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Late Summer Lake Walleye Tactics

As we transition toward the end of summer and into the early fall season, casting for big water walleye that roam the Eastern Basin of Lake Ontario is something I encourage all walleye anglers to explore. This style of fishing is oftentimes over shadowed by the great trolling opportunities the fishery provides, yet when armed with the right equipment, this style of fishing is one of the most exciting ways to catch big water walleye.

Equipment

I use TFO’s Professional Walleye rods, PRO WC 764-1, 7’6″, Moderate power, fast action, rated for 6-12 lb. test and ¼ – ¾ oz. lures.   I pair this rod with a Daiwa Tatula 6.3:1 reel spooled with either 10 or 15 lb. Cortland Masterbraid braid, and on the business end I tie directly to a size 10 snap swivel and to that I attach a 5/8 oz. Walleye Wonder weight forward in-line spinner dressed with a 4- or 6-inch Zoom Trick Worm (green pumpkin w/chartreuse tail). The weight forward spinner comes with a size 3 gold Aberdeen hook, I replace that with a size 3/0 Trokar or Gamakatsu flipping hook, both hooks have bait keepers bonded on the hook shank which hold the trick worm in place on repeated casts and they provide excellent hooking properties.

A lot of folks ask me why the Zoom Trick worm instead of a natural night crawler.  To that I say, “Why not?!” In my assessment, the walleye sees the flash, they close in on the lure to get a closer look, then feel the thump of the rotating blade and ultimately the last thing they’ll do is bite it to see exactly what it is. When you look at a natural night crawler rigged on the back of a weight forward in-line spinner the worm is usually stretched out straight behind the blade as it comes through the water, the Zoom Trick worm looks much the same. The biggest difference is I can usually catch four or more walleye on the same Zoom Trick Worm before I need to replace it and I’m not worried about getting bait and keeping it fresh until it’s time to fish again.

The other lure that’s proven very productive over the past six years is the 2.5 squarebill. There are countless models available, but I prefer the Lucky Craft brand. These baits run true right out of the package and the 2.5 size does a fantastic job of matching the hatch regarding perch and panfish the walleye prefer.

What To Look For

I concentrate my efforts on main lake shoals and the offshore shoals in the back bay areas. The better shoals top out at 7-12 foot dropping off into the main basin and they need to have a decent mix of cobble rock and weed (preferably coontail or milfoil) find some eel grass mixed in and it’s even better.  In my experience, the cleaner the weeds are the best. Whenever I find an area with green slimly algae bloom smothering the primary weeds, I move on to the next area.

What I’ve found is the clean weeds play host to the grass shrimp, which draw in the panfish and perch and once they congregate on the weeds the walleye aren’t too far behind.  The other factor that seems to help (at least in the Eastern Basin on Lake Ontario) is the start of the fall salmon migration.  This salmon migration seems to trigger the walleye to vacate their open water feeding on alewives and move to shallower areas in search of the perch and these shoals are the first feeding areas they intercept as the move out of the deep open water.

Presentation

What works best for me is a steady retrieve. I’ll cast these lures out adjacent to the shoals along the weed edge and depending on depth (at least 6-7 ft. of open water above the weeds), I’ll sometimes present the lure across the very top of the shoal.

I have my best success casting adjacent to the shoals along the outside weed edges. Key to my success in these areas is making long casts, and the properties of the TFO Professional Walleye 7’6” rods make easy work of getting the lure well away from the boat.

I’m oftentimes asked about using a leader on the end of the Masterbraid. In my experience, when fishing the weight forward in-line spinner there seems to be no difference in using a leader- Vs- tying the masterbraid direct.  I’ve had days where a fluorocarbon leader in front of the 2.5 squarebill resulted in more strikes/hook-ups. I usually tie in a 36-40” section of Cortland’s Top Secret Fluorocarbon when I’m casting the 2.5 squarebill.

When selecting which lure to use, I generally start with the 2.5 squarebill and once I’ve caught a few fish on it, I’ll go back through the same area with the in-line weight forward spinner and pick off another fish or two. I’ve also had days where it didn’t matter which lure you cast first, but I just have great confidence in the 2.5 squarebill therefore I usually start with it.

Once an area slows, I move on to the next shoal. When walleye feed on or near the shoals, you’ll usually hit a two or more fish on your first pass through the area. When that occurs, make another pass through to see who else is willing to bite.  The other thing to remember is this, if conditions allow, make repeated casts to the same general area where you hooked the very first fish. Oftentimes these fish feed in groups and odds are the one you just caught has some buddies with him.

When casting the weight forward in-line spinner I’ve had days where the walleye will just nip the chartreuse tip off the tail of the worm and to remedy the bite offs, I borrowed a trick for the jig fisherman and put on a 3” stinger hook. This can turn those light biters or bites off into solid hook ups. I initially started with the stinger hooks from Northland Tackle, but found those hooks are a fine wire hook and can be flexed open by a good-sized walleye. I started making my own using a size 6 Gamakatsu round bend treble hook tied with Masterbraid, so far it’s working great.

Using the 2.5 squarebill is a simple presentation – cast it out and begin a steady retrieve. I’ve found these crankbaits dive around 5-7 ft. depending on the speed of retrieve and the diameter of line you use. I prefer Masterbraid for both applications (the 2.5 and weight forward in-line spinner) for two reasons: 1) It allows me to make super long casts in the gin clear waters of Lake Ontario and 2) The no stretch line provides excellent long distance hook sets. Remember all braids are no-stretch lines, therefore you want to allow a bit of slippage on your drag setting and trust the moderate power of the TFO Professional Walleye 7’6” rod.

Pro Tip: When you initially feel a tap on the lure do not set the hook, instead continue with the steady retrieve, and wait until you feel the weight of the fish to perform a moderate sweeping hookset raising the rod from the 9 to the 12 O’clock position. By waiting until you feel the weight of the fish, it allows the walleye to take the entire bait in its mouth and usually results in better strike to hook up ratios.

What you’ve just read has consistently produced late summer early fall walleye for me on the Eastern Basin of Lake Ontario since 2015 and if you can find the similar conditions on the Great Lake nearest you it ought to produce there as well.

Good luck to you, harvest what you can reasonably eat, and release the rest to fight another day!

Blog written by TFO Ambassador Burnie Haney. You can find out more about Burnie and his guiding service in upstate New York at his website here.

Squarebills for Smallmouth

Editor’s Note: This submission comes from TFO ambassador Burnie Haney, who offers some interesting strategy for smallmouth bass.

Oftentimes in our conversations about smallies the topic of topwater plugs, jerkbaits or the drop shot get the most attention, and yes, they all catch fish. However, one technique that isn’t talked about as much is casting squarebill crankbaits for smallies. In many regions of the country bass anglers are well-versed in casting squarebills in and around wood or over rock rubble for largemouth, but there are also many anglers who have yet to pick up a squarebill when they’re specifically targeting smallies. Below are a few squarebill presentations I’ve used over the past 15 years when I’m out chasing Great Lakes smallies and clear-water smallies in general.

Safety Considerations

Smallies are a fish with big attitude, and they get pissed off when you hook em, which is why I like them so much. And once you get them in the net or in the boat, they’ll show you just how sassy they can be. For this very reason I have a couple recommendations that can better prepare you for this close encounter. Wear a quality pair of polarized sunglasses; this allows you to see where and how well the fish is hooked as you get it near the boat, and should the fish throw the lure as you attempt to land it, the glasses prevent a treble hook from hitting you in the eye.

Another handy item is a good set of needle nose pliers or a hook-out device. Trust me, there’s nothing worse than trying to pop out a treble hook and it finds the flesh on your thumb or finger with a pissed off smallie still attached to the other end. Now I realize that may sound weird to some folks and you could be thinking if treble hooked baits are that dangerous why throw them at all? I can only say I throw them because they flat out catch fish and that’s what I’m all about. So being prepared for a hook in the hand should the unthinkable occur isn’t all together a bad thing, either. Now having said that, if you use the needle nose pliers, you’ll greatly reduce your odds of getting hooked in the hand.

Rigging Up & The Presentation

I do most of my squarebill fishing with the TPM CB 7105-1, 7-10 MH power rod. I keep two of these rods rigged, one with a 6.3:1 reel and the other with a 5.1:1 reel. Both reels are spooled with 8-pound. Cortland Master Braid (Moss Green). I set the drag so the line slips just a tad on the hookset. What I most enjoy about this setup is it lets me make 35 yard casts or longer which is super important whenever I’m chasing clear-water smallies and the rods moderate action doubles as a good shock absorber on the strike while the braided line provides rock-solid, long-distance hooksets.

As for the two different retrieve speeds, during low light conditions I’ll use the 5.1:1 reel and once the sun gets up good I prefer the 6.3:1. If I notice multiple fish are chasing the hooked fish back to the boat, then I may pull out an 8.3:1 reel and turn-on-the-burn. I’ve found with clear-water smallies you can use speed as a trigger, especially so when you’re around a bunch of actively feeding fish. It seems to make them more aggressive as they race each other to get to the bait first.

Most of my clear-water squarebill fishing for smallies is focused in 3 to 7 feet of water in and around slate shoals or rock rubble areas. And if the area has some scattered vertical vegetation near it, that’s even better. What works for me is firing a cast out employing a steady retrieve trying to contact the hardbottom area. When the lure contacts the tops of any perimeter vegetation, the braided line is great because a hard snap of the rod tip will make the lure explode out into open water, which can stimulate a strike from a following fish.

Early in the season when the water temps are 58-65 degrees, I usually start with a 1.5 squarebill. As the summer progresses and the water warms into the mid-70s to 80-degree range and the bait (baitfish and crayfish) get bigger, I’ll use the 2.5 squarebill more, but even then I usually start my day with the 1.5 and I’ll let the fish tell me what size they prefer.

I use Lucky Craft squarebills; keep in mind there are many brands available and for this style of fishing getting the bait to deflect off the hard-bottom area is what triggers the most strikes. I recommend you find a squarebill bait that you like best then try it out on different size lines and retrieve speeds until you find it regularly bumping bottom. Once you get that dialed in then it’s just a matter of locating what areas of your lake or river are holding the actively feeding smallies.

I try to keep my color choices simple. I’ll use a Mad Craw (Red Craw) early in the spring, switch up to a Chameleon Brown Craw in the warmer summer months and mix in a Perch or Shad imitator as the season progresses. Day in and day out those four colors will usually get you bit anywhere you go.

Remember with squarebills seeking hard-bottom areas that provide deflection opportunities with a steady retrieve is usually the best option, but on some days, they’ll also work along the weed lines with a stop-and-go retrieve. Let the fish tell you how they want it and don’t forget speed as a trigger anytime you’re around a group of feeding smallies because their competitive nature can get the better of them resulting in more hook ups for you.

Good luck and be sure to post photos of those catches. Comments, questions about fishing for smallmouth? Feel free to comment on one of our social media pages.