Outdoors column: Big water walleye secrets

by Steve Carney
Contributing writer

Many anglers have a tendency to stick with the same lakes time after time, and few are willing to travel and experience new water.

Big water means big walleyes.
Big water means big walleyes.

Actually I have found my best walleye lakes throughout the Midwest by trial and error and I keep coming back to “big water.”

Big water is a term for large expanses such as Leech Lake, Lake of the Woods, Lake Mille Lacs,Vermilion, etc. The fact is that big water also hosts big walleyes. And if you are properly equipped with the correct gear, you can experience the ultimate in trophy walleye fishing.

Here are some thoughts for those anglers looking to expand their horizons and try something new and different.

Comfort zone

Many anglers have a tough time negotiating and fishing big water.

This is understandable as many of us have different levels of experience and big water requires boating skills, fishing skills and plain old common sense.

Tackling big water is a mindset that requires clear thinking and stable strategies – and the payback is the awesome potential that big water provides in terms of extra large walleyes and lots of fish numbers as well.

If you feel comfortable and have the proper boat, gear and experience, then big water is for you.


I have found over the years that having a “wingman” is very important on big water. This means having another boat along to make the trip to provide extra security and safety in case of motor trouble or something unpredictable.

Getting caught seven miles out on a large body of water with motor problems isn’t a nice feeling – I have had that experience more than once.

Having the peace of mind with a wingman makes the big water fishing experience more palatable.

If you are planning on fishing big water it is vital to have some form of GPS navigation system, whether it be a handheld unit or regular unit.

The two most important features are the “trail” feature and the “waypoint” feature.

The trail feature allows you to make a permanent line that marks your progress on the screen allowing you to follow this line back for your return trip.

This trail feature is critical for big water with lots of islands and rockpiles that all look the same. Cutting between the wrong islands could end your fishing prematurely.

The waypoint feature is not only used to mark hotspots but also to GPS your launch spot so you can return in case of fog or getting disoriented. On big water I always carry a handheld unit as a backup to my main GPS just in case.

Sometimes weather and mechanical things can affect the GPS unit, and having a backup assures you of getting to and from in case the main unit breaks down.

Big baits for big water

Fishing big water for this angler means I go about my business there unlike any strategies I use for smaller lakes.

On big water I am keying in on big fish, and that means upsizing your baits. Instead of minnow imitators in the two- to four-inch range, I upgrade to five- to seven-inch baits.

I also upsize my livebait hooks from the standard #6 to #4 going for a much larger and more reliable hookset when tangling with larger fish.

I like perch-colored baits as well as shad-colored baits for big water because perch and shad are top forage choices that roam these big water lakes.

Steve Carney is a regular contributor to the Outdoors page.