Among the differences between Rapala® pro anglers and recreational anglers is a depth of experience that enables the pros to avoid making — and repeating — common mistakes on the water. Here’s six unforced errors to watch out for. You’ll catch more walleyes if you do!
1. Fish Too Deep, Too Soon
The biggest mistake many walleye anglers make is fishing too deep, too soon, says angling legend Al Lindner.
“There’s going to be a lot of walleyes that are going to be up on shallow-water flats early in the season,” Lindner says. “In many bodies of water, the biggest percentage of fish I would say come from six to 20 feet of water, if I’m daytime fishing.”
In the early season, Lindner recommends fishing a VMC® jig dressed with a minnow between the shore and the first distinct drop-off. “In a lot of our lakes Up North, that first drop-off is somewhere around 10 or 12 feet,” he says. “I’ll be fishing from there, in shallow.”
At night, Lindner will troll through the same areas with a Flat Rap® or an Original Floating Rapala® on line rigged with a few split-shots. “It’s that simple!” he says. “If you don’t vary from what I just told you, you’re going to catch plenty of walleyes.”
2. Troll Too Slowly In Cool, Early-season Water
Conventional wisdom says you should troll slowly in cool water. But conventional wisdom is often wrong. In-Depth Outdoors TV host James Holst has seen this time and again on Lake Pepin, a wide spot on the Mississippi River south of the Twin Cities.
“We troll at two miles-per-hour and all we catch is white bass and sheephead,” Holst says. “We throw a little speed at these fish, and all we catch is walleyes. … So make sure you try speeding up. For us, it’s just magic.”
With mid-May water temps in the mid-60s, Holst will troll Lake Pepin at 2 3/4 to 3 mph. Although trophy fish are less frequent, he says, you can expect to catch a lot of fish. “This is a pattern I’ve used for many years to put numbers of eating-size fish in the boat,” he says.
3. Reel In Too Fast and Lose Focus
More often than not, says Rapala Director of Field Promotions Mark Fisher, most anglers fish too fast. That can mean reeling too fast and losing focus too soon.
“You finally got the spot, relax and fish it!” Fisher exhorts. “Don’t start immediately trying to figure out your next spot to cast to. If you’re already thinking about spots 2, 3, 4 5, you’re not really focused on the moment.”
That was in Fisher’s mind when he helped Rapala design the popular Scatter Rap® series of baits. Scatter Raps hunt and search erratically when retrieved slowly. Fishing them too fast lessens their effectiveness.
“Speed is the one element that can really make your day,” Fisher says. “I don’t think we think about that enough. The Scatter Rap really forces us to do that — slow down and let the bait work.”
4. Stay Put After a Bite Shuts Down
If fish aren’t biting today where you thumped ‘em yesterday, move sooner than later. Some factor out of your control — weather, water clarity, current — most likely re-positioned the fish, so you should go look for them elsewhere.
“To be really successful as an angler, you can’t just say ‘I caught ‘em here yesterday, but today the fish weren’t biting,’” says James Lindner, director, producer and co-host of Lindner’s Angling Edge television show and a Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame Legendary Communicator. “There’s a lot of environmental factors that could have changed overnight.”
Once a hot bite cools off, moving to where environmental factors are more in your favor will usually be more productive than staying put. “But a lot of people don’t do that,” Lindner says. “That’s why really successful anglers are so successful.”
5. Experiment with New Baits When the Fish Aren’t Biting
The best time to experiment with new baits is when fish are really active — when you’re catching them one after another. But most people try new baits only when their go-to baits aren’t working.
“The best way to build confidence in a bait is to catch something on it,” James Lindner says. So If you wait to try new lures until you can’t get bit on your favorite baits, chances are you’ll never gain confidence in the new ones.
“What happens is you tie on a bunch of different baits, throw ‘em six or seven times and then cut ‘em off and try something else — ‘Well, they won’t bite that one!’ And back in the box it goes,” Lindner explains.
So the next time you’re having a great “numbers day,” that’s the time to tie on a new or under-used bait or two. “Not only will you garner confidence that they do indeed catch fish,” Lindner explains, “you’ll also learn the subtleties of how to retrieve them best.”
6. Scale Down and Slow Down When the Bite Gets Tough
When the fish won’t bite do you tie on smaller baits and fish more slowly?
“That’s absolute reverse thinking!” exclaims James Lindner. For gamefish of all species, he says, “speed is a huge trigger.”
When Lindner tells the following story in seminars, he says, many people nod along and laugh: “A lot of people say, ‘Well, the fish aren’t biting, let’s move to another spot.’ And then they reel in their baits really fast so they can leave. And then they’ll catch a fish!
“But what happens next?” Lindner asks. “They say ‘Hey, let’s make a few more casts here!’ But then they go back to reeling in their baits slowly — just like they were doing before they caught that fish. That fish just told you what they want! You gotta listen. It can be the difference between catching two or three fish or catching 30.”