If I had to pick my favorite piece of structure for walleye, a bar would be on my short-list of final choices. These elongated formations are prime habitat in lakes and rivers, and whether natural or artificial, like a wing dam, these protrusions are walleye magnets.
In fishing-speak, a bar can mean different things. The focus of this article is an underwater point that extends from the outside bend in a contour line (i.e., drop-off). Generally a bar occurs a fair distance from the shore, a trait distinguishing it from a shoreline point.
Bars come in an array of forms from small bumps to massive shelves. Some are sandy, weed-covered protrusions with slow-tapering ledges. Others are steep and rocky. Shallow, moderate, and deep bars will all be productive under the right conditions because walleye relate to bars for various reasons, including the following.
Walleye use a bar as a place of refuge when they are inactive. Fish may be found suspending off a bar's deep ledges, holding on its shaded side, hugging bottom near the base of its drop-off, tucking in behind boulder piles or logs on its top, seeking cover under the canopy of weeds, or relating to vegetation edges.
In rivers bars also offer a buffer from fast current. Fish often hold in the slack water section found behind the down-stream side of the structure. In other instances active walleye will tuck into slack water pockets formed behind boulders on top of or in front of the structure. These are prime ambush spots for these predators to snap up food tumbling downstream.
A Natural Express Lane
Whether terrestrial or aquatic, wildlife are habitual in their movements. Once passage proves a safe option, it becomes a regular route. Bars frequently play this role for walleye. Fish following the contour line of a steep drop-off will intersect the bar and then travel up its slope as a route to the shallows. Walleye suspending in deep water gravitate to a bar as a path to shallow feeding areas. Given a bar acts as a natural highway, and because they funnel walleye movements, they also concentrate fish. In other words, not only are walleye in the area, but there are a lot of them stacked on a specific structure.
A Food Court
While some bars are pathways linking feeding and resting areas, other versions of these structures are restaurants themselves. Typically, the bigger and longer the bar the more likely it will contain an adequate supply of forage. Good bets include mid-depth bars featuring healthy vegetation to hold yellow perch, minnows and crayfish. Rocky bars can be just as productive provided they have the right composition. Boulders, rock piles, sparse weeds or sunken logs bolster the structure's appeal to walleye and the fish species they prey on.
Scanning & Surveying
Like any structure, gaining an understanding of a bar's shape, depth and contours helps fish it effectively. For starters, a bar is clearly visible on the depth lines of a contour map, appearing as an elongated "U" shape jutting out into deeper water.
On uncharted lakes without a map it is more difficult to locate a bar as they are rarely affiliated with above-water structure. In this instance, one strategy to find them is by touring around a lake, following the major drop-off until you intersect a bar.
Once you locate a bar, use sonar to learn its nuances. Side- and down-scanning/imaging can help determine the edge of a bar's weed line, the location of a strip of boulders, and fingers or other offshoots that will concentrate fish. Waypoint these spots.
Several approaches work to catch walleye holding on bars. Casting, trolling and vertical methods all have their time and place depending on the aquatic environment, conditions and fish mood. Let's explore these tactical categories in more detail.
Pulling a bait along a bar is a game of precision to keep the lure running along the structure's edge or over its crown without straying out of the strike zone. This is why a GPS/sonar unit loaded with lake contour charts as well as your own scouting waypoints are essential.
A diving crankbait is a proven producer for covering the deep to moderate sections of a bar. A shallow-running crankbait or a minnowbait are deadly options when walleye are on the skinny side of a structure, which is typical during overcast conditions or at night.
There are a few different trolling patterns that can be used. One is pulling a bait on a short line and following the drop-off along one side of the bar, turning at its apex, and then trolling down its other outer edge. This tactic works with small, short bars or steep bars of any size. For large, long bars with gradual drop-offs on the sides use lazy "S" turns. This meandering troll covers a wider depth range, which puts the odds in your favor of contacting fish when they are dispersed over the structure.
Another variation is trolling over the top of a bar. This strategy works best on large structures that taper off slowly, such as an elongated sand bar with weed clumps and rock piles. When walleye are actively foraging on a bar this method can be dynamite, but be quiet to avoid spooking fish. Using a trolling motor instead of a noisy outboard can make a difference in catch rates.
Tossing It to Them
|Use a trolling motor to creep along a bar's edges.|
Several casting approaches can be used to extract walleye from bars. I like a lure that gives feedback about the bottom via vibrations transmitted up the line. Baits that sink, such as jigs, spoons and swimbaits, are good bets. Diving crankbaits are also reliable producers.
When fish are relating near the edges of a bar, it can be important to keep your bait close to the floor to be in their strike zone. The above baits will help with this strategy. At the same time, the vibrations provide clues to the whereabouts of bottom content variations. A strip of boulders or a sand edge can concentrate walleye. Once pinpointed, these micro features should be the target of your casts.
Making bottom contact isn't a prerequisite to success when fishing bars, however. In fact, some of the most intense walleye action I have experienced has come from retrieving baits in the upper half of the water column over the shallow portion of bars. This is most pronounced at the onset of a weather front. As waves push onto a bar the water becomes turbid and disorients baitfish hiding in the weeds or on the bottom. Big walleye will take advantage of these conditions and hunt on these structures. My top casting baits for these conditions include jerkbaits, moderate-diving crankbaits, and swimbaits.
When walleye are inactive on a bar, a vertical presentation is best. Aim to slowly and methodically drift or use a trolling motor to creep along a bar's edges or over its top while dancing a bait near bottom.
In these scenarios a drop-shot rig outfitted with an artificial leech, minnow, or finesse worm is a good choice. One benefit to this set-up is that the bait is always off bottom and hovering in the strike zone. Traditional finesse jig combos, such as a grub and worm, will also work with a lift-hold-shake-drop jigging sequence.
Jigging spoons and bladebaits should also be part of your bar fishing strategy. From rip-jigging to lazy-lift sequences these baits frequently fool walleye holding tight to a bar's ledges, in depressions and pockets, or behind boulders.
Whether a resting spot, a migration route, or a restaurant, bars are reliable walleye spots. Effectively fish these structures and you'll be rewarded with plenty of great outings.