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The Turbid Water Connection

Mid summer several seasons ago I was guiding a group of fishing industry professionals representing Berkley, Cabelas, and others. Professional Walleye Tournament Angler, Eric Naig, was fishing with me along with Jim George, an old friend from Cabelas and now with Berkley. I had just met Eric and felt a bit more pressure than normal fishing with a Pro. Traveling on the way to fish some main lake structure, I noticed a cup shaped length of shoreline that was being hit by wind driven waves. The shoreline was a grey clay bank and the result was a 75 yd. wide band of extremely murky water stretching out from shore. I took a sharp turn and positioned my boat on a subtle breakline right in the middle of water that could best be described as the color of weak chocolate milk.

Eric said – “We’re fishing here?”
I said – “Yeah.”
He said – “You’re kidding around, right?”
Nervously, I said – “Nope.”

With most of my groups, I explain the rationale behind guiding decisions, but on this occasion I decided to start fishing quickly. That way if they weren’t there, I could leave right away and maybe save a little face.

We proceeded to pound walleyes one after another for the next 2 hours. Eric suggested we switch from live crawlers to Berkley power worms. They worked every bit as well as the live bait and our catch rate actually increased, because we didn’t have to stop after every fish and dig around in the crawler box. Eager to pick up a few more pointers from a pro, I asked Eric why he was so skeptical about the “look” of the spot when we pulled in. He explained that the wave action looked good, but under many tournament conditions, water that discolored made it difficult to catch fish. He allowed that many of the pros would have fished the edge of the mudline, but it was against convention to fish surrounded by water that dirty.

As we continued to make backtrolling passes back and forth, we noticed that the boat actually left a clearer track through the muddy water. The prop wash of the boat was cutting through the milky surface and pushing clearer water to the top. I am sure that a physicist or limnologist could explain why the clay particles react in the water the way they do, but only the result was important to us. As the waves of a new wind hit the clay bank, the water became cloudy, but it was only the top bands of the water column that became discolored. The water below was still clear, but the band of turbid clay water above created a sudden shade. The result was the usual bounty of a wind blown shoreline combined with the low light conditions that often trigger walleyes to feed aggressively.

Over the years, we have increased our knowledge base of locations that lend themselves to these types of water conditions and active walleye bites. Now, no longer a novelty, we accept it as a major pattern on Lac Seul. If walleyes are in or near shallow to mid depth regions and a significant wind blows into a clay bank, especially a cup or inside curve, then you will very likely find very turbid surface water and aggressive walleyes feeding in the clearer water beneath.

One of my top guides expanded this pattern last Spring. On his way from the lodge to one of the warm bays of the north shore, Cory McKiel took a short cut across the main lake through a set of channels in the center of a maze of mid lake islands. The islands are actually part of the main lake basin, are surrounded by cold deep water, and had historically been areas of marginal production for big walleyes during the Summer months. With surface temperatures in the high 40s to 50 degrees, no one had considered fishing the islands in June, let alone May. A steady wind had been blowing on a C shaped clay bank in one of the passes and Cory just couldn’t drive by the muddy colored water without making a trolling pass. They didn’t catch a lot of fish, but 3 – 25 in., a 26 in., and a 28 in. walleye in 20 minutes definitely got the guide staff buzzing.

After more scouting, the guide staff has come up with the following recipe for a new spring pattern. Even though standard convention is to fish the warm shallow fertile bays (55 – 60+ degrees) during early season, high volume is not usually accompanied by very many big fish. It seems that even though the waters of the main lake are cold, there are still walleyes present, even early in the year. There may not be that many and they may not be that aggressive, but on average, they are big!

The consensus of the crew is that the limited amount of shallow water in the basin/islands area is relatively small and thus concentrates the few fish present. Add enough wind blowing onto a shallow water clay bank shoreline to color the water and you have just enough incentive to get those big fish to bite, despite the low temperature. This pattern resulted in several Master Angler qualifying walleyes (over 29 in.) early last season and we look forward to scouting more new water this coming year.

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Additional Photos for The Turbid Water Connection