By Daniel Quade

The devil’s in the details, especially when walleye fishing. The difference between simply fishing for walleyes and actually catching them often hinges on recognizing details such as the mood of the fish or subtle changes in the conditions. Overlook a single detail and you’re in for a long, slow day on the water. Tailor your presentations correctly, however, and epic catches are possible.

Water clarity is one of the biggest mitigating walleye fishing factors from late summer into fall, as everything from algae blooms to low water levels and slack currents can yield wild variations in visibility. Good news is, learning to identify clarity changes and match your baits and techniques accordingly can help you catch more walleyes no matter the conditions.

Veteran guide Jon Thelen tailors tactics to water clarity on fisheries including Minnesota’s Mille Lacs Lake and Lake of the Woods.

“The size, action and animation of my presentation increases as water clarity decreases,” he says. “Likewise, I make adjustments to color patterns as well. Even bait selection is affected.”
fuzz e grub
For example, in gin-clear water where walleyes can scrutinize their prey before deciding whether to dine or dash, live baits are a great call. A Lindy Jig tipped with a spottail shiner, leech or half-nightcrawler can be deadly, according to Thelen. Lindy Rigs also shine for delivering similar baits to the strike zone, as do spinner setups.

When fishing artificial baits in clear water, natural patterns are Thelen’s top choice.

“Color schemes should match the forage base,” he said.

Chrome, gold and other metallic finishes mimic shiners and similar silvery-sided members of the minnow family. Shades of orange, black and yellow, meanwhile, imitate yellow perch and various sunfish. Conversely, low-visibility conditions often call for brighter pigments heavy on chartreuse, or even glow finishes.

Deteriorating clarity also dictates a proven progression from downsized presentations to bigger, more active baits. To gauge water clarity, Thelen trims his motor’s lower unit all the way down, and if he can see the stainless steel prop he knows the fish are still feeding mostly by sight. This is the perfect time for a midsized, realistic soft-plastic bait like a Lindy Fuzz-E-Grub or Watsit, which imitate minnows, hellgrammites and other forage. To sweeten the pot, such tantalizing tippings can be topped with a minnow rigged piggyback-style for added bulk, scent and flavor.

When algae and suspended sediments from high winds, heavy seas and other factors cloud the water enough to hide his prop from view, Thelen often forgoes natural baits in favor of bigger, beefier jig tippings.

“In dirty water, I’m more confident with plastic than live bait,” he says. “Thanks to their larger profile, increased water displacement and highly active curl- and paddle-tail designs, these baits are easier for predators to home in on.”

Jigstrokes also become more aggressive. Thelen twitches baits more, and rips them harder than he does in clear water. This is key when the fish have switched from sight feeding to using their other senses to find and catch prey, he says.
river rocker
In a similar vein, rattling hardbaits like Lindy’s River Rocker are standouts for appealing to a walleye’s lateral line and hearing when things get murky. Indeed, clamorous crankbaits catch dark-water walleyes in a variety of scenarios.

“You can cast them onto windswept points and along stirred-up shorelines where walleyes move in to feed on schooling baitfish,” says Thelen. “Bright-colored, rattling cranks are also effective for trolling deep-water basins and structure when visibility is compromised.”

On the spinner front, larger blades that yield louder vibrations call fish in from a distance. Experiment with standard metallics, but lean heavily on brightly painted patterns splashed with high-visibility finishes.

Hybrid baits like the Lindy Lil’ Guy can be standouts in mid- to low-visibility conditions as well, thanks to their crankbait-like wobbles. Thelen holds the rod when fishing the Lil’ Guy so he can spice up the cadence with sweeps and pauses to impart extra action.

It’s worth noting that water clarity often affects fish location as well. While walleyes may hunker in the abyss or patrol deep breaks and weedlines in clear water under sunny skies, the same fish often slide shallower as visibility or light penetration decreases. Keeping this in mind can help you predict where active fish will show up when the wind shifts or picks up.

For example, a shallow, hard-bottom inflow area may be devoid of walleyes under calm, clear, high-clarity conditions. But when a strong incoming wind ushers in light-blocking sediments and algae, hungry ‘eyes often move in to feed. The same thing happens along reservoir banks and in countless other places. At such times, casting to (or from) shallow banks with a rattling crankbait or bulked-up jig can turn a slow summer trip into a banner day on the water.

Reduced water clarity can also affect the timing of the bite.

“Algae blooms can kickstart a hot bite at high noon on lakes otherwise notorious for tough daytime fishing,” says Thelen, offering yet another reason to factor visibility into your late-summer and fall fishing strategies.