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M&J Outdoor Communications » Tracking "Tidal" Walleyes


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Tracking “Tidal” Walleyes

When I first moved to the state of Washington from Ohio in the fall of 1993, I told my newly-found partner that I wanted to find two things - wild turkeys, and walleyes.

Six weeks after my arrival in The Evergreen State, I found myself deep in the heart of Klickitat County which, I had been told, was also the hotbed of wild turkey activity. As for the walleyes, however, it would be another month before Julie and I were to meet Ed Iman.

Currently, Iman is a guide on the mainstem of the Columbia River specializing in oversized walleyes and oversized sturgeon, as well as the occasional chinook. A 40-year veteran of the river, Iman at one time held the Oregon state record for walleyes with a monstrous fish that pulled the scales down to 17-plus pounds. Unfortunately, the guide’s place in the record books was short-lived as Oregon ’s Arnie Banks boosted the walleye record mark to an astounding 19 and three-quarters pounds.

But Iman is more than a fishing guide - he is an educator, an angling instructor who impresses upon his clients the need to “think like a walleye.” And it was during one of these educational sequences that he happened to mention something foreign - tides.

Now tides in and of themselves are no stranger to most angling Americans who at one time or another have found themselves working the waters of either the Left or Right Coast. However, tides and tidal influence when the topic works its way around to walleyes is something altogether different. In this case, the Columbia River is unique in that it is the only American water presently supporting a more-than-healthy population of walleyes that is, twice daily, affected by the ebb and flow of the tides of the Pacific. Or the Atlantic , for that matter.

Many walleye anglers, when faced with this tidal realization, are quick to say, “So, what does this mean to me?” According to Iman, however, the question concerning the Columbia River ’s walleye stocks and these aquatic comings and goings might be more precisely expressed as “how do the tides affect what these fish do - where they go, and how they react?” It’s all part, says Iman, of tracking the tides and thinking - thinking like a walleye.

As is the case with most things in life, tracking and catching tidal walleyes in a body of water the size of the Lower Columbia River begins with a relatively small initial first step. According to Iman, this so-called “first step” actually consists of four primary components. Understanding each of these components, both separately and as a quartet, is the key to keying-in on these fascinating fish.

“The single most important thing that anglers need to know about walleyes is that they are schooling, nomadic, contour-oriented, predator fish. And with that one single statement, anglers can begin to figure out and understand the walleye fishery in the Columbia River , and anywhere else for that matter,” said Iman.

Simple enough, or so Iman makes it seem. But what, the question remains, does the constant ebb and flow have to do with the walleye fishery?

Like the proverbial carrot on the string, Iman claims that before anglers can factor this mysterious tidal influence into the Columbia River equation, they need to first break the aforementioned “four basic steps” into their separate variables. Doing so, says Iman, increases an angler’s consistency when it comes to locating fish. Catching them, he claims, is often a much more difficult proposition.

With this in mind, Iman’s four factors include:


“Walleyes have a tendency to travel in schools. Now, a school of walleyes in a river system can be strung out for a quarter mile or more,” said Iman.

Translated, this means that the chances are good that where an angler finds one walleye, he or she will have located more than one; however, as larger fish - fish in excess of 10 to 12 pounds, for instance - tend to be a bit more solitary, anglers should not be surprised to locate a single trophy.

The bottom line? Few anglers, regardless of how jaded they might be, would complain about only one 15-pound walleye.


“These fish are contour-oriented. What that means is that once you discover what contour they’re holding on at any one time, that is where you concentrate your efforts,” said Iman, who continued by defining contours as the “in and out” patterns of various bottom configurations and water depths. Such contours, he says, are readily visible on any of a number of nautical charts of the Columbia River .

Nomadic predators and structure

Walleyes, like northern pike and muskies, are classified as ambush feeders, an aquatic “spider” waiting for the helpless fly, where the “fly” is any of a dozen different forage species including American shad, squawfish, yellow perch, and sculpin. Partially because of this trait, walleyes have a tendency to gravitate toward structure - something that might hide them from the eyes of the prey while at the same time breaking the never-ending current of the Columbia .

“These fish are going to hold by structure. What is structure? Structure is anything that is going to disrupt the constant velocity flow of the water. This can be a stump, a drop-off, a rock, a point. As far as their nomadic nature is concerned, this simply means that these fish won’t hold on the same structure all the time. They’re on a constant search for food. So what anglers have to do is adjust and move with them,” said Iman.

Fish movement and tidal influence

According to Iman, it is the walleye’s nomadic characteristics, as well as the Columbia ’s twice daily tides, that necessitates an angling attitude of improvise and adjust. But what exactly can an angler expect concerning the walleyes’ reaction to both the outgoing and the incoming waters? Not surprisingly, the answer is as elemental as the tides themselves.

“When you get into the tidal action of the lower river, what you have is this. When the tide is running out, the fish will hold tighter to the structure. This means that they’re going to be looking for food that is being washed to them. Oppositely, when the tide is coming in or hits slack periods, the walleyes will move out onto the flats. Now you have packs of fish that are roaming the flats looking for food rather than waiting for the food to come to them,” said Iman.

Incoming or slack tides

Once an angler understands how the fish themselves react to the ebb and flow of the river system, it becomes elemental that the two tidal periods on the Columbia would be treated differently when it comes to locating and catching walleyes. In other words, knowledge is but one part of the equation. Knowing how to use such information to ones’ advantage is an entirely different matter, one which more often than not separates the unproductive angler from one who faces the chore of fish cleaning.

“When the walleyes are moving out onto the flats during the incoming or slack tide periods, a good technique to use is to troll either spinner rigs or crankbaits,” said Iman.

And the reasoning behind these tactics is relatively simple. Once out onto the flats, the walleyes, although remaining in a loosely-knit school, spread out, sometimes over an extremely large area. When this movement away from structure occurs, techniques such as spinner rigging and trolling crankbaits allow an angler to cover equally large stretches of water. Once a school or a portion of a school is located, anglers can then triangulate their position using objects on the shore or can drop a marker, and can then concentrate their efforts using the same hardware used to locate the fish, or a more precise presentation like that offered by jigging.

Although Columbia River walleyes fall victim to a number of different types, sizes and styles of fish-locating hardware, some of the most productive baits include STORM Lures’ Hot-n-Tots in either a fire tiger pattern or metallic purple, Wiggle Warts, ThunderSticks and ThunderStick, Jr. Often, such lures will be worked over the flats in that productive strip of water 12 to 24 feet in depth known among river walleye enthusiasts as The Band, on simple flatlines of 12 to 15-pound monofilament or a similar strength braided line such as Stren’s PowerBraid. In snag-filled or weedy waters, Iman will often run his baits behind a hand-rolled bottom walker ranging from 12 to 30 inches in length, and carrying from one-half to two or more ounces of hollow core lead weight depending on the current.

Outgoing tides

“When the walleyes hold up on the structure during higher flow periods like an outgoing tide, jig-fishing is a good technique,” said Iman.

By now it should be becoming clear that the Columbia ’s tides and walleye fishing on the Big River is a case of opposites. Unlike low-flow periods such as those experienced during an incoming or slack tide, outgoing tides and their associated rise in water velocity will find walleyes hugging their favorite piece of current-breaking and food-providing structure, be it a trough on a sand flat, a gravel hump, or the upstream, current seam-producing head of an island.

Under such conditions, anglers should take note of two important variables. The first, electronics or depth finders, allows an angler to initially locate suitable structure, structure where walleyes “should” be. The second, a vertical presentation like that afforded by an ordinary leadhead jig tied with a #6 stinger hook and tipped with a nightcrawler, provides the angler with the opportunity for both a precise as well as a long-term presentation in the strike zone. Knowing this, the tidal walleye equation then reads something like: the presence of fish, coupled with a well-chosen and well-received bait, equals one of the best outdoor meals available.

Unlike the case with spinner rig blade-and-bead combinations and crankbaits, neither the color choice nor the head style among leadheads seems to make as much difference on the Columbia . And while Iman will employ a variety of colors and configurations over the course of a day’s fishing, his bottom line concerning the match-up of lead and hook is for many the most significant.

“The jig is little more than a `vehicle’ used to get the nightcrawler to the bottom. The single most important thing to remember is to keep your (jig) hooks sharp, and sharpen them frequently,” said Iman.


Walleye hunters on the Big River in search of an “angling education” might do well to contact Ed Iman and schedule a day on the Columbia working the waters for what just might be the next world-record walleye. Interested anglers can call Iman at (503) 658-3753, or can write the guide at 13657 SE 242nd, Boring , OR 97009 .