Hit the Seams for ‘Eyes
How one angler uses minnow plugs down deep to reach walleyes that others miss.
Just when you think there’s nothing new in walleye fishing, along comes Mike Kulm. The accomplished walleye tournament angler from Rapid City, S.Dak., fishes for tailwater walleyes in the fall and winter with a shallow-running minnowbait such as the original Rapala or a Smithwick Rogue. What’s unusual is that Kulm doesn’t fish the lure anywhere near the surface. Instead, he attaches it to a bottom bouncer with a 5-foot length of 10-pound-test Berkley Trilene XT monofilament and sends it deep along current seams where faster and slower waters meet. The walleyes love it.
To fish the minnowbait-and-bottom-bouncer tandem, Kulm slowly pulls the rig upstream with his boat or drifts the lure and weight downstream with the current. Both tricks can be used in the same place but they’re different in terms of application. Kulm uses only one rod at a time, holding it constantly. The rod must be sensitive enough to feel the weight ticking the bottom, as well as walleye strikes.
The strength of the river current dictates the weight of the bottom bouncer, which also varies in size depending on whether the angler is heading upstream or drifting downstream. In heavy current, Kulm might start with a 4-ounce bottom bouncer. The goal is to allow the line to pull back at an ideal 45-degree angle while the bouncer barely touches the bottom. If the current is slower or faster, Kulm switches to a lighter or heavier bouncer to achieve and maintain the 45-degree angle.
The Downstream Drag
When Kulm has gone up the seam as far as possible, he grabs a second rod sporting a lighter 3-ounce bottom bouncer and drifts downstream.
To prevent the current from washing the rig ahead of the boat, Kulm backs downstream as the bouncer sinks to the bottom. After the rig touches down and the boat is positioned directly over it, Kulm uses his outboard to drift with the current while maintaining the proper angle and constant bottom contact.
When the current is really boiling below a dam, the seam between faster and calmer water is usually easy to spot. Look for the area where surface agitation and foam from the current play out. Such areas are prime feeding stations for walleyes.
Kulm favors a 7½- or 8-foot graphite trolling rod fitted with a Quantum bait-casting reel filled with 14-pound-test Fireline. “Fireline slices through the water better than anything else I’ve tried,” says Kulm.
When to Try It
Kulm’s deep minnowbait trick for tailwaters works from late fall through early spring. He also says that walleyes nab his minnow lures even better after dark, especially in clear water.
Kick the outboard motor into and out of gear to adjust the drift and keep the bottom bouncer and the lure down.