bluegill mainly, are two inches or so long. Just the size of a medium diver Frenzy." Leonard commented "Now, that lure won't reach the fish on it's own so I need to weight it and I like leadcore line for that purpose. With leadcore I can place my baits within inches of the exact depth that I mark fish. And I can do it over and over again."
Leadcore line is a nylon line with a thin strand of lead running through it. Most leadcore line is color coded every thirty feet so an angler can adjust the amount of weight in front of the lure by letting more line out or reeling some line in. The more line or weight the deeper a lure will run.
An alterative to leadcore line is snap weights. Snap weights consist of a clothespin type device that snaps onto the line. A weight anywhere in size from ½ ounce up to 8 ounces or more is then attached to the other end of the clip. I am more accustomed to snap weights. Both systems work to take lures into the extreme depths walleye use in the heat of the summer. The best advice I can give is pick one system and learn it, so that you have confidence your baits are in the zone.
Leonard continues. "Leadcore is speed sensitive. In other words if I increase my trolling speed water resistance on the line will cause the line to lift higher in the water column. If I slow down there is less resistance and the line and lure sink. Monitoring your speed is paramount to success. This speed sensitivity also provides options. Let's say I am concentrating on fish in the forty foot level and I have placed my baits just above them at thirty-nine feet. Now, I mark some fish a little higher, say 36 feet, just hit the throttle and your lure rises slightly. The same thing goes for raising your lures over a hump or reef. Hit the throttle; lift the baits. Once you are past the structure slow back down and your lures are precisely at the depth you started. I don't mean to make this sound simple, it takes practice, but it is not that hard to learn."
Snap weights are also speed sensitive. More or less sensitive is a matter of opinion. With leadcore's thick diameter the entire length of the line offers resistance. With snap weights the bulk of resistance is placed right at the clip and weight. Since I know how deep my lures will run on a given line, I release the prescribed amount of line put on a snap weight and release the necessary line to reach my desired depth. It sounds more complicated than it really is. Purchasing a Precision Trolling book will help you get started with either snap weights or leadcore. The book is a troller's bible and contains graphs for both leadcore and snap weights.
Leonard and I agree on one thing when it comes to targeting these deep fish and that is the line between our weight system and our lure. We both use 6/2 FireLine. Leonard explains. " I use a fifty foot FireLine leader in front of my leadcore. The no stretch quality of the FireLine allows me to feel the bait wobble and helps insure a good hookset with the large amounts of line I have out." I must agree. Sometimes I will have 200-300 feet of line out to reach the desired depth and although mono will work I find I lose less fish with FireLine.
Fishing with bait in 30 foot plus depths also requires a change in the anglers thought process. For jigging the many deep rock points and humps that West Okoboji has to offer using the lightest jig possible is not an option. In fact my philosophy for deep water jigging is just the opposite. Use the heaviest jig the walleyes will hit. Start jigging with at least a ½ ounce jig. In high winds jigs of 1 ounce or more may be needed. For summer jigging I rarely use live bait anymore. Berkeley Powerbait has proven more effective and less of a hassle.
The different styles of Powerbait has grown immensely over the past few years and it pays to experiment. I like the Power grubs of course, but the minnow style and even the standard seven-inch worm work on a jig. With the worm I pinch off an inch or more of the head of the worm so it is five to six inches long. The fish seem to like the hard thumping action that big auger tail produces. Play with colors too. Start with the more natural colors and work your way into the bright Neonz, especially on cloudy, windy days. Jigging can produce some very big fish for those willing to sit on a small, tight piece of structure that is holding fish.
I guess Bill and I agree on two things West Okoboji is one of Iowa's premier walleye lakes and if your going to catch'em in the summer you better have the tools and the know how to get lures down deep.
Editor's Note: Doug Burns is a touring PWT pro and operates the Iowa Guide service. He can be reached toll free at 877-397-5641. www.iaguide.net