Walleyes, willocats & wingdams

Walleyes, willocats & wingdams

The Miss is on the rise again, just a couple of weeks after dropping to the ‘Action’ stage when lock & dam gates come out of the water. Predictions call for a bump of about 2′–but significant rain can bring us quickly back to wet Armageddon–combining hell AND high water makes for generally tough fishing.

A rise of two feet will wipe out grassy edges and push water back up in the trees again, but walleyes and other species don’t leave the River. They just follow the food.

The wingdam bite is just taking off as River rise predictions are posted, moving walleyes back into patterns where you can hook up consistently once patterns emerge. Wingdams are placed perpendicular to the current to funnel water, helping the Corps of Engineers fulfill their Congress mandated mission of maintaining a channel for navigation. Unintended consequences of this mission are a primary reason why the River has essentially been at flood stage since March 24, with man-caused efforts almost sure to cause more frequent and severe flooding in years to come. A blog explaining this situation will be published soon as I get a few days off of the water. Back to wingdams.

These rocky structures have been around since Congress’ mandate in 1878–initially built from willow mats and ‘one man rocks’. Typically, they are placed in runs of 3, 5 or 7. As a general rule, fishing USUALLY picks up first on the wingdam furthest downstream. The caveat is, not all wingdams are created equally. I call wingdams with anomalies Friday wingdams, as workers eager to start the weekend leave a significant low spot or drop a pile of rocks at other than the intended location. Friday wingdams are perpetual top producers!

With a typical wingdam bite, holding your boat at the 8 foot contour upstream from the rocks will put your bait in front of fish and generally keep you ‘safe’. Time on the water is the best way to ‘read’ a wingdam’s fish potential on any given day. If flow has it looking ‘fishy’ I usually confirm this with a quick trolling pass above the windam with a search bait like the Bill Lewis MR-6, then spot-lock and cast above the “sweet spot” which got placed on a Friday.

When River levels first start dropping to the point where they attract active fish, probe the water just DOWNSTREAM from the rocks. The structure breaks current flow, attracts bait and subsequent fish when it just takes too much effort to stage upstream.

From ice out to just a couple of weeks ago main channel conditions have been generally too brutal to offer consistent ‘eye action. Most of the active walleye population is pushed into running sloughs and backwaters.

By far the best way to catch ’em is fishing a little bullhead critter called the willocat on a modified Lindy rig–with an egg sinker and long shank #4 Aberdeen hook 18″ below a barrel swivel.

Under flood conditions, look for current breaks below sandbars where edges drop away quickly to 10-12 f.o.w. Cast and just crawl the bait back in a s-l-o-w retrieve.

Walleyes HATE willocats! The relationship is like a crow/owl thing. Walleyes will flat-out attack ’em even if they aren’t hungry. Willocats are also very durable bait. You can usually catch at least two eyes per bait–thus the Aberdeen hook.

The downside is, willocats are expensive–about $24/dozen. Most guides can’t afford to furnish this bait–especially in a truly brutal 2019. Willocats are also incredibly toxic. Get horned and the pain is excruciating and will last for hours.

Most folks use leather gloves when hooking willocats through the lips to fish. Capn’ Hook’s Bait in Genoa is the only place on the River which sells a plastic scoop called the “minnow cinch”. The willocat slides down the scoop and gets held in place long enough to hook it up.

Why would any walleye chaser use $2 per minnow bait which is profoundly toxic? Because it works! We would use baby rattlesnakes which had to be hooked near the tail and baited up in total darkness if they worked.

Gotta get back to the river. Stay safe out there1

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