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Lead Core ’tames’ Francis Case ’eyes’

By - Larry Myhre
Siouxland Outdoors editor
Geddes, S.D.- When early summer rolls around, the walleyes on Lake Francis Case vacate their shallow water habitats and seem to disappear. Unless anglers are willing to change tactics by abandoning their jigs, bottom bouncers and spinners and leave the shallows for deeper water, they will not make good catches consistently.

No one knows this better than Joel Vasek, a full-time fishing guide on this 130-mile long reservoir known as a "walleye factory." He spends about 225 days a year fishing, by far most of it in the lower third of Francis Case. And by the time July rolls around, he’s fishing 30 feet down, his lures skimming the tops of river-bottom cottonwoods long ago inundated by the reservoir waters.

Last summer, Gary Howey, Hartington, Neb., and I joined Joel for a day of fishing.

After a short run from the Pease Creek boat ramp, Joel shut down the 225-horse outboard and pointed to his depth finder.

"Look at the walleyes sitting in these trees," he said.

And they were there, bunches of arches suspended around vertical markings which were the trees.

With his eight horse trolling motor in gear, the boat moved along at 2 miles per hour, and we began setting out lines.

To reach these fish, we would use lead core lines, four of them. Two lead core rigs would ride to the sides of the boat, taken about 75 feet out by planning boards. Two rods would be placed on each side. Rounding out the presentation were two downriggers, their 10-pound weight hanging 30 feet down with two rods rigged with mono pulling baits 30 feet behind the balls.

Running six lines 30 feet down in flooded tress is a set-up best left to the pros. The lines require undivided attention, and any screw-up could result in a tangle of lines and lures that would be beyond repair.

Yet, it is a system that many anglers fishing the big reservoir have mastered. Pulling lead core in flooded trees has become a popular method for any angler serious about catching walleyes here.

And for a good reason. It is an extremely effective method of catching summertime walleyes.

We had not gotten far when the first fish hit. The strike came on the port planer and the small flag attached to the board began to bob, signaling a walleye had struck. Gary grabbed the rod and began cranking in the side planer, a piece of plastic about four inches deep and 14 inches long. When the board came to boatside, Joel grabbed it and pulled the line from two releases, freeing it so Gary could fight the fish and bring it boatside where Joel slid the landing net under it.

It was a 16-inch fish and into the livewell it went.

And so it went throughout the morning.

There are a lot of flooded trees in this reservoir and this time of year most of them hold both walleyes and white bass. The trees we fished were scattered along areas of over a mile long so your trolling runs can be long ones. Our trolling speed ranged from about 1.9 to 2.4 miles an hour.

Our lures were small crankbait, which imitate small shad or lake minnows, which walleyes are used to feeding on. All of the baits contained interior rattles which we feel are important at these depths to attract fish.

We fished three different groups of trees that morning and caught walleyes and white bass from each of them.

"There are a lot of walleyes in this reservoir right now," Joel said. "On July 1, the 15-inch minimum length limit went off but I have a personal 14-inch limit in my boat. If a fish smaller than 14 is capable of surviving, I’ll turn it loose. There are lots of small walleyes right now and that is a good thing. It shows there has been good spawns and there will be a lot of fish growing up to replace those that are harvested now."