The Four Seasons of Walleye
By: Tyler Dunn
Opening weekend for walleye anglers around Ontario represents the beginning of a fresh soft water season. Expectations of catching endless post-spawn walleyes are high and the day dreaming begins for most hardcore anglers. Spring is the best time of year to find huge concentrations of walleyes located at mouths of rivers. With today’s technology and new equipment finding these concentrations of fish is easier than ever. Before heading out on the water for a day of fishing, first locate a map of the targeted lake and mark all in flowing water sources. These will be your prime areas for walleyes to spawn in or around. Once you have all your river mouths marked, upload the coordinates to your GPS or bring a paper copy with you if that is all that is available. Once you have arrived at your desired area, shut your gas motor off and begin covering water with your electric while watching your sonar for walleyes. It may take a bit of searching these areas but once you begin marking walleyes under your boat drop the boats anchor. Have 100 feet of rope and anchor the same distance above your spot. Jig and minnow combinations are the easiest and often the highest producing presentation during this time of year. Another good option for anglers who struggle to find and catch bigger fish is to work the first drop off from the mouth of the river into the main lake basin. Often small male walleyes will stick around the spawning grounds for an extended period of time while larger males and females will move out to the drop-off to give themselves access to both shallow and deep water. Stick with the jigging technique when walleyes are found off the deeper drop off during spring but drifting Mustad’s slow death hooks behind a bottom bouncer is a stealthy technique that most anglers should have in their arsenal.
During the summer months of the year many different techniques can be utilized throughout a weekend fishing trip and often all can be used even in one day. To locate and catch walleyes lake structure and water clarity can often steer you in the right direction before you even enter your boat and wet your line. Stained water lakes are more commonly shallow weed filled lakes. I will begin by running shallow diving crank baits in bright colours parallel to a windblown weed beds on the shoreline. The vibration and sound given off by the crank baits is an easy target for feeding walleyes to hone in on. The baitfish in the lake are being blown up against the shore as they have a hard time staying in a school when the choppy water is making the already stained water even more difficult for them to see.
If the wind is down and the sun has risen to its highest point of the day a very simple split shot and spinner rig dragged over top of weeds is an excellent choice for pulling fish from cover. A slow rolled worm or leech, lightly ticking the weeds just above a walleyes head is more often than not too hard for them to resist even during the dog days of summer. On clear water lakes that tend to be deeper, natural colours matched to the forage available is the best option to use first. These lakes usually contain much more rock structure than shallow weedy lakes. A Bottom bouncer and crawler harness is the best technique for catching walleye in water deeper than 12 feet during summer. Drift or troll these baits from 0.5-1.5 mph and always keep bottom contact with your bottom bouncer. 1 ounce for every 10 feet down is the best rule to follow. If you are unsure of how much weight to use always try and maintain a 45 degree angle from your rod tip to the water. When you are bouncing bottom, always keep your eyes on your electronics and even visualize the bottom bouncer and spinner down below working along bottom banging off the structure. By doing this you will always maintain your concentration and you will not be surprised by a strike from a fish. Any odd or different bumps you feel off your bottom bouncer sweep your rod back to feel for the weight of a fish. Often these fish lightly hit your harness and you will not feel anything more than sudden weight on your line. A firm sweep back will load up your rod and let it begin to tire the fish out. Stay calm, reel slow and concentrate on landing the fish to ensure you do not create a hole in the mouth of the walleye resulting in the fish spitting the hooks.
Once summer has passed and most anglers are targeting the pacific salmon runs, they often don’t realize the size and amount of active walleyes present in lakes and rivers. Walleyes will be at their biggest size for the year when winter begins to slowly make its way into the forecast. These fish are gorging themselves in preparation for the cold months to follow. Large crank baits trolled on long lines is the best presentation for autumn walleye. Reef Runners, Down Deep Husky Jerks and Tail Dancers are amazing baits that produce exceptionally well in the fall months. With the use of planer boards lines can be spread across the water giving you the advantage of covering as much water as possible. Rods that are specifically designed for planers are available in many lengths but a medium action 8 foot down rigging rods works almost as well. If your boat is not equipped with planer boards simply flat line as many rods as legally possible. For example if two people are in the boat with a maximum of 2 lines each, set 2 lines per side of the boat. With the outside lines use rods in the 9-11 foot range and put the baits back at minimum of 100 feet. For the 2 inside lines use 7-8 foot rods and set the baits 50-60 feet back. Having the longer rods on the outside will enable you to stagger your rods and prevent a massive tangle when trolling in an S pattern.
Ice fishing for walleye can actually be one of the trickiest times of the year to consistently catch walleyes. Stealth when targeting walleyes is often over looked and usually never taken into serious consideration. Cracking ice, power augers, snowmobiles and ATV’s all contain gas engines which spook weary walleyes. Anglers usually target dawn and dusk during the day when chasing walleyes. Arrive at your spot on the ice an hour before you expect the bite to begin. Having your holes pre drilled will ensure you do not spook walleyes away from your presentations. Lure options for icing walleyes includes jigging Rapala’s, Northlands’s Buckshot spoons, buck tail jigs, jigs dressed with plastics and minnow combination. Deeper water where walleyes can roam is the most productive spot during most of the winter. During the final few weeks of ice, walleyes will begin to stage in and around the mouths of rivers and rocky shoals where they will spawn in the spring. These fish begin to feed in preparation for the spring spawn period. These late ice walleyes become very active and can be taken with aggressive jigging patterns.