Walleye, pike, and panfish tips from my favorite fishing pros

I’m a writer and photographer, not a professional angler. I like to talk on the radio and jump into occasional television segments. Pro anglers fish tournaments and hold seminars. They work sportshows and have sponsors. I have never had a sponsor, but I know many anglers who do.

This is one of the beautiful things about being a journalist covering the outdoor sports: You get to fish, hunt and shoot with all the top anglers, hunters, and shooters in the world. It definitely makes you better at the sport, but it doesn’t make you a pro. Pros must be so focused on one aspect of the outdoors that they live and breathe it. 

The pro anglers with whom I have recreated always find fish and know exactly what those fish want to eat. These guys spend time at their craft, but I believe the pros also add twists to their presentations that trigger bites. Here are some of my favorite pro tips.

Chris Kuduk is a Freshwater Fishing Hall of famer who loves to fish walleyes on big rock piles with slip bobbers. His trick is to use tiny jigs and an average-sized leach. The jig is 1/32- or 1/16-ounce. He outfished me dramatically every time I tried a bigger jig on the slip-bobber setup I was using. You have to maintain a light drag on the reel when fighting big walleyes with this small of a hook, but you will catch some trophy caliber fish.

Gary Roach is another Hall of Famer who has mastered live-bait rigging. He invented the Roach Rig, which allows an angler to add some distance between the weight and the bait. While this is handy when fishing pressured lakes, Roach’s best trick is to add a colored bead right above the hook. Can the fish see that orange or chartreuse bead in deep water? I’m not sure, but I do know this rig outfishes everyone in the boat who isn’t using a bead just above the hook. 

Mark Martin is a Hall of Famer who is extremely successful on big water. Martin won the first Professional Walleye Trail championship on Lake of the Woods. The last time I was on the water with Martin we were on Wisconsin’s Lake Winnebago on a tough bite. He switched sinkers on the live-bait rigs from light to pretty darn heavy and sat right on top of the fish. There was heavy wind and waves, but he kept the boat right on top of those walleyes. The bites were light and there was a good half hour between bites, but we caught some nice fish when everyone else we talked to caught nothing.

Hall of Famer Bob Propst is a Dakota legend. He could find and catch reservoir walleyes when everyone else was waiting at home for the word that some fish were biting. One time on Lake Sakakawea, Propst and I took a pontoon boat out and fish catching was non-stop for three straight hours. His trick? Put out a trolling spread that covered some ground and depths. The first 90 minutes we only caught a few fish, but by the end of that scouting run Propst knew the walleyes were in 18 feet of water on the edge of a dropoff hitting firetiger Shad Raps trolled at 1.4 miles-an-hour. During that period when we were trying to find fish, we constantly changed lures and depths. It was a lesson in finding the location of the fish and fine-tuning the presentation to the exact lure the fish wanted. The results were amazing.

I consider guides pro anglers too. Josh Huff from Hook and Fin Charters on Lake Superior is very adept at drop-shotting. He uses his sonar to determine how high the vegetation is growing and ties the hook so the bait is just 6 inches above the highest plant. Any higher, according to Huff, and the bait is too far out of the zone. Any lower and cover will obscure it. Where most drop-shooters try to stay out of vegetation Huff gets right into it. Frustration fighting the weeds disappears when you’re constantly fighting fish.

Larry Hanson is an awesome Lake Minnetonka guide. His clients love him because he always catches fish. When the bite is good you can troll crankbaits, pitch jigs with twister tails, sling spinnerbaits into the milfoil, he said. Lots of presentation work when the fish are cooperating. When the bite is tough, Hanson buys a few dozen leeches, ties on some live-bait rigs and heads for the weedline. He drags those leeches out in that deeper water and catches everything. Panfish, bass, walleyes and even northern pike cannot resist a quivering leech. According to Hanson, when all else is failing it’s hard to beat a piece of meat on the edge of the vegetation.

The little things make a difference in whether fish are caught or the trip is a bust. A small bead here, a heavier sinker there. But one thing all the top pros do when the fish are biting: They never leave to find a better bite. Never leave fish to find fish is a hard rule they all follow. 

Another hard rule is to never stick with something that is not working. Anglers should always be prepared to try different presentations until they discover they discover something effective. Pro-anglers believe the fish are biting. You just have to give them the right motivation to hit that lure or take the bait!

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