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WALLEYE OFFER EXCELLENT WINTER OPTION FOR MANY BASS PROS

Posted 12/12/2011



When winter’s chill slows bass action, many anglers turn their attention to walleye, a widespread and popular gamefish that provides excellent cold weather sport. Walleye also provide a unique opportunity for bass fishermen to sharpen many of their fishing techniques, since the two fish have many similarities.

“The best part about walleye fishing where I live in Idaho is that when cold weather comes and the bass really stop biting, the walleye action just keeps getting better,” says Yamaha Pro Brandon Palaniuk, who devotes virtually all his fishing time between November and January to walleye. “I can use many of my bass tournament techniques and lures for walleye, too, so when the Bassmaster® Elite season begins, I’m mentally and physically ready.”

Found in lakes and rivers from the Northeast to the Pacific Northwest, the walleye certainly ranks as one of America’s most popular gamefish. Tackle, boats, and techniques have been designed specifically for walleye, and professional walleye tournaments are conducted in many states. Thus, it’s easy to understand why many bass fishermen follow Palaniuk’s lead and devote their winter fishing activities to the species.

“A lot of people are surprised to learn how good the walleye fishing in the Pacific Northwest can be, too,” adds the Yamaha Pro. “In Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, and Washington, the state records are all over 17 pounds. The possibility of catching a fish that large is enough to keep you out on the water during the coldest weather. In fact, Wyoming’s state record walleye, 17.42 pounds, is also a world record for walleye caught through the ice.”

Palaniuk’s favorite walleye water is Lake Roosevelt, a 130-mile long impoundment on the Columbia River west of Spokane. The lake offers a vast mixture of conditions walleye prefer, including current, rock and gravel bottom, and well-defined depth changes, and as a result, a lot of walleye over 10 pounds are caught there. Still, the lake’s immense size can make locating the fish difficult, which is one reason Palaniuk likes to fish there.

“It’s great practice for the upcoming B.A.S.S.® tournaments,” he explains. “The conditions and challenges I find at Roosevelt are also the same conditions I know I’ll face on many of the bass lakes where I compete. Electronics, for example, are just as important in locating walleye as they are for bass, and because I can literally practice finding walleye all winter, I know the added experience will help me on those bass lakes.”

Palaniuk can also use several of his favorite bass lures, including blade baits, plastic grubs and swim baits, when he’s fishing for walleye, so he stays in practice that way, too. The grubs, rigged on 3/16 to 3/8-ounce jigheads, are often fished with six or eight-pound fluorocarbon line on spinning rods, finesse tackle that is getting more and more attention from the bass pros, while swim baits have been credited with several major bass tournament wins in recent years.

“We fish the swim baits at night for walleye,” continues the Yamaha Pro, “and we’ve discovered they’re really effective for larger fish. Just as in bass fishing, we don’t catch as many, but the fish that do hit it are always larger. It’s a lure you really have to have confidence in, and catching big walleyes with them has definitely been a confidence builder for me.

“By the same token, walleye, while not as temperamental as bass, definitely do get moody on occasion, which forces us to change our presentations, particularly with the plastic grubs. Ideally, we can pop the grubs off the bottom and work them over ledges and breaks and catch plenty of fish, but sometimes the walleye want them dragged along the bottom just like a Carolina rig or a football jig.

“Because I’ve experienced these mood changes with walleye, hopefully I can recognize them sooner with bass and make my adjustments faster,” concludes Palaniuk. “I know I’m very fortunate to live in a region that offers excellent fishing for walleye during the cold weather months, and I think that over the years they have made me a better bass fisherman.”