DULUTH, Minn. -- July.
Bugs are down. Days are warm. But where have those walleyes gone?
For a lot of anglers, June is prime time for walleye fishing. The fish are hungry and usually shallow, and the fishing is good.
Come July and August, the walleyes sometimes aren't where they used to be, and that can be frustrating. But fishing guides don't go water-skiing in July and August. They keep fishing. And they keep catching fish.
Some guides think late-summer fishing can be even better than that of early summer.
"The hard-core fishermen come here in May and June," said Gunflint Lodge guide Kevin Walsh of Grand Marais. "In July and August I get the families, and they get the best fishing of the summer. Last year, it was good right through July and August."
Jack Sparks, who's been guiding for more than 30 years on Lake Vermilion and Trout Lake near Tower, believes some anglers are missing the boat on late-summer action.
"They think it's the dog days, but that's not the case whatsoever," Sparks said. "The water temperature warms up, and the fish's metabolism increases. Fish have to feed more often. That's when they do their growing."
The trick, then, is finding the walleyes in late summer. Once you've found them, the catching is much the same.
Here are some tips from North Country guides for walleye fishing in the heart of summer.
Tom Neustrom, Deer River, professional guide and consultant to In-Fisherman: "There are a couple of things we've learned in the past five or six years, and one is that fish adhere to muck -- the soft-bottom areas," Neustrom said.
Anglers tend to think of wall-eyes relating to rocky points or rocky reefs, but they're often on the soft bottoms. That can present a problem to anglers using depth finders and fish locators, because against the soft lake bottom, walleyes are hard to "mark," or distinguish, Neustrom said.
If you think you're seeing fish, try fishing them with the latest craze in walleye fishing -- side boards. These are boards that are run out from both sizes of a boat on a strong cord. The boards are used to get the fishing line and lures out away from the boat, which sometimes spooks fish, Neustrom said.
"We'll run different lip baits -- a Rebel Fast Track, Shad Raps, Fat Raps, down 15 or 20 feet over the muck," Neustrom said.
The lures are trolled, and when a fish hits one, the line pops free of the side board so the angler can play the fish.
"The other fish that are always overlooked are the weed fish," Neustrom said. "I believe they're there all summer long, until fall. They're almost always there, and they're active during the day as well as during low-light periods. They're more active fish [than other walleyes] because they know there's food there, and there's shade."
Neustrom likes to fish over the tops of emerging weeds if the water is deep enough, or parallel to the weeds if the weeds reach the surface. He casts baits such as the Shad Rap and Shad Rap Shallow Runner along the weeds.
Sure, you get hung up once in a while fishing the weeds, Neustrom said. Here's a tip: Use an 8- to 12-inch piece of single strand wire just ahead of the lure (on a snap swivel so the lure runs freely). If you do feel a weed, snap the line. More often than not the wire line cuts the weed, and you're fishing again.
Another approach is to use spinner harnesses with nightcrawlers or leeches. Remember these are active fish, and your hits won't be gentle taps, Neustrom said.
"If it's a slow, gradual pull, it's a weed," he said. "If it's a walleye, it'll be a definite snap, not a nibble."
Try using a longer, stiffer rod for weed fishing, Neustrom said.
"You can keep the tip up and muscle 'em out of the weeds if you have to," he said.
One more hint: If you're catching fish in the weeds -- say, in 8 to 10 feet of water -- don't throw out your marker buoy right there, Neustrom said. Toss it in deeper water -- 12 to 14 feet. You won't spook as many fish.
Jack Sparks, guide, Lake Vermilion and Trout Lake, Tower -- "In late summer, in the really hot part of the year, walleyes are out on the flats, like out in Big Bay on Trout Lake," Sparks said.
The flats on Trout and Vermilion vary in depth and don't have any distinguishing characteristics except for deeper water surrounding them, Sparks said.
Sometimes Sparks uses live bait -- leeches or nightcrawlers -- and sometimes he uses plugs like the Shad Rap. He's usually fishing flats that are 18 to 22 feet below the surface, with dropoffs to deeper water along their edges.
With live bait, he backtrolls at a good clip. He usually uses an attractor such as a floating jig head or spinner ahead of the leader. The leader is 18 inches to 2 feet long. He prefers fluorescent colors for his attractors.
"Chartreuse is probably the best," he said.
When he's trolling baits like the Shad Rap, he likes to keep moving. Five mph isn't too fast.
"That's faster than I can walk," Sparks said.
The fish love it.
K? "They bang it then," he said. "They can't help themselves."
Kevin Walsh, guide, Gunflint Lodge north of Grand Marais -- Walsh has been guiding for 14 years on Gunflint, North, Saganaga and other lakes along the Gunflint Trail.
"By about the third or fourth week of June, the fish are on the rock piles, and that's some of our best fishing of the summer," Walsh said.
The rock piles are underwater structure courtesy of the last Ice Age. Often the tops of the piles are 20 to 30 feet below the surface, and the water drops off around the piles to depths of 50 to 100 feet, Walsh said.
And the fish aren't always hugging the rocks. More of them are in what anglers call a "suspended" position, up and away from structure. But they'll still bite.
"Probably 80 percent of the fish I get are suspended at least 5 feet off the bottom," Walsh said. "On Gunflint and North last week, we got walleyes from 4 to 8 pounds using slip bobbers set at 8 to 9 feet over 30 feet of water."
Slip bobbers are handy rigs that allow you to bobber-fish deeper water and still cast efficiently. Any bait or tackle shop will show you how to rig one.
Leeches are Walsh's primary bait when bobber fishing. He's tried artificial plugs, but finds the fish rock-pile fish spooky.
"Anchoring and fishing away from the boat makes a world of difference," he said.
Sometimes the walleyes take a bobber-rigged leech aggressively, sometimes not.
"I'll see an 11- or 12-pound walleye take the bobber up and down three times and let go of it," Walsh said. "Then sometimes a smaller fish takes it so fast, you have to open the bail. They'll take a lot of line."
Want a hint for fall fishing? Walsh, using a jigging spoon and a stiff fishing rod, regularly catches walleyes at depths of 40 to 70 feet.