Summer-to-fall transition is the theme here. Water temps are down from mid to high 70's to the current 65 range, and that last big cold front and freeze warning really mixed things up on Lake Sakakwea. The walleyes are quite scattered by location and depth alike. You can find them all the way from 4 feet of water to 60 right now, which lead to some frustration for us this week for sure.
I probably marked more fish in 25-28 feet than I did in the 35-55 range, but they just didn't want to bite, at least not as well as those deeper, which seemed counterintuitive at first until I paid more attention to the bait on the graph. The fish cruising shallow along the shorelines are always good biters if you're lucky enough to find them, but the ones super deep were also willing to hit jigs and jig raps because they were down there feeding on the smelt and/or ciscos. If you found fish marks down there around bait clouds, you had a good chance. There simply isn't a lot of bait in 25 feet, so I think that's more of a resting/comfort depth for the fish right now. If they're feeding, they're either super deep or super shallow.
Good fishing was still had at times this week, though, as the pros from the Cabela's National Walleye Tour (NWT) showed Thursday and Friday with five-fish bags as high as 28 pounds and lots of bags over 20! Again, most of their action came either super deep or super shallow on jig raps or jigs and live bait. There are lots of 24-28 inch walleyes in this system as many competitors out there showed, and they'll only get easier to catch as we get closer to fall conditions.
Side note: while we're talking about super deep fishing (35+), we need to remind ourselves about what happens to the ones caught that deep as a result of the drastic change in water pressure as they get pulled up the water column. If you intend to fish here, you have to be okay with keeping everything you catch, because they won't live. When you get them up to the boat, you're going to see air bladders in their throat and hear that air release. Please please please, do not toss any fish back because they aren't going to live. If that is an issue, I recommend working extra hard to catch the shallower ones or chase the smallmouth bass and pike as the bigger fish in those species are starting to hit well now, especially on the eastern side of the lake.
On the bright side, this early cold snap could mean an earlier (and longer) fall bite, which I'm certainly hoping for. Walleyes will come up to more manageable depths, feed heavily before winter, and the bigger ones will be much more common...which should perk up the ears of the trophy hunters! We still have openings for September and October, so come on up before the season passes you by!