By Brent Frazee
Think about the very worst conditions for walleye fishing.
High noon. A hot sun beating down. Temperatures in the low 90s. A blue sky, with hardly a cloud in sight.
That about covers it, doesn’t it?
So why was Les Jarman, a longtime guide, so optimistic that he and his friend, Ken White, would soon be catching walleyes in those conditions as they trolled on Stockton Lake in southwest Missouri?
“We’ve caught walleyes in the middle of the day on days that were hotter than this,” Jarman said, as he zig-zagged his boat on a flat near the river channel. “These walleyes will get out here on these flats in the summer and they’ll suspend.
“If the baitfish are here, the walleyes will be too. If you put a crankbait in front of them, they’ll hit.”
Staring at his electronics, Jarman saw the perfect scenario setting up. As he trolled in 20 feet of water not far from the river channel, he watched the screen of his depth finder light up with specks of baitfish. The occasional mark of a gamefish also showed up.
“The walleyes are scattered right now,” said Jarman, 65, who lives in the town of Stockton and operates the Specialized Guide Service. “They’re just out here chasing shad.
“That’s why I like to troll. Instead of sitting on one point, I can cover a lot of water this way.”
Approaching an area where a long point extended into the flat, Jarman felt something jolt the Bandit crankbait he was trolling through the Bic Sac arm of the Ozark reservoir.
When the fish stayed down, Jarman knew he had a walleye. Moments later, he tossed that keeper into a live well already splashing with fish.
Hot weather, hot fishing. That’s Jarman’s formula for success. Though he fishes for walleyes year-around at Stockton, he knows the fishing doesn’t necessarily come to a halt when the heat arrives.
From early June to mid-October, he trolls for walleyes far off shore, and he and his guides clients routinely catch limits. Jarman himself has caught fish up to 6 pounds trolling.
There is a science to his approach. He doesn’t merely pull into open water and start trolling. He tries to keep his crankbaits cutting through the water over main-lake structure.
“I’m looking anything where there is a change in the bottom,” he said. “Main-lake or secondary points, drop-offs, humps – that’s what walleyes will relate to in the summer.”
Jarman likes to troll with 60 to 70 feet of line out. He uses 10-pound test and trolls at two miles per hour. He wants to keep his crankbaits 10 to 12 feet down in water that is at least twice that deep.
“Walleyes will always come up to hit a bait,” Jarman said. “If you troll too deep, you’re not going to catch them. You have to be in the right zone.”
During the hottest part of summer, Jarman prefers to troll early in the day and in the evening hours. But he knows that the fish will hit in the middle of the day, too.
He proved it on a recent sultry day in the Ozarks. He, White and I caught enough walleyes to make a meal. And there was a bonus. We also caught about 20 white bass, several big crappies and a couple of keeper largemouth bass.
But such results aren’t unusual. Jarman and his clients have been catching limits (four walleyes 15 inches or longer) of walleyes regularly in the June heat.
For Jarman, that’s just one more trick in his trade. After guiding on Stockton since shortly after it opened in 1969, he knows where to find the sharp-toothed gamefish.
He also knows that he is fishing on the right reservoir. Stockton has long been recognized as one of Missouri’s top walleye spots, thanks to regular stockings by the Department of Conservation.
Jarman’s favorite method is to use suspending stickbaits in the early spring. He caught a 10-pound, 4-ounch walleye in March several years ago.
But he doesn’t stop fishing when the weather turns hot and humid. He knows he can tie on a small crankbait such as a Bandit and stay on the move.