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Jigging For Giant Lake Trout

Growing up in Colorado means camping trips. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, thousands of families flock to the woods for an escape from the 9 to 5. My family was no different, and I attribute those experiences to building my incredible passion for fishing and the outdoors.
Every fisherman today remembers their first fish. Mine was nothing special. A rainbow trout on a stream casting a Pistol Pete fly behind a bubble. But it wasn’t about the first fish for me. The metal bell hung from the door of the tackle shop rang loudly behind me as I raced into the store in Granby, Colorado. I was roughly 6 years old and all I could focus my eyes on was the giant taxidermied lake trout above the cash register. I remember asking more than enough questions about how to catch them and what color power bait they liked. Needless to say, I had some learning to do.

Fast forward to today, it’s crazy to look back and realize just how far I was from actually catching one of these trophy fish. It’s not that you can’t catch them from shore. Some of the best fishing for lake trout is right at ice-out, when mackinaw (another name for lake trout) move up into the shallows to feed on rainbow trout and other shallow fish. It’s about the technique and tactics it takes to lure one of these prehistoric fish to take your bait. That fish mounted to the wall of the tackle store was roughly 42” long. That fish could easily have been 50 years old.

When we talk about jigging for lake trout – a standard practice in any lake holding this species – we usually think of white jigs, sturdy leaders, and hopefully sore arms. Once you start expanding your quiver while fishing for lakers, you realize they eat a lot of different things and it’s more about keeping them hooked than actually getting a bite. Lake trout have some of the hardest upper jaws you can imagine. You have to get a clean, strong hookset or you are going to lose fish. The first time guide Nate Zelinsky took me jigging he kept saying, “Everyone tells me they will give a hard hookset, but I have never seen it.”

That’s where he got creative to help clients close the deal on fish. Nate taught me a technique of cutting a Professional Walleye rod down from a 6’6” Medium jigging rod to a 5’ lake trout broomstick. The idea is that you are removing the most sensitive upper guides of the rod and therefore speeding up your hooksets by getting to the rod’s backbone sooner. An added benefit is that you are gaining massive power in your hooksets, especially when the bait is 60+ feet down.

The process is simple. You spool a 6’ or 6’ 6” Professional Walleye Medium action rod, and tighten down the drag on your spinning reel (you can use casting rods too). Grab the rod in one hand and the line in the other. Load the rod up by pulling on the line and get a good bend out of the top guides. Take note of where the rod starts to bend at the backbone and that’s just about the perfect spot to cut it. Use a Dremel tool so you don’t crack the blank and add a rod tip with some glue. Voilà. You now have made about the best laker rod you can imagine and I promise, it only hurts a little to cut the top off your brand new rod. It hurts less when you land a laker of a lifetime.

Earlier this year, we made it up for a day of lake trout jigging and were able to capitalize on one bite out of many takes we had that morning. I counted 13. Sometimes, you have to warm up your skills a bit after a long winter off the boat. Either way, it was the right fish and an amazing fight. Every time I shuffle one of these giants over the gunnel it takes me right back to Granby Tackle Store and helps awake the kid inside. I feel so blessed to be able to catch these fish and get an up-close look and feel of their power and beauty. Every fish goes back. When you hold one in your hand for the first time, I suspect it will be the same incredible experience I had. You know that fish had one heck of a journey to end up in your arms. It’s the respect for how magnificent they are and how many thrills they provide that helps you understand why we never take a trophy home. To have learned from masters of the craft like Nate Zelinsky and finally feel like I have some excellent skills and knowledge to apply in the future catching lake trout is a true honor. If you haven’t had the opportunity to fish for this amazing specimen, look into opportunities in your area or maybe think about a trip next time you are in my neck of the woods. You won’t regret trying it and it just might change your perspective of what a “big” fish really is.

Blog and video provided by TFO Ambassador Chris Edlin. You can find out more about Chris at his YouTube channel here.

 

Night Trolling for Big Walleye

Dusting off the trolling gear from a long winter’s nap is not for the faint of heart. Spring temps aren’t usually all that forgiving across most of the lower 48, but in Colorado, sitting a mile closer to the sun has some early season perks. Certainly, slathering on sunscreen again isn’t one of them. That’s part of the reason you can find me dropping the boat in the water just as the sun begins its trip around the other half of the world.

It’s no secret that the darkness brings on lots of advantages when you talk walleye fishing. But why? Well, as I tell most of my clients and friends, it’s all really because of the “tapetum lucidum.” Now before you think I’m some literary guru, it really just describes the way a walleye’s eyes are able to reflect light, like a cat. By definition, it’s “a layer of tissue in the eye, lying immediately behind the retina; it is a retroreflector. It reflects visible light back through the retina, increasing the light available to the photoreceptors.” This is what lends to the walleye’s incredible sight at night. 

When we put the boat in gear and head to our first spot there are a couple absolutes in my mind. We are going to use stick baits and we are going to fish them shallow. Long stick baits like Rogues, Rapala’s, and Bombers, all have earned a permanent spot in my tackle locker. Spring walleye, no matter what stage of the spawn, are not moving too quickly. The slow wobble of these stick baits produce more fish than a fast action crank at night, even though our reservoirs are filled with gizzard shad, which carry a smaller profile like a crankbait. Secondarily, the longer profile bait gives the walleye more to look at as they silhouette the bait above them while it tracks through the shallows.In general, I want to build a pattern and repeat that pattern. That is what trolling is all about.

My gear consists of the Professional Walleye 7’ Casting Rod in Medium action (PRO WC 704-1) paired up with a 20 size line counting reel. The 7’ rod allows me to be extremely mobile in my boat. By keeping 7’ rods, when I catch a fish on one planer board, I can simply reel that fish in and rotate all the rods on that side of the boat forward. Then I can easily re-release the bait and set that rod in the now empty last rod holder spot. All this without ever missing a beat on the troll and hopefully tagging a few more fish along with it. The 7’ rods also provide a fair amount of give for the big waves without pulsing or shooting the planer board at the top of the break, and enough power to reel in the board, bait, and potential 25+” walleye.

Photo: Oliver Sutro

Planer boards are a popular way to keep your baits separated and also target the fish that spook away from the boat. Typically, fish will spook out perpendicular to the boat’s direction of travel, making planer boards a good choice all around. You can make them easier to see in the dark with reflective tape and boat mounted LEDs, lights that mount to the board, or just a traditional headlamp. Albeit, you can just as easily catch fish with the proper amount of line out behind the boat. I would recommend, if you fish without boards, to go for a trolling rod instead of a casting rod. The new Professional Walleye 8’6” (PRO WTC 864-1T) or the 2 piece 10’ (PRO WTC 1004-2) Professional Walleye Trolling rods will serve the purpose of keeping your baits separated and providing a little more backbone for hooking fish when a planer board is not in use.

We typically fish anywhere from 1-6 feet below the surface and in depths of 6-30 feet. When we start to build a pattern, we want to try multiple colors, different styles of baits, and varying depths. We may set one bait back 15 feet from a planer board for a shallow run and the next one 30 feet back. If we find one depth is being favored we can quickly match that with the line counters. Then from there, we can dial in a color or action that is working well. Once we catch consistent fish on one single pattern, we switch everything to that exact depth and bait. At this point, we’ve built a fairly good pattern that might be tuned in further by direction or travel, speed (1.4 – 1.8 MPH), or location. 

All things considered, it’s usually not a bad way to spend a weekend night. It’s a bit colder than fishing under the giant solar heat lamp of day but arguably the best perk of braving the dark and chilly is the chance at a fish of a lifetime. A larger female sow walleye will lay roughly 500,000 eggs during the spawn. This expends tremendous amounts of energy, and after a bit of a resting period, the game is on to replenish the much needed nutrition lost during the event. Spring and fall are the best times to target these big fish but please remember how vital they can be to any ecosystem when just one fish produces so many eggs, only fractions of which will survive to become a catchable size. A picture will serve its purpose in securing a great memory and if you like something for the wall, today’s replicas are usually much better quality and a lot easier on the wallet than a traditional fish mount.

So embrace the dark or leave it, but if you haven’t tried it at least once, do. It’s harder to say yes to life’s little challenges as we get more comfortable in what we know. Seek discomfort, and you may just find the biggest walleye of your life hanging on at the end of your line.

 

Photo: Chris Edlin

Blog written by Colorado based TFO Ambassador Chris Edlin. You can find out more about Chris at his Youtube channel here.

TFO Pro Staffer COfishBRO Talks Professional Walleye

TFO Pro Staffer and Colorado based angler Chris Edlin loves to do two things: fishing and filming fishing videos for his Youtube channel – COfishBRO.

Chris has been fishing TFO fly rods for years now for trout on his local Colorado rivers, but he also spends a fair amount of his time on the water pursuing walleye and smallmouth using TFO’s conventional gear. Here’s a little bit more info from Chris…

My name is Chris Edlin and I started the YouTube channel COfishBro back in 2016 to focus on angling in Colorado.  

I primarily fish for walleye on the front-range out of my 1999 Ranger 620 but I often found myself in the winter time stripping a 5wt fly line for cutbows and browns on some of Colorado’s premier gold medal waters. 

Our channel focuses on fishing tactics and knowledge, as I always have believed the more you know about fish behavior the better you will be suited for targeting them on the water. 

I fished TFO fly rods for a number of years on the river for trout and always wanted to give the conventional side a try. The tactics I use for summer walleye are not very traditional and they require a powerful and ultra sensitive rod to get right.

 

The cadence is key, getting the proper stroke and rhythm to the retrieve is what causes these fish to bite while presenting a fairly heavy ice fishing lure called a Jigging Rap. The TFO Professional Walleye rods have been the best addition to my arsenal in presenting these baits.

Particularly, I prefer the 6′ 6″ Medium Fast Action. This rod has plenty of backbone when throwing a size 7 rap (5/8 ounce) and the fast tip makes the lure jump horizontally very erratically but staying consistently only a few inches off the bottom. That is key to staying in the strike zone and the whole idea behind this technique. These rods were built on sensitivity and that’s what shines through whether you are live bait rigging or hucking plastics on humps and ridges. These rods are built tough, and does it hurt to have a rod that looks as good as it performs? My clients don’t seem to mind!

If you have any questions please feel free to reach out to me via email or any of my socials. I’m constantly learning and find we as humans learn best when we gather each other’s perspectives. Listed here are a few other videos that are tailored towards education and simplifying your day on the water, whether the goal is to catch more fish or impress your friends. I hope to encourage you to become the best angler you can be because no matter how many fish we catch, it will never be enough! 

Here are some more videos and reviews from COfishBRO on TFO gear. Be sure to like and follow his channel to support a fellow TFO angler!