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Soft Stickbaits for Summer River Walleyes
written by Jeff Knapp

Soft stickbaits are very effective on river walleye throughout summer, into fall, until water temperatures drop below the mid 50s. Learn how to fishing these 'eye catchers in the following article.
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Stickbaits for Summer River Walleye
Fluke-style baits excel when targeting active fish feeding in shallow areas with a fair amount of current.
 

Flukes and Senkos -- brand names anglers often use to describe the two basic styles of soft stickbaits -- are highly effective river walleye baits when water temperatures rise into the mid 50s and beyond.

Feeding fish are found in surprisingly shallow water, often a foot or two deep, in strong current. Less active walleyes often hold in main channel areas, deeper places that still exhibit a fair amount of current. In both situations the judicious use of soft stickbaits is a top summertime ploy.

When water is warm and fish are active, river walleye absolutely love one particular niche in a river: the tailout section of a long pool. "Tailout" refers to the transition area where slower/deeper water of a pool discharges into a run or riffle downstream. The current picks up in these "lip" areas as the water volume funnels over the thin spot. Patches of weedgrowth -- milfoil and eelgrass -- might be present come summer. Scattered rock breaks up the weed cover, providing ambush points for hungry walleyes. This is the place to fish the fluke-style bait.

Minnow/shad shaped 5-inch soft-plastic offerings excel in this situation because you can hang the bait right in the fish's face with little to no worry about hangups. This style includes Yum's Houdini Shad, Case's Salty Sinking Shad, and yes, Zoom's Super Fluke.

Rigging-wise, generally from mid spring until early June or whenever water temperatures run from 55 to 65 degrees, I use a weighted hook, specifically a Mustad Power Lock Plus UltraPoint in 3/0 (for a five-inch bait). The cylindrical weight (either 1/8 or 1/16 ounce) that slides on the hook shank keeps the bait down a bit; of at least equal importance, it acts like a keel, toning down the action of the bait. Once water temperatures surpass 65 degrees and a more active bait is appropriate, I'll often go with an light wire 3/0 XCaliber Tx3 wide gap hook.

Boat control is a supreme aspect of this situation. As the boat approaches the tailout, I engage the front trolling motor, adjusting the thrust to a level that holds the boat even in the current. A motor-steered unit like the Minn Kota Power Drive is ideal for this.

Soft Stickbaits for Summer Walleye
This walleye fell prey to a senko-style soft plastic fished mid-river, where walleyes spend much of their time when less active.

The physical makeup of the tailout dictates exactly how you work it, but in general, you'll want to work from one side of the river to the other. So point the bowmount slightly to the far shore so the boat slowly slips in that direction.

Casts should be made quartering downstream. As the bait drifts in the current, keep a tight line, imparting a slow stop-and-go retrieve. Once the bait is immediately downriver, allow it to hang in the current a bit, and then slowly twitch it back to the boat, keeping the retrieve non-aggressive, so a walleye can easily track it. The weight of the hook will keep the bait subsurface as you pull it against the current; subsurface depth is influenced by the strength of the current and the size of the weight. Keep in mind we are dealing with depths that run from about five feet up to a foot deep. Switching from a sixteenth-ounce to an eighth-ounce only adjusts the bait a foot or so. Many days it's not that big a thing, as the fish are there to feed. But on some days the little details make a difference.

Funny thing about river walleyes: they tend to follow a bait, often hitting it right at the boat. So be alert, allowing the bait to hang for a second or two before pulling it for the next cast.

Once you reach the far shore, allow the boat to drift further down the tailout, and then fish your way back, covering water you missed on the first pass. The length of the tailout will decide how many back-and-forths are needed to work the area.

I like to make long casts in this situation. When fishing weighed hooks, I use an All Star trigger rod (6-foot, 4-inch) with either a Pflueger round baitcaster or a low-profile Ardent casting reel. For unweighted hooks, the nod goes to an All Star spinning rod (7-foot) matched with a Pflueger spinning reel. Keeping at least two rods available, with slightly different riggings, allows one to experiment efficiently.

Line wise, I use fluorocarbon in 10-pound test for baitcasters and 6-pound for spinning outfits.

This pattern requires clear to stained water and normal to low-water flows. In clear water I prefer fluke-style stickbaits in white or pearl. Bubblegum (pink) can also be good, in both clear and stained water, as is watermelon seed. Chartreuse is a good stained water pick.

Since this pattern relies on active fish feeding in shallow, current areas, the most productive times are early and late in the day, and cloudy/rainy days.

Senko-style stickbaits, those do-nothing-looking 4- to 6-inch sinking worms, are effective for working mid-river channels where walleyes spend much of their time when less active.

I've found Yum Dingers, Yamamoto Senkos and Bass Pro Shop's Stick-Os all to be productive.

The areas I like to target with Senko-style baits have moderate current. Often the banks are littered with rocks and wood, places that look great. But with the water warm, walleyes often move off of those great looking banks, especially when the water is low.

Simply allow the boat to drift with the current down these mid-river runs. Texas-rig the straight stickbait with a 1 to 1/0 Gamakatsu offset worm hook. Use a 1/16 to 1/8 ounce bullet weight to hasten the worm's fall. Make short casts to the side, allowing the bait to flow at the same speed as the boat while you slowly bring it back in. If the water's deeper, over 10 feet or so, you can fish it vertically, just like you would a jig during the winter. It's just that the boat will be moving much faster in the mid-river flow. And the bait need not constantly bump the bottom; in clear to stained water, walleye will move a foot or two up to take the worm.

For a change up from T-rigging, I'll use a number 4 octopus hook to nose hook the bait, which allows it to swing with more action. Productive colors include smoke/red flake and watermelon/pearl laminate. I use an All Star spinning rod (6-foot, 9-inch)  with a Pflueger spinning reel, spooled with 8-pound high-vis copolymer line. A two-foot fluorocarbon leader (8-pound-test) keeps the gold line away from the bait.

Soft stickbaits remain effective throughout summer, into fall, until water temperatures drop below the mid 50s.

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