Perch Eyes Guide Service’s Jason Feldner spends thousands of hours on the water each year observing walleye behavior on Devils Lake, North Dakota. Not surprisingly, he has a pretty good idea when, where, and how to catch walleyes on any given day.
“To put clients on fish day-in, day-out, you’ve got to have back-up plans to your back-up plans,” Feldner says. “I guarantee that if you spent the kind of time I do on the water, you’d dial in these oddball bites, too. A lot of times it’s about going with what works—not just what’s in the walleye textbook.”
If there’s one way to find walleyes that’s really under-utilized, it’s watching where schools of white bass are spawning or feeding, he explains. While white bass typically spawn on sand, gravel or cobble substrate in tributaries, rivers, or neckdowns, they’ll also gravitate to shallow cabbage beds in natural lakes, especially on windblown areas near shore and where warmer water circulates and baitfish congregate.
So, for about a week on Devils Lake each year, when water temps range from the high 50s to the mid 60s—basically right now—spawning white bass become a sentinel species for locating schools of walleyes that slash and rip through cabbage and over shoreline gravel, attacking everything that swims.
“It’s like something you’d see on the ocean,” Feldner says. “White bass schools can be massive; anything from a small pocket of fish to a hundred yards of boiling water.”
“I’ll skip a crankbait like a size 5 Lindy Shadling, Shad Rap, or Flicker Shad over the top of the weeds, changing colors until I find a pattern that matches the forage they’re eating. Or, you can bypass the guessing game by throwing the first couple of fish into the livewell. Doesn’t take long before they regurgitate whatever they’ve been eating and you can fine tune your presentation.”
In most of the country, white bass are done spawning by May 1, the exception being in northern bodies of water like Devils Lake, North Dakota. “No worries,” says Feldner. “You can follow the white bass from spawn through ice-up and catch walleyes in close proximity.”
June, July and August are top months, according to Feldner. “Following the spawn I’ll look for white bass surfacing and feeding on young-of-the-year fry and fathead minnows. Depending on the wind, walleyes will either be below or behind the schools of bass.”
When it’s windy, Feldner uses Side Imaging to locate schools of white bass roaming the shallows, knowing that walleyes will be close behind picking up the wounded baitfish the silvery throngs leave in their wake.
“When white bass are busting baitfish along the shorelines, I’ll cast behind the schools with a Lindy Slick Spin, jig or crank,” he says.
Calm days make things easier.
“On Devils you can locate white bass busting baitfish on the surface over water as deep as 40 feet when it’s calm. Walleyes will suspend 10 to 12 feet below, feeding on wounded baitfish that flutter down.”
In this situation Feldner turns to jigs in the heaviest size he can get away with so the bait drops quickly through ravenous white bass and into the mouths of scavenging walleyes.
#7 Jigging Raps are another great option, especially colors like Rapala’s pearl white, which almost perfectly mimics white bass-regurgitated minnows, even younger white bass.
“Plucking ‘eyes out of white bass schools is a great back-up plan to my back-up plan. When other patterns don’t produce I know I can still put clients on fish,” concludes Feldner.