While April showers bring May flowers, names can be deceiving. Mayfly, for example, are usually most abundant throughout the northern states in June & July, and often play a key role in early summer walleye fishing.
At the leading edge of summer, schools of tiny minnow and baitfish fry that hatched in spring may provide tasty meals for hungry panfish, yet remain still too small for adult walleyes to efficiently pursue and eat. Fortunately, nature finds another way to take care of her own at a time when sizeable minnow forage is at its lowest level of the year.
The end of June and early July are prime time for mayflies to begin hatching out of moderate-depth mud basins. Large mid-lake expanses of featureless, structureless mud bottoms often become food factories for walleyes, with fish either gravitating out across the basin itself or lining up along the edges of points and humps that intersect with the mayfly production zone. In effect, mayflies become an important transition food source for many species of fish–especially walleyes–until minnows and other baitfish grow large enough to draw walleye attention.
Ever wonder why livebait rigging with leeches is so good at this time of year? Leeches are not only tasty and easy for walleyes to catch, but they sort of resemble insect larvae. A slow-moving leech, danced along behind a walking slipsinker rig, is deadly.
Using Mille Lacs Lake in central Minnesota as an example, the leech/rig bite usually goes big-time in June through early July, then suddenly tapers. Fortunately, that’s when a faster spinner presentation kicks into high gear, chiefly using nightcrawlers as bait.
But guess what? At times, substituting a leech, or nipping your ‘crawler in half, sometimes works better. That’s likely because the smaller profile more closely resembles a mayfly–matching the hatch, so to speak. With fish still focused on eating smaller profile meals, the down-sized bait has more appeal—until it doesn’t. Because at some point, the fish inevitably switch their preference to minnows, also trolled behind spinners. That’s coincidentally right about the same time the lake’s minnow population finally reaches viable size, with walleye shifting their focus to feeding on minnows.
Throughout the walleye range, slipsinker bullet rigs often work best along the edges of weeds and timber. In reservoirs, bottom bouncers are ideal for trolling spinner rigs along shoreline flats, and up and down fast-breaking points to deep water. But on Mille Lacs, the local conditions dictate a different approach.
Here, the famed mid-lake “mud flats” that attract walleyes from late spring through midsummer feature relatively soft bottom; sinkers tend to disappear down into the gooey, peat-like bottom, dragging your bait down with it if you don’t hold your sinker a bit above it. Long ago, local anglers switched to three-way rigs incorporating 2 ½-ounce bells sinkers and 2- to 3-foot dropper lines to position their spinners farther off the bottom, where walleyes can see them above the spongy ooze.
Also, due to the clear water, which has since become even clearer with the introduction of zebra mussels, Mille Lacs anglers went to lighter 6-pound-test spinner snells as much as 5 to 7 feet in length. They are constructed with size 2 silver blades compared to the larger size 3 or 4 blades you find for sale in most walleye markets. These finesse spinner rigs are held above bottom for short distances, then occasionally lift-dropped to reconfirm that your sinker is still near bottom, as the spinner trolls and flashes along, wobbling your bait behind it. They are tried-and-true July standbys for triggering strikes with increased flash, speed and vibration, whether they’re baited with leeches, minnows, softbaits, nightcrawlers—or half-crawlers that closely resemble mayflies.