Fishing

Looking for a fun fishing challenge? Try catching an Idaho walleye

One of the joys of fishing is the ever-present opportunity to try something different. Even the most experienced anglers can seek out a new challenge, whether it’s pursing an unfamiliar species, fishing uncharted waters or experimenting with untried methods.

If you’re lucky, you can even check all three of those boxes on one trip — just like I did this fall, when local walleye expert Andy Fiolka invited me out on his boat.

I have caught walleye before, but only on the Great Lakes in my native Michigan. There, the walleye is a signature species, prized by anglers for its size and white, flaky meat. Here in Idaho, it’s a different story.

There are only five Gem State lakes that hold walleye — Oneida and Ririe, tucked away on the far east side of the state; Pend Oreille in the Panhandle; and a pair of desert reservoirs south of Twin Falls: Salmon Falls Creek and Oakley.

Of the five, Salmon Falls has the best reputation (although the state record, a 17.88-pound giant caught by Damon Rush in 2011, came out of Oakley). Needless to say, when Fiolka asked me to join him at Salmon Falls, I jumped at it like a hungry bass crushing a topwater plug.

I met Andy — his “W4LLEYE” license plate was a dead giveaway — at Salmon Falls’ north boat launch, about 2 ½ hours out of Boise. I couldn’t wait to pick his brain about these elusive Idaho walleyes. After a brisk run across the lake, we set up shop. There was just enough wind to create the coveted “walleye chop,” which disorients baitfish and provides easy pickings for predators.

I half-expected Andy to bust out some secret fancy gear, but he nodded his approval at my soft plastic swimbait. He tied on a similar lure, and we began flinging them into the rocky shoreline.

Just minutes into our first spot, Andy hooked up.

“It’s not big,” he predicted. “But I think it’s the right species.”

Sure enough, he landed a 14-inch walleye. I examined its trademark features: a spiny dorsal fin, huge marble-like eyeballs and an impressive set of small, sharp teeth. Back in the lake it went.

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With huge eyes, sharp teeth and a fast, athletic build, walleye are ideally suited for hunting smaller fish of all shapes and sizes. Jordan Rodriguez

Moments later, I joined Andy on the scorecard. My fish was bigger, but experience told me it wasn’t the quarry we were after. A feisty leap near the boat confirmed it — this was a smallmouth bass, a common bycatch for walleye anglers.

We fished on. Andy put a couple more walleye in the boat, while I continued to catch bass, including a gorgeous 18-incher. I chuckled at the irony — on many trips, that fish would make my day. Today, it felt like a false alarm.

The wind switched directions, and we chased the chop to the opposite shoreline. On my first cast, something snapped up my bait and made a quick move sideways. This time, it didn’t feel like a bass.

“That’ll be a walleye,” Fiolka said. “Let’s see her!”

He was right on the money again, and I lifted a 13-inch specimen aboard. It wasn’t a giant, but it felt good to check an Idaho walleye off my bucket list.

We enjoyed a solid morning. Andy and I each put about 10 fish in the boat, more than half of which were bass. But the wind died around noon and with it, so did the bite.

“It’s time to change it up,” Andy announced. “Let’s troll.”

Andy’s instincts told him the fish had moved to deeper water, so we quickly rigged up four rods with lead-core line and diving crankbaits. I’ve done my share of trolling, but Andy’s setup with two long rods, two short rods and a motor controlled by handheld remote was an impressive program.

As we trolled the banks in search of active fish, I asked Andy what drew him to walleye fishing, apart from his South Dakota roots.

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Local angler Andy Fiolka honed his skills in his native South Dakota. Today, the Rapala-sponsored angler is one of the top walleye fishermen in Idaho. Jordan Rodriguez

“They’re good fighters and they’re good eating, but I think it’s the challenge of it more than anything,” he said. “Walleye can be very technical fish. You have to figure out location, feeding behavior, lure color, retrieve speed, depth. And then on the next trip, it can all be totally different.”

That may be true, but Fiolka has Salmon Falls ’eyes dialed in. Within 20 minutes, we began catching fish on our troll. And much like my trip on Lake Erie, the active ones were piled in one location. Time after time, we passed through our waypoint and picked up at least a couple fish. Most were in the 12-inch range, but we scraped together a handful of solid keepers, with a big fish of 18 inches. By the time we called it a day, we’d put about 40 walleyes in the boat.

Andy lamented the lack of big fish — he regularly catches 20-inch walleye at Salmon Falls, with occasional giants up to 30 inches — but I assured him the day was a success. Anytime you catch a rare species, explore an uncharted lake, learn some next-level trolling skills and make friends with a walleye whisperer, it’s been a heck of a fishing trip.

Tight lines!

Jordan Rodriguez has been fishing Idaho waters since he was a teen. Share your fish stories, adventures, tips and tricks with him at tightlinesboise@gmail.com or visit www.tightlines208.com.

GO DO IT!

Want to try your hand at catching an Idaho walleye? Here’s a quick rundown of the basics:

Where: Salmon Falls Creek Reservoir (approximately 2 ½ hours from Boise).

When: Fall is a great time to catch walleye. The fishing should stay good as long as decent weather holds. Remember — windy days are usually good for catching walleye.

How: Casting with swimbaits, crankbaits and jerk baits along rocky shorelines is a good way to catch walleye in shallow water. If the fish move deeper, try vertical jigging with lipless crankbaits or jigging Rapalas, or troll with crankbaits or crawler harnesses. A boat is essential, especially on a large reservoir like Salmon Falls.

Local group holds “Hooked on Mental Health” event

A local organization is looking to promote mental wellness through the outdoors on Saturday, Oct. 26. A Body & Mind health services will hold the inaugural “Hooked on Mental Health” event from 9 a.m. to noon at McDevitt Pond in Meridian. Fish and Game will be on hand, along with local vendors and free fishing gear to borrow. Anglers of all ages are welcome to fish or volunteer. For more info, email patrickf@abmhealthservices.com.

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