The Search Continues: Walleye & Pike in Saskatchewan
Locating fish on new and different types of lakes can be challenging. What works on your usual fishing holes, more times than not, won’t be as productive on unknown lakes. Not all lakes are created equal and this couldn’t be more true than in Saskatchewan. Boasting 68 different species of fish, inhabiting more than 100,000 lakes in Saskatchewan, the differences are as vast as the province itself. My “home” lake is a man made reservoir that was once a river system. It now holds an abundance of walleye, pike and perch. This flooded river channel provides exceptional habitat for these fish as well as their forage.
The southern Saskatchewan lakes I frequent range in depth from 0-60ft with my typical target depths from 6-30ft. More often than not, the middle range of these depths is the sweet spot for the longest period of time through the winter, which is about 12-24ft. Locating fish with extreme differences in structure and depth can be challenging especially on a reservoir lake. Drilling a hole in one spot at 18 feet of water, then taking two steps and drilling another hole and being in 35ft can be a challenge, but also rewarding when these close proximities of depths are available. Typically, when you find yourself in this situation, you have hit the old river channel and this can be a productive spot at certain times of day and year.
Timing is everything
We all know that fish move around, but knowing when and where they will end up, is always a challenge. I spend countless hours before ice up scouting spots, mapping the lake both on my electronics and in my head. So in my opinion, the more information you can collect throughout the year will make all fishing seasons more productive. When scouting late in the fall I’m looking for weed edges that will be decaying as the ice shows up. These edges will be key areas at first ice, for feeding pike and walleye, as these areas are habitat for our target species and their forage.
At this stage you’re going to want to focus on shallow waters of about 6-12ft. If you can find a weed edge near a drop off you hit the jackpot as these fish will feed along the weed edge adjacent to an escape route near the depths. As the season rolls on and the ice thickens, fish will be headed for structure and this is where things can get confusing. Early to mid winter I head for points and breaks, typically near wood or rock structure that I’ve marked on my GPS during open water in the fall. This seems to be where the fish are in ambush mode which will produce some aggressive bites, but not for long.
Feeding patterns change as pike and walleye do what I call “selective eating” as we reach mid to late winter. These fish are now transitioning into a morning and night bite pattern on vast mud flats. During this time, they roam to feed and when they are full, they will head to that deep river channel. I rarely fish the 25+ft depths at this time of year as I find those fish have just finished eating and are not interested in my offerings. I also don’t like to risk barotrauma to the fish at these depths. This can be a frustrating time of year if you’re looking to catch fish all day. If you’re willing to slug it out, the morning and evening bite usually makes the slow mid-day worth your while.
Now, as we get to that time of year when you’re looking at the snow melting off your boat, most anglers have had enough of the ice and well, guess what? I’m just getting fired up! This is the time of year when the fish are putting a serious feed on before the spawn which typically yields my biggest fish of the year.
During “March madness” I move closer to bays and river channels. Theses river channels seem to act like a highway as the fish move up out of the channel to feed as they are headed to staging areas near their spawning locations. During the end of the season I forget the middle depth ranges and position on 6ft shallow and 18-25ft deeper edges. These fish that are deep wont pass up an easy meal during this time of year and the ones that are holding in the shallows are there for one reason, and that’s to eat.
Now the above may apply to my home lake but like I said, not all lakes are created equal. Typically any structure is good structure on most basin or pothole lakes where structure is few and far between. I recommend an app like Navionics if you’re going to head out to a new lake in pursuit of those big fish, or a different species altogether. There is an abundance of information and technology available to us now and if that fails, I will always do it the old fashioned way and talk to people. Most anglers will be happy to divulge information so that you can have a successful day on the ice, and if they don’t, then you probably don’t want their advice anyway.
Knowledge of what fish are feeding on is the key to a successful day on the ice. I try to select lure patters and types based on available forage in the lake and my target species. The utilization of an underwater camera and flasher to determine how the fish are reacting to different lures and baits can be invaluable information, especially when trying new lakes. I have seen fish take off like a rocket as soon as I move a lure and a simple size or color adjustment is all it takes most times. Have you heard guys say “I saw lots of fish but they just wouldn’t bite”? I have, so many times, and I always ask did you change colors or sizes? 90% of the time the answer is no.
There are so many choices these days when it comes to lure selection but I have never seen a lure more versatile than the Kamooki Lures Ltd. SmartFish. This is a lure I use extensively in the summer and one of the very few that get moved over to my ice fishing tackle come winter. The variety of color patterns Kamooki offers makes matching the forage base in almost all lakes simple, with my three favorites being Natural Perch, Walleye, and Fire Tiger. The 3 sizes available allow an angler to make small adjustments based on target species and aggressiveness of the fish. On my home lake, walleye can be very finicky and five times out of ten wont touch anything bigger than the 2.5” version, but if I’m on a bigger body of water with a typically more aggressive and bigger class of fish, I will size up to the 3” version (The same goes for pike from 3” to 4” sizes).
When targeting pike, I will exaggerate my color selection to maintain the attention of the fish with something bright or shinny. When vertical jigging the Kamooki Smartfish, a variety of presentation types can be used, and I typically deploy these on the same fish until it strikes.
For pike, I aggressively rip-jig the Smartfish 0-2 ft off bottom with a 1-3ft lift 3-4 times then, I simply pause at or above the fish and wait for a reaction. If this fails to tempt or better yet, trigger a strike, I will then bounce it on bottom a couple of times and slowly “flutter jig” the Smartfish while raising it upwards. This usually re-activates the fish’s attention and will often strike if they didn’t first attempt.
For walleye, I use the same “flutter jig” method with a less aggressive approach starting on bottom and fluttering it as I raise it up 1-2ft, then allowing the Smartfish to fall back to bottom. Another technique is to bottom bounce the Smartfish. The key principal here is in two phases. First, the attracting phase which is a series a bounces on bottom stirs up sand, silt and mud. Second, which involves allowing the bait to settle on bottom, will trigger walleye to attack and devour the easy meal in front of it. The Kamooki Smartfish is perfectly designed for this method with its nose down, tail up design. Let the fish tell you what they want by learning to read your electronics. Making a mental note of how the marks (fish) are reacting or following will keep you in the know throughout the day.
Here’s a tip from Exist To Fish Canada Editor in Chief Jamie Wilson “A triggering phase is this; when a walleye, pike or any fish for that matter, becomes interested, simply reeling the Smartfish away which mimics a fleeing baitfish will more often than not, seal the deal”. He continues “call them in with the vibration and rattles, get them keyed into the presentation, then, trigger a response. Predators such as pike and walleye are programmed to attack when a baitfish swims away in fear. When jigging the Smartfish, you will find that it swims upward with an erratic spiraling action so make sure to always tie on a quality snap swivel to combat line twist”.
Don’t be afraid to try different speeds and levels of aggressiveness when jigging. If a fish comes in to investigate, but doesn’t hit, alter your tactics slightly the next time that you see a follower on the sonar.
When using hard baits or lipless cranks, I rarely attach bait which alters the action and natural presentation of the lure. When forgoing bait, I have encountered fish that followed and were interested in the lure, yet, just wouldn’t commit to the visual cues I’m presenting to them. To remedy this I use Liquid Mayhem on all of my lures. You see, fish are mainly visual feeders, but when visual cues aren’t enough, scent definitely comes into play in my opinion. Matching the scent to the available forage in the lake to will make for a truly natural offering, and thus, prolonged success and consistency. My go-to scents when targeting walleye and pike are Pike/Muskie (Sunfish) and Walleye (Garlic Minnow). Liquid Mayhem sends out a powerful “scent trail” which is enticing due to the fact that amino acids and proteins from real baitfish are present. Due to the cold water in the winter, Liquid Mayhem stays on lures a long, long time. I simply apply a line of it to the belly of any lures or artificial baits and when I feel it has worn off, I just re-apply.
When targeting walleye and pike through the ice I keep my tackle simple. I have two small tackle organizers that fit in my pockets. One, I have filled with various tungsten and standard jigs up to ¼ oz in various colors. In Saskatchewan we are not able to use live minnows so my jigs are tipped with frozen minnows, night crawlers, or mealworms. I utilize these offerings as a dead stick presentation not far from the hole that I’m working with a lipless crank, hard baits or jigging spoons which serves as an option to target a second “bonus” species such as perch. If the fish aren’t apt to hit the aggressively worked hardbaits, they will almost always take the easy meal nearby. My second tackle organizer is loaded with Kamooki Smartfish in various sizes and colors, some Jigging Raps, and various styles of jigging spoons in a variety of colors. “One little trick” says Jamie “when it comes to Jigging Raps, you can replace the split ring with a Mustad “Fastach Clip” which gives you the ability to remove the treble, thread a minnow head onto the shank, and quickly re-attach the hook. You can thank Gord Pyzer for that one”.
As last ice approaches I will put the “ice palace” away and move around freely with the portable hut, punching holes along flats as I follow fish into pre-spawn areas. This is the most exciting time of the year which, as I mentioned earlier, often produces my biggest fish of the year. The run and gun approach at this time of year is a must as fish are moving over a variety of depths as they migrate into the pre-spawn staging areas. Also, as the season progresses to this late ice period, more aggressive presentations become increasingly effective. “Longer days” Jamie explains “along with raising water temps, will fire up a fish’s metabolism which lends to faster more erratic retrieves. Triggering a feeding response in ravenous pike and walleye is job one”.
For light panfish jigs and spoons, a 28-30” ultra-light combo spooled with 4lb braid coupled with a light 4-6lb fluorocarbon leader works. For the 2.5” Kamooki Smartfish a medium/light-medium action combo paired with 6lb braid, coupled with a 6-8lb fluorocarbon leader will suffice. For 4” 1/2oz Smartfish, a 30-32” medium heavy combo paired with 10lb braid coupled with a 10-12lb fluorocarbon leader is the deal. Jamie explains “A stiff fluorocarbon leader is important when jigging the Smartfish. As with all lipless crankbaits, you have to minimize the occurrence of the hooks getting caught up in the line”. And again, always tie in a quality snap swivel.
Well, there you have it. As they say “it ain’t over ‘till it’s over” so get out there and put these tactics to good use. Fish behave differently from man-made reservoirs to natural lakes so get to know these bodies of water and hit them with a well thought out game plan. The biggest bites of the season await so stay safe and have fun!
Ice fishing has progressed substantially from what it was when I first started to what it is today. Growing up sitting on a 5-gallon pail in the blistering cold blindly waiting for a fish to strike and the opportunity to pull it through a hole in the frozen lake. Now today as I’m comfortably sitting on a couch in a t shirt watching the hockey game on TV at the same time pulling fish through a seemingly similar hole in the ice but from the comfort of my permanent ice house.
Ice house, ice shack, hut, shanty, or permanent house just like the many names for these structures on the hard water there are many types. From scrap wood thrown together to form a floor, four walls and a roof to luxury camper style houses on wheels that lower onto the ice. Whatever size, shape, or style they are designed to keep you out of the elements, warm, comfortable, easy set up and moved onto the lake and remain until spring arrives and the ice starts to melt. A permanent shack is a great option when you don’t want to spend your whole day punching hundreds of holes and setting up multiple times while battling the elements.
With the introduction of pop up shelters and “run and gun” style of ice fishing vs sit and wait there has been much debate over levels of success with these two styles. While my pop up shelter gets a workout throughout the ice fishing season I can’t argue my success and comfort when fishing in my permanent ice shack. Sometimes it’s not about the number of fish caught but the memories made with family and friends in the ice shack. Using a few simple techniques, you can catch just as many fish in a permanent shack as drilling hundreds of holes and covering the entire lake with more time fishing and less time drilling and setting up. Here are a few tactics I use to put more fish on the ice.
I utilize early season ice that won’t hold my permanent ice house to deploy my pop up and the run and gun style to scout for hot spots and figure out patterns. These hot spots and intel gained during this time set me up for success when the ice is thick enough for the permanent ice house to make its way onto the ice. Once I have established and GPS marked things like structure, drop offs, depth and number and size of fish caught in these areas as well as time of day it’s time to determine where to drop my permanent ice house.
Although not necessary the use of electronics can greatly increase your level of success when fishing in a permanent ice house. Being able to see the structure, slope, and direction fish are moving on my Marcum Recon 5+ underwater camera and see how the fish are moving and reacting on my Marcum LX7 can determine whether I stay put and wait or move. I typically move my ice house 10-20 times a season to stay on the fish or in pursuit of higher numbers or bigger fish but not without doing some homework and most of the time it’s a slight adjustment closer to structure, deeper or shallower determined by what I’m seeing on my electronics.
I typically target Walleye, perch and pike on a reservoir lake with old river channels, rock and wood structure, and vast mud/sand flats. More times than not and like most lakes there is a prime-time bite and you must wait it out in between roaming fish mid-day. Now you could go run and gun when fishing slows down after prime time but If you’re like me and you put in your time sitting on a 5-gallon pail and now enjoy being warm and comfortable while enjoying the sport of ice fishing there are some options to increase your success.
When the bite slows down I typically do two things. One is switch up my lures and techniques. When the fish traffic slows, I tie on something that will attract them. Maybe they have moved off the mud flat to the nearby river channel and are not far away. For this some of my favorites are the Kamooki Lures Smartfish it has an extremely loud rattle and action that can call fish in for miles. Another one is the Matzuo Ikari Shad perfect for vertical jigging with a loud rattle, vibrations and bright patterns that the walleye can’t resist investigating. Now typically these will call them in and when investigating if they don’t attack the lure they will take the easy meal of the simple minnow and jig head on my nearby deadstick. Another secret weapon I use is scent. Using an attractant on your lures such as Liquid Mayhem can bring in nearby fish and get them to stay longer and hit harder. Second I typically try to position my permanent shack where I can utilize many different options and techniques throughout the day. Positioning near structure that holds fish or on the mud flat close to the river channel where mid-day the walleye move to. I can now throw out a tip up to cover more ice but still watch the flag from the comfort of my couch and not miss the 3rd period of the hockey game. I prefer to battle fish with a rod rather than hand over had so my go to tip up is the I Fish Pro tip up. This is also an option I use at night paired with an LED light that activates when the flag is tripped that I can see out of the window of my shack.
You don’t have to spend your whole day drilling holes to catch fish and you don’t have to sacrifice comfort for catching fish. Utilize a few of these tactics in your permanent ice house and I guarantee you will put more fish on the ice this winter and have more fun doing it.
Now that the colder weather seems to be settling in for the winter, I can’t help but recall the questions I had when I first began ice fishing. TheKawarthas Northumberlandregion is an ice angler’s paradise! So many species! So little time it seems. The frozen lakes provide an exciting and affordable way to get into the sport of ice fishing. Not only is it a great avenue for new anglers to explore, it truly is a terrific opportunity to spend time with family and friends during the winter months.
Ice fishing can appear intimidating to a new comer. My best advice is to never go alone. Be sure to go with someone that is knowledgeable when it comes to ice safety and exercise caution at all times. With a few key factors in mind you are in for a great experience.
Dressing for the elements is one of the most important parts of an enjoyable ice fishing trip. I always tend to overdress. That has never left me feeling cold which would take away from the experience dramatically. I recommend a thermal flotation suit. Not only are they very warm, but in the event that you were to go through the ice you have flotation to your benefit but this is certainly not a necessity. A good pair of thermal wind proof pants and a warm jacket will suffice.
I will generally wear a balaclava to cover my head, face and neck while in transit to and from the area we are fishing. I like this for two reasons. I am completely covered and warm when I need to be, and I can lift it up and fold it to fit my head only once inside a hut. A good pair of boots is critical. The ice is cold and your feet will be on it the entire time. I have a pair of slip-on ice cleats that I like to put on my boots as well, for traction purposes. I wear a pair of ice picks on a string around my neck as well. These will allow me to pull myself up and out of the water if I happened to go through. Match all of that up with a decent pair of gloves and you are ready to enjoy some time on the ice!
This is a big one. As I mentioned previously, go with someone that knows the area and practices an understanding and respect for ice safety. There are many factors that come in to play when it comes to ice thickness. During the first few trips of the season a “spud” is a great tool. Pounding the ice with one of these every few feet on your way out will give you a fair indication of thickness. Drilling a hole at the shoreline is also a good preliminary test of ice thickness.
Do I Need A Hut?
A hut is definitely not a requirement! Especially on those milder days of winter. They do have some serious advantages however. Not only are you sheltered from the elements, you are quite warm inside the comfort of a hut. I generally have a little propane heater with me and often find myself sitting inside without a jacket, toque or gloves. The huts are often built in to a collapsible sled that can be used to transport all of your gear back and forth. The overhead canopy that it provides shields the hole you are fishing from glare, and allows you to see into the water. And that is a lot of fun when fishing shallow and clear waters. Watching the fish eat your offering is a site to behold. I find the hut to also be a great opportunity to talk and discuss presentations with the person next to you. Improving both individuals’ odds for success while adding to the comradery of the experience.
What Gear Is Required?
I think the best aspect of ice fishing is that it is fairly inexpensive to get started and just about everything you will need can be found at your local sporting good or fishing store.
A medium heavy action rod and reel combo spooled with 8 to 10lb fishing line is quite literally the only setup you need to target just about everything that swims in the Kawarthas Northumberland region. A handful of great start up bait recommendations include something loud and rattling, something flashy, and something small and subtle:
You will of course need a validOntario Outdoors Cardwithyour fishing license. This is often something that is forgotten given the time of year we are generally out on the ice. I recommend a Sport license if you plan on keeping your catch.
An auger is required to drill your holes. Several options are out there and accessible. Manual and power. I would recommend a manual auger with either an 8 or 10 inch diameter. They really do drill through the ice quite easily and are inexpensive for a beginner. Auger blades are VERY sharp. Handle with extreme care.
Catch Some Fish!
Now that you are all setup, holes drilled and baits tied on. Experiment with different depths of the water column that you are fishing. A beginner will not likely have a depth finder or flasher of sorts. So use your baits to determine how deep you are fishing. Present them on the bottom, just below the ice, and in the middle of the water column until you make contact with fish.
Fishing for me is about the experiences. The relationships and comradery that develops. Don’t get me wrong! The fish are a big part of that, and catching them is a blast. But the time spent in the outdoors with family and close friends are what keeps me coming back for more. The Kawarthas Northumberland region of Ontario is my home. And I plan to continue making fishing memories here in her 350 lakes and rivers for many years to come. Come and see for yourself!
Unseasonably warm weather in the Kawarthas this fall has really opened up opportunities for the “not so hardcore” angler to take advantage of some of the best fishing of the season without having to brave the elements. This time of year typically requires the angler to wear the thermal gear. Not the case so far! There is plenty of open water fishing still to be had and all species are biting exceptionally well in preparation for winter.
The region offers a multitude of angling opportunities and species to target. An often overlooked or underrated fishery present is that of the black Crappie. Not only are they present in the region in high numbers, but also in trophy size! A fish of 15” isnotuncommon, especially this time of the year. Not to mention they are considered one of the best eating fish available. While they are not as tightly grouped in schools during the fall as they are during the spring spawning season, once located they are not difficult to entice.
There are a few essentials that you’ll need to get started. A lake map or mapping device that includes the bottom contours of the lake that you will be fishing. This is imperative as we are looking for staging areas that these fish will hold to. Specifically we are looking for the first major “basin” adjacent to the spawning grounds. Nine times out of ten the bottom type will be a soft mud. All of the baitfish in the area will migrate to this bottom type in search of food and as such the Crappie follow suit. The Basin will be much deeper water in comparison to surrounding waters. Often 20 feet or more in depth.
Once you have located this area, a depth/fish finder is required. I will simply idle over the basin in a zig-zag pattern until I start marking fish on my graph, making note of the position within the water column they are holding as often times they will be suspended at a specific depth.
Now that we have located some fish, it is time to discuss bait and tackle options. I prefer a 7’ ultra-light action spinning rod paired with a small 1000 sized spinning reel spooled with 5lb braided line. My preference is to use a braided line for its sensitivity, especially when fishing for light biting deep fish. I tie a 3 lb fluorocarbon leader to my braided line, in various lengths depending on the technique used as this has increased my success considerably given the fluorocarbons transparency.
It is important to remember that Crappies feed “up”, meaning they eat bait that is in front of, or directly above them. That being said, a presentation of your bait of choice should be above the fish marked on your fish finder. Due to the feeding nature of this fish, bites feel different from your typically rattling panfish strike. In most cases you will feel the fish bump slack into your line. Don’t wait to feel the weight of the fish when this happens. Remember, it has pushed your bait upwards, by the time you feel the weight of the fish they will have often spit it back out, so set the hook right away!
When selecting the appropriate bait I tend to lean towards slightly larger than what would be considered normal panfish-sized offerings. Keep in mind that we are at the tail end of the open water season and all of this year’s baitfish are fully grown in size.
There are several effective techniques to be utilized when targeting crappie during late fall. My personal preference is a vertical presentation. Instead of casting and retrieving, I will sit directly above the fish I am targeting and drop my offering down to them. My top three choices are all baitfish imitations and include;
A 2 1/4-inch soft plastic paired with a 1/16 oz jig head. I will drop this bait down to the fish and gently twitch the offering about 12 inches above them.
A small spoon. I keep colors simple. Gold or silver usually does the trick. I will drop this down to the fish and give it slight snaps of the wrists to make it flutter directly above them.
One of my absolute favorites is a drop shot rig paired with a 1/4-ounce weight and small soft plastic bait. I love this rig because I can set the tag end weight depth according to the depth I am marking fish, ensuring I am presenting the bait slightly above the fish. I drop this down and quiver it ever so slightly to entice a lot of bites!
Late Fall Crappie fishing is a lot of fun and there are several terrific lakes within the region that should be on your list to visit. My top three lakes for the best Crappie fishing are:
Be sure to add these to you list of “must fish” locations for fall Crappies this year. Your next trophy “Slab” awaits!
When talking to people about fishing I get excited and passionate like most of us do! But when I talk to people about lake trout, watch out, my excitement is thru the roof! I can’t help but to be fascinated by this specie, I become a totally different person when I get in the lake trout mode, almost like a hockey player gets during game 7 of the Stanley cup playoffs, determination. For those who know me, this isn’t new to them, but for those who are reading this and thinking, is this guy nuts, I have to say yes I am!
I wrote an article on downrigging basics a while back and I had a hard time writing that article without talking about lake trout because it’s what I do so I am super pumped to share with you one of the biggest success I have had fishing for big Larry’s! For those of you who don’t know, Larry is what we call Lake Trout!
If I told you to bounce bottom for lakers, you would probably say, sure no problem, but if I told you to bounce bottom for lakers using your downriggers, you would say, no way dude! Settle down, I am here to tell you that there is a safe and successful way to do it without breaking or losing expensive gear!
Step 1, the set up.
Whether you are using electric or manual downriggers, this method works with both. Make sure you have some good steel downrigger cable spooled on your downrigger, I use 250 pound steel cable. Next, you will need a snubber, people use these for dipsey divers when fishing steel line to basically brace the impact of a fish hitting it since steel line doesn’t have any stretch, no different for downrigger cable. Attach your snubber to your downrigger and then attach your downrigger ball to that. You must use round downrigger balls for this method, the fish shaped ones will not work good. As far as weight, I always start with an 8 pound weight and move up from there depending on the water conditions or the depths I am fishing.
Step 2, release clip.
Most people will have their release clip attached to the ball, instead, I use a stacker clip and attach it just above the snubber on the downrigger cable, this will help ensure nothing gets caught on your lure, except the fish of course! I like to have my leads pretty tight to the ball, usually 10 -15 feet and sometimes a little closer but never more as I will explain soon. It’s important to use a quality release clip like *Scotty release clip, they are great for this type of fishing, make sure it is nice and tight on the clip, I always pinch it tight to make sure it is secure.
Step 3, the lure.
Probably the second most important step is lure choice. I have tried many combos and lures but this is truly the best combo in my opinion. It’s called peanuts and cow bell! Some may have heard of it before and others are really confused at the moment. This method starts with laker trolls or gang trolls, however you want to call them, that is your attractant, your flash. Behind that, about 15-24 inches, I have a spin and glow or wobble troll, this is your lure, this is what the fish bites. My go to is a blue fire tiger in size 00 from Yakima Baits, you can get them pre rigged but I tie my own. I tie it on a 25 pound test fluorocarbon leader with a quality treble or single Mustad hook. Single hooks seem to be more effective on most days but when I lose a fish half way up, I switch it to a treble.
As far as rod choice, well the options are not limited, I use an 8 foot, medium heavy rod with a line counter reel. This rod is spooled with 25 pound Big Game line. You typically would not use a line counter reel for downrigging but for me, it helps me dial down the perfect combination to catching these giant lake trout.
Send your combo down to the bottom. Once you hit bottom, I always let out an extra 10 feet of downrigger cable. For example, I’m fishing in 80 feet of water, my downrigger counter will read 90-95 feet. This allows the ball to drag and bounce off bottom and create some disturbance, I call it the dinner bell! Make sure your rod is set in the rod holder and is bent in half with no slack line left, set your drag and watch your rod bounce with the bottom. If you see your rod bounce on a rhythmic pace it will mean that you are dialed in perfect. I keep my speed at around 1.6 to 2.0 MPH, my sweet spot is 1.7! I always drive in an S pattern to help the lures speed up and slow down to help me determine how fast these fish want it. Always pay attention to the small details once you get a fish. Take a picture of your catch, release it and repeat the process until your arms fall off!!
Get out there, have fun and catch yourself a bunch of Larry’s during those beautiful summer months!
When fishing a big body of water, you often feel intimidated and somewhat afraid, don’t feel bad, those were my emotions too! The mistake most people do is look at a map of the whole lake and start planning the spots you want to hit, there is nothing wrong with that at all, in fact that’s what we should all do, but in reality, most of us try to do too much at once. Instead of looking at the whole lake, cut it into pieces, just like a pie! Concentrate on a certain area, learn it, fish it and master it!
Downrigging can be scary for some, and for others, they call it “the lazy man fishing” I call it “Strategic Fishing”! Why is downrigging so fun? I’m glad you asked! All thru the summer I spend time trolling Lake Simcoe in search of big lake trout, but what I am also doing is using this time to find unmarked shoals, humps and potential jigging areas for summer and winter. As much as we think the lakes are well mapped and we can see every shoal or hump from a smartphone sitting on the couch eating pie, you can always find unmarked areas, trust me, I have found a few in my days and they still produce fish to this day! As much as we like to think we know the lakes like the back of our hand, there will always be that one spot that you found that no one knows about, or at least no one else talks about, in that case, it’s still your secret spot!
In today’s market, we have options, and plenty of them. No need to go out and break the bank on downrigging equipment, there are plenty of cost effective ways to get set up which I will share with you. Till this day, I still run a couple of manual downriggers on my boat, that’s right, the old hand crank ones! Of course I would love some electric ones but it’s not in my budget at the moment and besides, electric downriggers do not catch more fish, trust me! Make sure when you find your downriggers that you check the cable for any frays or kinks, if you find any, replace the cable right away. What you will need next are some downrigger weights, the ball that attaches to the downrigger to get your lures to the desired depths you are fishing. The weight of the balls depend on the depths you are fishing, I fish between 50 and 100 feet of water so I don’t use anything less than an 8 pound weight, I do have 10 and 12 pound ones for those windy days but getting yourself an 8 pound ball will work for you in most conditions and lakes!
At the end of your downrigging weight, you will have a release clip, this is where you will attach your main fishing line too. Now, here’s where some people get confused and the most common question I get. How much lead, or line do you put out before attaching your line to the release clip? I have no right or wrong answer for you because that all depends on the day, fish species you are targeting and lure that you are using. Some days I let out 10 feet of line and other days I will let out 40 feet of line, it’s a big difference, I know, but a general rule, start around 10-15 feet and then experiment different lengths as the day goes by.
Once you find your desired length, put your rod on free spool or loosen the drag to allow your line to be let out freely as you lower the downrigger. Once you have reached your depth, reel up any slack line and set your drag. I like my drag to be tight enough that your line won’t get let out as you troll. As far as what rod to use, obviously downrigging rods are the way to go but if you don’t have any it’s ok! Doesn’t mean you can’t go fishing. A medium heavy rod will work just as good, even a spinning reel will work for you. Bait casting or open face reel is ideal for downrigging.
Trolling speeds also vary based on your target specie, if you are fishing for lake trout, I troll at speeds from 1.5 to 2.0 mph, if I am fishing for salmon, I will troll anywhere from 2.5 to 3.5 mph. Always check your bait beside your boat before attaching it to the downrigger to make sure it is running properly.
A quick tip for you as you troll around, drive in an S pattern, this will allow your baits to speed up and slow down depending on your turn, always pay attention when a fish hits, if you got a fish on a turn, then most likely you need to fine tune your speed to a little faster or slower depending on the direction of your turn. Every little detail matters when you are downrigging. Observe, pay attention and repeat!
As you experience downrigging, you will notice that it’s actually pretty fun, especially when success finds you! Don’t be afraid to give it a go, they make downriggers for any size boat big or small.
My 2 biggest tips I give to anglers getting into downrigging are, remember your line lead, that’s the amount of line you let out behind the ball. And for my second tip, it’s speed, don’t be afraid to speed up and slow down, you will be shocked at the amount of fish you will get by doing this! And pay attention to the small details, ok that was 3 tips! Get out there and give downrigging a go, you won’t be disappointed!