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Part One Hundred-two

Randy Fratzke

Panfish Chat- Host FRITZ FRATZ - Monday. 6-8 p.m. PST (9-11 EST)

Walleyes on the Fly

By Randy Fratzke

I've mentioned several times about fly fishing for Walleyes locally. The reaction is usually "No way, Dude . . ." and my response is "Way, Dude!" First of all, the little river I live on is one of the top Walleye hatcheries in the state, which really helps the situation. But I've also caught them in other areas, so it's not a unique situation. Neither are the methods. I do need to caution you here about one big difference, there are river Walleyes and there are lake Walleyes, and I fish for river Walleyes. Now they are the same fish, same species, same right down to the bright white, glassy eyes and sharp teeth, but I've never been able to catch a lake Walleye. They usually run too deep for even my methods and are usually trolled for with down riggers and other deeper water equipment. (of course, if you really want to go for it you could probably hook your fly rod into a down rigger and troll with the other guys . . . No Comments Please . . . Just don't tell me about it!)


First of all you need to take a look at equipment. Walleyes are powerful fish with a nasty row of very sharp teeth. I fish with a minimum of a 6wt rod. I'll soon have my 10wt finished which should shorten the fight time, but for now, the 6wt works for the smaller 1 to 4 pound fish. Next is the line. Walleyes normally stay relatively close to the bottom so you need a line that will get your fly down there, and keep it down there in the current during the retrieve. I use a wt forward, fast sink line (there are plenty of brands out there so I won't mention any names and wind up ticking someone off . . .) Next comes the leader. Please keep in mind, these fish have teeth, plus sharp gill plates. When hooked they have a tendency to turn and run, hook your line under their gill plates and either chew through your line or cut it with their gill plates. To keep that from happening, you need either a steel leader with a snap swivel or a strong monofilament line, somewhere in the 15 to 30 pound range, about 3 to 6 feet in length.

I've also started changing over to some of the new braided lines usually reserved for those bait casters, just remember not to run the braided lines through your Tip guide on the retrieve or they WILL cut right through your guide, especially when your bringing in a fish! The longer the leader the more natural action it'll give to the fly, to a point. I don't use a tippet, but tie directly to the leader and I use super glue on the knot, especially on the braided lines. (Beginning to sound similar to heavy salt water fishing? Just hook on to a 30 inch 9 pound Walleye some time!)

Now on to the flies I use. I started out fishing Walleyes using bait casters and spinning rods. Using down riggers, or casting long and letting it sink, or trolling (and yes, occasionally I still do, again don't write me and chew on me about this point . . . I enjoy fishing, by any method or means!) The lures used in those methods are usually fat lipped, deep diving, crank baits, or lead head jigs, tipped with worms, leeches or minnows. Well, that gives us a few references as to what kind of flies we need for the fish. I have caught a few Walleyes during their early season spawning on light flies, but for the most part they are usually deep running, weighted flies. For this area, and it may be a little different in yours, you'll have to do some experimenting, modified Clouser Minnows, Light and Dark Spruces, and Lefty Deceivers seem to work. By 'modified,' I mean adding weight and varying the colors. By weight, I mean under wrapping the body with extra lead and/or using larger, heavier dumbbell eyes.

Walleyes seem to look at things a little differently than other fish when it comes to color. Most of the Walleye flies I use do not resemble the forage fish, in color at least, at all. I use a lot of chartreuse, bright blue, orange, yellow, and white. In addition I use a whole lot of tinsel and flashabou. For example, I tie a Clouser Minnow, using a #1 or 2 or 3x long hook, (and I've also gone up to 0/1 size) wrapped with lead and a 1/8th to 1/4th ounce dumbbell for the eyes. Then, instead of the 'normal bass pattern' I use chartreuse top with a red bottom (always, with the hook point up and the dumbbell down). I also add a few strands of tinsel between the colors for attraction. Other patterns using the Clouser as a 'base' is blue top, a thin strip of red and a white bottom and an orange top, a thin strip of red, and a white bottom. The Spruces are tied in about the same 'offbeat' colors, they just don't have the dumbbell eyes, so they will run a little shallower. The Deceivers are pretty good just the way Lefty Kreh ties them, color wise, just add the lead under wrapping for weight. I'm sure there are a number of others out there but, like I said, these work here. Occasionally I'll pick one or two up while fishing for small mouth bass using a weighted crayfish pattern, but for the most part I stick with the other flies.

Okay, now you know what I use for equipment and flies. You still need to know the method to the madness. Like I said before, Walleyes seem to be creatures of different habits than other fish. I've caught them in shallow riffles, in swirling cut backs, on the back side of river bends, near structure, such as trees or large rocks and suspended just off the bottom, in the middle of the main channel. The only thing in common was the river current and depth. They seem to prefer deeper water with a fairly strong current. They have a tendency to use structure to break up the current, which disorients the smaller bait fish they feed on. So that's the type of water I look for, strong running water, with structure of some kind breaking the current or deep pockets behind rocks or trees in shallower riffles. Getting the fly into those areas usually involves casting at a 90 degree angle to the current and then working the fly in the current into those areas. Sound like a lot of work or a challenge? I never said it was going to be easy, but the payback of hooking onto a decent sized walleye is one you'll never forget! Remember, use the current and the weight of the fly, let them do most of the work. Mend the line or strip out a little more, depending on position. Lastly, keep in mind that when a walleye bites, it's a very light bite, so be prepared for a "peck" and not a rip on the line, then set the hook. Once the hook is set you'll get the reel ripping excitement and the adrenaline rush you've been waiting for! Use a landing net and a forceps to remove the fly -- do not try to "lip" these fish unless you want a shredded thumb or finger. Remember, the teeth are very sharp and the gill plates can be almost like a razors edge, not to mention the points on the dorsal fins!

The last tip came to me from an 'old timer' who said, "If ya ain't losing some tackle then ya ain't gonna catch no walleye!" So tie plenty of flies and expect to loose some in the process to snags and hangups. Have fun and good luck!

That's it for this week. Again, if you have any other questions, comments or advice, please feel free to write. ~ Randy Fratzke

P.S. Catch and release is one thing, but Walleye is one of the best tasting fish out there! So release when you can, but save one or two for dinner.

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