Considering he was among the first (if not THE first) to target suspended walleyes on the Great Lakes and inland waters, Gary Parsons is The Man to best explain this often misunderstood fishing pattern.
Routinely fishing for suspended walleyes, whether it’s on the Great Lakes, western reservoirs, or larger inland lakes, it quickly becomes apparent they all have two things in common - big walleyes … and really big walleyes! It’s a fact ... walleyes in these types of waters will suspend in open water, at least a portion of the season. Understanding when, why, and how they behave in these situations will positively help you catch more trophy fish season after season.
The first step is to pinpoint the walleyes’ location ... after all, you’ve got to fish where the fish are if you’re gonna catch ‘em. Cruise the open water basin using your electronics. Look for either big fish "arcs" or "clouds" of bait fish. Walleyes suspend primarily because of the availability of food, in the form of roaming schools of bait fish. Keep in mind that cold fronts can drive these fish to the bottom, and make them very difficult to spot. Marking suspended fish is no problem for most sonar units, but detecting the subtle "bumps" of bottom huggers is a whole different ball game. This is where you need some serious electronics. Top-of-the-line locators like the Lowrance LCX-19C, offer the ultimate in screen resolution. That’s what it takes to spot bottom hugging fish. Once you’ve located an area that appears to be holding fish, determining the right depth to run your baits is the next step.
This is important ... To successfully catch suspended walleyes you must figure out their primary feeding depth. Not necessarily the depth at which they’re hanging, but the actual depth at which they are feeding. Suspended walleyes feed upward. That is to say, if you’re marking fish 30 feet down, suspended over 45 feet, running your baits 30 feet down might not be the best plan.
Water clarity and feeding mood play important roles here. In very clear water, walleyes may move up as far as 10 to 15 feet to grab a meal, so lures would need to be running 15 to 20 feet down. In dingy water, they may only move a couple of feet, so baits would need to be placed at 28 feet.
Weather can also be a factor. Stable weather with warming temperatures will typically increase the fishes’ strike zone, while cold fronts push fish deeper and decrease their willingness to chase down baits. It’s important to experiment in order to zero in on the right depth fish are feeding at. What ever depth you are marking fish, vary your lures to run at depths at, or above the fish. Remember ... Walleyes feed "up", so they are much more likely to see your offerings passing over-head than if you were to fish below them.
When it comes to lure choice there are basically two options ... crankbaits and spinners. Crankbaits are great tools for catching suspended walleyes, but choosing the right one is critical. Early in the year,