June Rise on Sakakawea
It's middle of June and the run off has made it's way to the lake. Looking at lake levels, the lake rose 6" in the last 24 hours. That is a huge amount of water coming into the lake. There is a benefit to all this water. It does something that every walleye fisherman can take advantage of right now.
What all this extra water is doing for you as a fisherman is, it's pushing hungry walleyes back into the bays and up shallow. But which bays? Sakakawea is covered with them. I tend to look for the largest bays and anything with a creek feeding into it will be my first target. Think of places like Douglas Bay, Garison Bay and Deep Water bay to name a few. Don't be afraid to get back into 2-3 feet of water right now. They are there. With the rise, the water should have some stain to it, especially on a day with a little wind. Now how to fish for these hungry eyeballs?
Well you can do about anything you really enjoy. Lindy rigs with live bait such as a minnow is hard to beat. Pitch a jig, drag some slow death, or pull spinners. Your options really are limitless. But for me, because it's my favorite way to fish, I bust out the cranking rods and cover water.
I will start earlier in the morning in the 3-5' range with floating crank baits. The original Rapala Floater or the Berkley shallow flicker shad are tough to beat. They both offer different profiles and vibration in the water and as the water warms you will see that flicker shad shine. Those walleyes are in there feeding on small perch, and that flicker shad is just the right size to "match the hatch" as they say. Experiment with colors to find what is working best for the day.
As the sun gets higher in the sky, I will slide out just a bit deeper. Not much, but I will start trolling in the 6-8' water depth. If I'm lucky enough to have a partner in the boat with me and can fish 4 rods(ND regulations allow 2 rods per person), I will fish my two long rods off the side and flat line them out the back. I will also have two rods off the back corner of the boat, but these I will put lead core on. If your water is stained, even this shallow it works great! Now I know what your saying, "You use lead core in 7 feet of water?" Yes, I sure do. Remember, we are using small crank baits here. Baits like the #5 shad rap, #4 salmo or my new personal favorite the #5 Berkley jointed flicker shad. While my flat lines off the size will need to be ran 120' back to achieve the depth I want, the lead core will only need to be 25-35' back, deepening on your leader length. This allows me to run 4 rods with ease. I never need to worry about a tangle since both rods on either size of the boat have their baits separated by over 70' of line and when I get a bite on my outside rod, that fish will generally come to the surface and swing back to the middle of the boat and will be out of the way of the lead core line.
Now what about speed? My general rule of thumb this time of year is to start at around 2.0 mph and then adjust my speed to see what will trigger strikes. Just remember that if you are running lead core, the faster you go above 2mph, the more your line will rise in the water column. Running this shallow shouldn't be too much of an issue, but it is something to be aware of. Just keep those baits in the strike zone and you will find fish, and odds are some big ones.
One talking point I want to discuss that I see so many people do that cost them fish. Growing up, I think we were all taught to pump the rod when fighting a big fish. When running cranks, this might be the reason most fish are lost. I never, and I mean never pump the rod when I'm bringing a fish in on a crank. Just a nice slow and steady turn of the handle. When pumping your rod, even when done correctly, you take the tension out of the line. When using no stretch lines, the feed back is instant both ways. If you are jigging, you can feel every little bump because of the increases sensitivity, but when fighting a fish, the tension can get relaxed quicker because the line doesn't have to "un-stretch". My other secret to fighting that fish is to keep my kicker motor in gear. there are times, I will back off the throttle if the fish is really big, so it's a bit easier to really in, but I never put the boat in neutral. This will do a couple things for you. If you are running lead core, it will keep your baits and line from sinking to the bottom, and couple the motion of still moving forward with your slow and steady retrieve, you will keep those hooks pinned in their mouth. Most walleye when caught on a crank will open their mouth, float up to the surface and skip across the top of the water as you reel them in. Any give in that line and they can flop or head shake and the fish is gone. Keep that tension on the fish and you will land more fish with crank baits.
Now go get your boat, get shallow and go fill up that live well.