When many anglers think walleye fishing, they dream of Lindy Rigs, jigs, live bait and slip floats or trolling a Cordell Wally Diver -- traditional walleye techniques. But none of these lures or styles entered into two recent professional walleye tournament wins. The champions of the FLW Walleye Tour event and the prestigious Governor's Cup tournaments on Lake Oahe in North and South Dakota did use "traditional" lures...traditional for bass fishing, that is.
Professional walleye angler John Campbell won $50,000 for first place in the FLW Walleye Tour event, and the very next weekend Ted Takasaki and his partner Jammie Koepp took home $21,000 by winning the 38th Annual South Dakota Governor's Cup (plus two gold rings valued at $3,000 each), using the same lure/technique -- trolling a 1-ounce Booyah Blade spinnerbait on leadcore line.
Campbell and Takasaki began fishing the Masters Walleye Circuit together in 1988. In 1991, the team climbed to the top of the MWC and won the coveted Team of the Year title, so it's obvious that these anglers are some of the best in the world and are well-versed in walleye tactics. But like any great angler, each keeps an open mind to new techniques, even if they employ lures not associated with walleyes.
Spinnerbaits for walleyes may sound like a weird tactic, but it produces fish -- big fish that evidently were never told they weren't supposed to eat bass lures.
Lake Oahe is a reservoir that rises and falls during years of drought or flood. Trees often grow along the shoreline during times of low water, and when the reservoir rises again, these trees become prime habitat for big walleyes. But, getting those fish out of the tangles of limbs and cover is a difficult task that results on snags galore when utilizing traditional walleye tactics. A vertical presentation helps, but is too slow for tournament fishing, especially when the fish are spread out.
Trolling is a much quicker and more effective tactic, but Lindy Rigs and crankbaits tend to cause more snags than fish. This is when a spinnerbait shines.
"What makes a spinnerbait so appealing to me is that you can troll or cast them into the trees without snagging all the time," Campbell said. "I've always asked myself if a walleye will eat a spinnerbait -- it possesses flashy blades that are similar to the traditional walleye in-line spinners and looks like a baitfish, so why not?"
At last year's FLW event on Lake Oahe, Booyah spinnerbaits were used to take several of the top ten finishes, including first place. The bait's shape allows them to come through wood and limbs without many snags. Using 18-pound leadcore line with a super braid leader helps pull free many of the snags.
This year, Booyah Blade spinnerbaits were the winners' choice at both tournaments on Oahe. What sets these spinnerbaits apart from the rest is that they possess large gold-plated willowleaf blades that thump and flash better than any other spinnerbait, according to Takasaki. This vibration seems to call the walleyes up from the tree tops, and the shape of the head and design aids in its ability to come through the cover without as many snags.
"Lake Oahe is a massive reservoir of the Missouri River system and encompasses more than 370,000 acres from the middle of North Dakota to Pierre, South Dakota," Takasaki said. "To effectively fish it, I used Humminbird's unique down-imaging and side-imaging capabilities to locate productive areas. The fish appeared as clear as day in the branches."
In Campbell's case, once fish were spotted, he let out enough line to reach the top of the trees, which were in 17 to 25 feet of water. He found that the fish were at different depths depending on time of day -- sometimes at the trunk, sometimes midway up and other times right up in the tops. He trolled from tree to tree at 2 mph while watching his sonar carefully to remain in the productive areas.
Takasaki and partner Koepp also trolled 1-ounce white and chartreuse Booyah Blade in the Peoria Flats portion of the reservoir, and said the key to victory was boat control.
"I used my 9.9hp Pro Kicker in conjunction with a bow-mounted Terrova trolling motor to keep my speed at 1.8 to 2mph," Takasaki said. "I had to stay right on the 17-foot contour. Any shallower and I would snag too much, and any deeper and I was out of the productive trees. The fish were spread out and it was essential to keep moving around the massive flats to find active fish."
While trolling spinnerbaits for walleye is not a recent discovery, it has been newly rediscovered. Three years ago a part-time guide on Nebraska's Lake MacConaughy contacted Booyah's management about his success with the spinnerbaits. He'd won $10,000 the weekend before, and said that trolling spinnerbaits produced bigger fish than any other technique he'd employed.
"It's been fantastic here this year again," Rowland said. "Three years in a row now -- on the same GPS waypoints -- 7- to 10-pounders were waiting to hammer my spinnerbaits. In June, my son and a buddy doubled up on an 11- and a 9-pounder at the same time. To make it even better, there were 20 boats working the same area and I didn't see another fish caught."
Rowland is certain the technique will work anywhere, even in lakes and reservoirs that don't feature submerged trees. He said that by late July MacConaughy was drawn down at least 15 feet and the walleyes pulled out of the trees to deep, open water to suspend near baitfish, and he's still catching them trolling spinnerbaits.
"I look for big balls of baitfish, then put out spinnerbaits at different depths," he said. "I don't know what it is about those baits, but they're working magic for me."
Trolling spinnerbaits for walleyes may seem a bit odd, but $71,000 in winnings over a two-week time span is evidence enough that the technique is here to stay.