Ultra-Clear Water + Long Leaders = Midday ‘Zebra Walleyes’


It’s the little details that make or break a good catch of walleyes—especially during midday hours when I’m on the job. With the increasing number of top-destination walleye lakes in Minnesota becoming infested with zebra mussels and creating newly formed ultra-clear water environments, fishing strategies have to change. And that folks, can mean simple “tweaks” such as the leader length on live bait rigs.

Consider these conditions: Flat water, calm, hot, bright sun, 1:30 p.m., sand bottom, scattered walleyes at 22 feet about five yards out from the weed line. Four anglers plus me in the boat. Nightcrawlers and red/gold hooks on live bait rigs for bait. My version of “slow death” on the rig.

I’m backtrolling at around .7 mph, and nearly 20 feet away from my seat, there is another angler in the bow seat. (A Lund Pro Guide 2075 is almost 21 feet long.) Between myself and “bow guy” are 3 others stting on mid-deck chairs. We all have a variety of leader lengths averaging of 4 to 5 feet of 10-pound-test Berkley Trilene monofilament. The rods average 7 feet in length, so we have a nice “swath” of rods tip-to-tip around 22 feet wide “combing” through scattered walleyes on the bottom. The stretch of breakline I was concentrating was about 1/5 mile long. There were 3 known groups of fish to catch, easy to see on the Helix 9 and 10.

We were catching fish at a reasonable rate—except for “bow guy.” He was out-catching everyone 3 to 1. All nice fish, too—17-inch-long chunky frypan-bound walleyes. It was obvious. He was last in line, and his bait was the farthest behind the boat, well out of its shadow. I was fishing almost directly under the boat, and my hits were short and limited. So, I decided to put two of the three remaining anglers in the bow next to “bow guy” so that 3 of the 5 baits were in the same spot/distance from the boat. A 100 percent controlled situation. Whamo! All three anglers, now “crowded” (standing in the bow like two bass fishermen in a 20-foot boat, using the front 3 feet of the boat), were catching equal amounts of fish.

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To put an end to the “crowd” in the front of the boat, I placed everyone back in their seats, but I added 7 to 10 feet of leader length to the mid-deck anglers to make up for it. So even in their seats, their baits were running next to the bait of the “bow guy”—just like they were when they stood up there next to him. So yes, the leader lengths were huge—now anywhere from 4 feet in the bow to 12 to 13 feet in the middle of the boat. I left mine at 5 feet because, why not? I didn’t care if I caught anything at this point.

It worked like a charm. Everyone in the boat was slamming fish at an equal rate—the goal for any guided fishing outing. All because I was paying attention to the small details. In this case it was all presentation/leader length. Most days, that’s the last factor I worry about. The ultimate reason was the ultra-clear water caused by the “mussels” in this lake, which caused the deep shadows, which caused the fish to spook a bit, which spurred this whole article. Ten years ago, this wouldn’t have been a factor in our presentation. The reality is this. The zebra mussels are going to cause more and more situations like this that had never happened before.

My next article relating to clear water and “zebra walleyes” will explain the need for anglers to be more proficient at fishing walleyes (and just about anything) in thick shallow weeds. But for now, fish smart and have fun!