Fishing For Walleyes In Standing Timber

By Norb Wallock & Rick Olson

There are many reservoirs in the country where standing timber is present and in that timber there are lots of walleyes. But no one takes advantage of this situation because it’s tough to fish in these big underwater forests. Once you do master the art of working wood, you’ll have access to a truly phenomenal walleye fishery that is shared by few.

We could hear the cussing from 100 yards away. It was at a tournament on the Oahe Reservoir in Mobridge, SD. Many of the competitors were trying to discover how they could pull some of the walleyes they were seeing on their sonars from the huge stands of underwater timber that was left standing when the dam was closed.

Anglers were spending more time trying to figure out how to get their crankbaits unstuck than they were netting fish. Every once in awhile someone would break off their favorite lure and you would hear some expletives float over the tops of the waves. But there were also some seasoned timber fisherman that moved a lot of walleyes from their comfortable place in the tangled limbs to a temporary home in the livewell.

To be able to work flooded timber well requires a Global Positioning System (GPS) which allows you to create plot maps on a screen that you can follow over and over. We use Apelco Fishfinders with dual sonars and GPS capability so we can motor over and around the timber and develop the path to follow before we even wet a line.

There are two ways you can fish flooded timber. One is by trolling crankbaits over and around the wood. The other is by working live bait over, around, and through the trees.

With live bait we’ll take a heavy bottom bouncer and tie on a five-foot leader, a number two hook and use a larger minnow. You want a heavier bottom bouncer because you’re trying to achieve a near vertical approach. The bottom bouncer becomes a brush detector. When the bottom bouncer hits a limb, or a pile of brush, you reel in line quickly until you’re running the bait right over the top of the snag. The depth of the branches and brush change constantly so you’re always making adjustments. If you detect a bare area get the bait to the bottom until another tree comes along.

Plan on getting snags. To keep from losing the entire rig, the line from your reel to the bottom bouncer should be 12-pound test while the line from the bottom bouncer to the hook should be eight-pound test.

The line changes when you make the change to crankbaits. With these baits we’ll use Stren Power Braid in the 25-pound test range. When a crankbait gets hung up you can put your thumb on the spool and straighten the hook and get your lure back. Sometimes with a smaller branch or brush you will pull the wood free and get the bait back as well. Straighten the hook or remove the branch and you’re back in business.

To get a crankbait down to the deep underwater forests we’ll use four or six ounce snap weights. Let out 20 to 30 feet of line, snap on the weight , and let out enough line to get the lure to the right depth. Once again you want as vertical an approach as you can achieve when trolling. This gives you more control. When the weight hits a branch or some brush, take in some line and get that crankbait to work over the top of the wood.

When a big fish hits a bait steer the boat away from the timber. It never fails, when you stay close to the snags a big walleye will naturally head there when hooked and once they wrap around a branch or two any chance you had of landing the fish and getting your lure back is gone.

Fishing the timber is a challenge and requires a lot of effort, yet there are always lots of big walleyes there for the taking for the anglers who are willing to put in their time.


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