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!
Written by Dean Schenk
Edited by Jamie Wilson
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.
Written by Dean Schenk
Fall Muskie fishing is my favorite time of the year. Chasing giants in cold water paired with some of the most extreme conditions can be oh so rewarding.
That being said the fall season is generally the time to put away the fast action reaction type baits and transition to the big slow moving targets. For most that means big hunks of rubber upwards of 1 lb in weight and 20” in length. Or trolling large crankbaits over deep water. That is after all what tends to produce results this time of year, and that is what the Muskie elders have instructed us to do. I too have fallen into this mindset during the cold water period, but something happened this past weekend that reminded me of a few techniques I have had success with and have changed my perspective.
This weekend’s trip started out as most do in the fall. Water temps in the high 40’s and large profile, slow moving baits latched on in hopes of a giant fall Muskie. I found myself fishing with two very old friends, one of which also happens to be a Muskie nut. The other.. Not so much.
Not 10 mins into the trip I moved a BIG fish on my Beaver. She was hot in pursuit, gills flaring fins wriggling.. Looking like a taker only to slowly saunter off at the last second as she approached the boat. Not two casts later she did the exact same thing only to hang directly below the boat giving us a really good look at her before she swam back to the depths. My tried and true methods seemed to be attracting the interest one would expect this time of year and as such I stuck with it and was rewarded later on during the trip.
After moving that fish we decided to give her a rest in hopes that she would eat during our next pass of the area. We moved off and over to a bay adjacent to the deeper water we had been fishing and began working the deep weed line that it offered. My good friend Devin decided to join in the Muskie fun and picked up one of my setups only to latch on an inline bucktail. “I know, I know” he exclaimed. “I’m not going to catch them with this right now, but they are just so much easier to cast”. We all had a good laugh at his honesty, but were happy to see him fishing Muskies alongside us. Not 5 casts in! A very healthy fish came roaring off the weedline and crushed his bait. For some reason, unknown to myself, this fish was whiling to chase down and aggressively strike this “summer season” bait.
I was shocked! And felt a little silly having teased him initially for his bait choice. But as I reflect back to my earlier days of Muskie fishing I can recall catching fish, late in the season, on flashy bucktails and spinnerbaits as well. This was not only an eye opener, but a reminder to myself that we never really have these fish completely figured out. Yes they will regularly eat large slow moving offerings during the fall season. But it is important to impart other techniques, some less conventional, when the fish don’t seem to cooperate. Bucktails on deep weedlines may just be the difference.
This reminded me of another not so typical bait/technique that I have been using of late. During the fall period that is. A Spinnerbait!. I know I know! Not really something I should be throwing in the fall! But as I was reminded earlier, something different can be good! Really good!
My spinnerbait of choice is a Tandem Nutbuster. This bait is produced by a company called Llungen Lures. Llungen Lures L.L.C is a family & veteran owned fishing tackle manufacturing and distribution company based out of Southern Illinois. The company is operated by three partners; Chris & Cari Piha along with longtime friend Matt Gunkel. All three play an integral role in the day to operations and distribution of fine Muskie fishing tackle.
The Tandem Nutbuster is, in my opinion, one of the finest Essox spinnerbaits available on the market today. Its unique Colorado and Willow tandem system add to diversity of this premium bait. Designed for a multitude of applications, it can be fished at slow, medium, or high speed retrieves. It refuses to “roll out” cast after cast. From grinding through cabbage, to dragging through rocks, to bumping through timber. I have yet to find another spinnerbait on the market that is as versatile or effective.
My approach with this bait during the cold water period is often a slow roll, as one would expect. But something I have really started to have success with involves allowing the bait to settle on bottom, and dragging it with a moderate to fast retrieve along the bottom. Grinding through soft bottom creating a good cloud of silt and activity during the process. Not to mention the noise the bait makes from the thumping blades. I came across this technique rather accidentally. I made a long bomb cast only to blow up my reel (professional overrun). While I pulled the birds nest from my spool the bait fluttered to the bottom. Assuming the cast was dead I began to crank the bait in at a good clip. Dragging through the soft bottom, and deflecting off of rocks when I was greeted by a heavy strike! Initially I thought I had hung the bait up on bottom until the headshakes began. This was a Muskie! And a good one at that! Pattern established!! The commotion and banging around on the bottom combined with the rhythmic thumping of the blades had triggered this fish to strike! Who knew! I was fishing the spinnerbaits in a manner that nobody to my knowledge does. Like a crankbait! Like a deep diving crankbait. And the fish react to this very very well!
Here is the skinny.. Make your long bomb cast, count the bait down (approx 2’ per second). Once the bait has made contact with the bottom begin your retrieve ensuring that the bait remains in contact with the bottom with the rod tip down pointing towards the water. It will feel like you are dragging it. And in essence you are. Most of my strikes occur when the bait deflects off of something. A rock, or a piece of timber. Or when I rip it free from a clump of weeds. This is far from conventional. But different can be good! Really good!
During your next fall outing try fishing your big spinnerbaits along the bottom like you would a deep diving crankbait. The results speak for themselves!
ALL OF THE FISH IMAGES IN THIS ARTICLE WERE CAUGHT AND RELEASED IN THE KAWARTHAS NORTHUMBERLAND REGION OF ONTARIO! COME SEE FOR YOURSELF!
Author: Chris Huskilson
Top 5 Fall Fishing Destinations
The angling opportunities available year round are simply astounding. The fall is a special time of year, however, and the scenery is simply breathtaking. With so many fishing destinations with over 350 lakes and rivers to choose from, here are my Top 5 Fall MUST fish locations.
Number 5–High Falls
Photo Courtesy of Ontario Travel
GPS Coordinates: 44.588126, -78.070699
Put your canoe or aluminum boat in Eels Creek off Northeys Bay Road and head north to the High Falls. The scenery is breathtaking and the fishing is top notch as well! Bring your Muskie tackle because this stretch is chalk full of fish! Inline bucktail spinners and 6-8” crank baits imitating the cyprinid forage throughout the river will provide great success for anglers of all levels.
Number 4–Lovesick Lake
GPS Coordinates: 44.555582, -78.203433
This little hideaway is tucked between Lower Buckhorn Lake and Stoney Lake. The beautiful rocky forested shorelines to please the victors eye. An often overlooked stretch of the Trent-Severn Waterway that is absolutely loaded with Bass, Muskie, Walleye, Crappie and several other panfish species. Bring your arsenal because this little beauty has trophy fish in all of the above mentioned species. Put your boat in at the launch directly across from the Burleigh Falls Inn and joy the beautiful scenery this lake has to offer while catching your next Kawartha Legend.
Number 3–Burnt River
GPS Coordinates: 44.776225,-78.6844606
Launch your boat in Kinmount and make your way up the river. If you have a small boat or canoe, walk it down below the dam in Kinmount and make your way down stream. Be prepared to portage a few narrow sections of the river along the way, but all the effort is well worth it. Not only is the scenery absolutely majestic but several fish species reside within the river and are seemingly always whiling to bite! Walleye, Large and Smallmouth Bass as well as Muskies abound, in high numbers and really great sizes! Your arms will be sore from reeling in fish!
Number 2–Stoney Lake
GPS Coordinates: 44.565477, -78.136769
Launch your boat at the public launch directly adjacent to Viamede Resort at the end of Mount Julian Viamede Road and let the adventure begin. Known as one of the most prestigious lakes in the region, Stoney offers some of the most picturesque landscape in the world! Not only is it an absolute pleasure to view but the lake also boasts a very healthy fishery! The Bass, Walleye and Muskie populations are VERY good! Chris just recently fished a tournament event on the lake and over the course of the three days, Chris and his tournament partner landed over 300 Smallmouth Bass!
Number 1–Belmont Lake
GPS Coordinates: 44.486377, -77.817640
Launch your boat at the end of Mile of Memories Lane. Be sure to keep an eye open for wildlife on the way in as there are often deer grazing in the fields or wild turkey running about. This hidden gem of a lake is absolutely loaded with good sized Pike and the occasional monster Muskie. The bass fishing, both largemouth and smallmouth, is phenomenal. And did I mention the Walleye population is just ridiculous? Located near Havelock, Ontario with travel times into town being 15-25 minutes on average. Travel time to the Greater Toronto Area is within 2 hours making this lake a very popular spot for those escaping the city for vacation rentals even during the off season! The size of Belmont Lake is 1872 acres with a maximum depth of 51 feet and mean depth of 20 feet. Belmont Lake is part of the Crowe River system, the Crowe (Deer River) enters the lake at the north from Cordova Lake, the North River enters from Round Lake and then exits as the Crowe River to the east heading into Crowe Lake. Just a beautiful little lake that offers some of the best fishing in the region! Shhhh… don’t tell anyone! For a great stop after a day of fishing, take a trip up to the north end of the lake and visit Belmont Lake Brewery. They’re a small craft brewery open on weekends. And always boat and drive responsibly!
Written By Chris Huskilson
Here we are, at the height of the fall transition when temperatures drop, nights are longer and lakes begin to turn over. This is truly the time of year you can run into some really large smallmouth, but where do you look and what do you throw at them?
Smallmouth can be fickle and very elusive during the fall. Some anglers use the old cliché to describe the search for these bronze bass as finding “a needle in a haystack”. Smallmouth will often travel in larger and often, tighter schools during this change in season which makes them more difficult to locate. But once located, what you find will inject a shot of adrenaline into your veins for sure.
One major change in smallmouth behavior during the fall is that they often become less dependent on crustaceans (crayfish) and are more apt to key in on baitfish. Depending where you are located, baitfish such as shad or shiners (or whatever the main forage is in your neck of the woods is) will school up and begin some sort of migration to stage upon potential spawning grounds, wintering spots and so on. Once this takes place smallmouth will in turn school up, thus stalking said baitfish. Something to note is that although baitfish are inevitably at their largest in size, they can still be easily digested which works out because as water temperatures drop rapidly, the metabolism of bass will slow down.
Now, obviously this seasonal change brings cold nights, which cools the haunts indicative of smallmouth bass so mornings will become a less productive time to chase them. As the sun heats up the high water columns along main breaklines, mid-depth sections of points and steep shoreline banks, you should gear up and get out there. If the body of water you are on is calm enough, look for busting/dimpling baitfish on the surface in these areas. You’re not always going to be able to spot them visually on the surface, which is when electronics are of utmost importance so pay close attention to your graph along with a GPS unit to better pinpoint the prime locations. Look for large, dark bait balls and pay even closer attention to larger arcs lurking below. One thing you may notice is a large dark school that forms a huge arc, visually similar to that of a single gamefish. This could be a school of bait mixed in with you guessed it, many big hungry smallmouth.
A good rule of thumb would be to search out smallmouth during the mid-day period on south/east facing spots with hard substrate such as rocks, gravel and sand, and lush green cover such as milfoil as these areas will be the first to heat up which will attract baitfish. At days end, I’ll move to north/west facing, shallow rocky points and banks adjacent to deep water as these areas will be the last to heat up and will hold warm water and baitfish. These spots will offer smallmouth the opportunity to feed heavily in close proximity to deep water. Poppers are the order of the day here. Erratic, walk the dog presentations mimic baitfish evading hungry bass and sunfish perfectly (and it is ridiculously fun watching surface explosions).
When it comes to mimicking baitfish, there are a few lure types you should never leave home without. During these daytime patterns discussed here I always lean on spinnerbaits when it comes to searching out, and triggering smallmouth. In clear water I will cycle through my collection of 1/2oz-5/8oz double willow spinnerbaits in natural colors such as gold/silver blades with a more subtle skirt color. In stained water I experiment with hammered finished colorado/willow blade combinations along with brighter more gaudy skirt colors such as chartreuse, charteuse/white or just white. The bright colors, along with the thump of the fatter blades will be more easily seen and felt by smallmouth. For this, I prefer a 6’6”-7’ heavy action spinnerbait specific baitcasting rod coupled with a 6.1-1 to 7.1-1 reel spooled with 17lb fluorocarbon line. Why such a fast 7.1-1 ratio you ask? In the fall I burn spinnerbaits frantically which triggers the most aggressive strikes of the entire season. And as these schools are hard to locate, covering as much water is the wise choice.
Thump is good, topwater action too but another fantastic presentation right now is the mighty and often forgotten lipless crankbait. The tight wobble coupled with the rattles and smart color selection can truly turn the mood from somber to ecstatic in a heartbeat. For this I count on the Kamooki Smartfish and Smartcraw which have a unique spiraling action in open water and the innate ability to stand on its nose like a floating worm or shaky head rig. These baits lend themselves to the fall hunt as versatility is the order of the day.
Next, I always have a selection of jerkbaits, especially when water temps drop below 58 degrees. Keep in mind that this is a visual presentation that is dependent on clear water so if the water is murky, I definitely stick with the thumping blades of a spinnerbait or the rattles of a lipless crankbait. Size and color selection will be determined by the forage base in the area you are located. I like a white, gold/black or black/silver body to mimic the predominate baitfish in my area, but a firetiger mimicking a perch in stained water, or a black/orange body will get it done. I usually lean towards suspending jerkbaits because long pauses, as the bait hangs helplessly in the balance, becomes the most visually tempting stimuli for cold water smallies.
Lake Fork Trophy Lures Magic Shad
I also like to compliment hard jerkbaits with a more subtle version such as a soft plastic, fluke style bait. For me, a 4-5” white/baitfish colored “Magic Shad” by Lake Fork Trophy Lures can’t be beat for finicky smallmouth. I like spinning rods for both applications. Braided line paired with fluorocarbon leaders for both with the only difference being longer leaders for hard jerkbaits (and a looser drag as well) allowing for more stretch/give which prevents treble hooks from being torn out. A new feather I’ve put in my cap is the use of a scent trail for neutral or negatively responding bass.
I always count on the Garlic Minnow scent by Liquid Mayhem when the visual sense of a smallmouth can’t solely be counted on.
Okay, I’m excited. Let’s turn off our computers and get on the hunt for these big bronze beasts. Just remember, finding smallmouth in the fall can be tough. Attention to detail, hard work and persistence can pay serious dividends. See you out there!
Jamie Wilson- Lead Writer/Editor Exist To Fish Canada
ALL FISH IMAGES IN THIS ARTICLE WERE CAUGHT AND RELEASED IN THE KAWARTHA’S NORTHUMBERLAND REGION OF ONTARIO! COME SEE FOR YOURSELF!
Well here we are. As I write this, the fall equinox is upon us as we wave goodbye to summer. It is a bittersweet time as we trade our shorts and flip flops for sweaters and jeans. That is the bitter, but what is sweet you ask? This transition into fall means that tributaries and staging grounds along the Great Lakes fill up with aggressive, mature Chinook Salmon.
The Chinook (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha)
The Chinook Salmon, otherwise known as Spring, King, Tyee and Quinnat are the largest species in the Pacific Salmon genus. These fish reach maturity in three to seven years and ultimately return to the very same areas in tributaries where they were hatched. The Chinook run/spawn takes place during fall between about mid-September to mid-November in a temperature range of approximately 10 to 3 degrees Celsius.
As Chinook begin this migration to their spawning grounds, they make a stop at what is described as “staging grounds”. Some examples include rocky piers and break walls adjacent to the tributaries and river mouths they will relate to and thus, run to spawn sites. This is a perfect opportunity to target them as they will be easy to find and predict and will be but a casting distance from urban shoreline structures and harbors near preferred habitat for procreation.
This is a fascinating time for any angler as giant Chinook are within reach for an, albeit short but very exciting period of time. If you have chased Chinook during this time period you know the staple presentations such as skein (eggs), spoons (my favorite being Little Cleo), jerkbaits and various flies. These are obvious choices that these fish see on a daily basis, so what really stands out? Lipless crankbaits/rattlebaits are truly an overlooked choice for sure. So let’s cultivate shall we?
President and founder of Kamooki Lures Ltd. Kam Sheikh certainly has some insights into this particular approach to targeting Chinook. You see, Kam cut his teeth chasing these fish along the rocky shorelines and breakwalls in and around the well-known Port Credit area with his father. Recently he returned to his beloved old stomping grounds with his childhood fishing buddy Darrell Smith and his, now famous, 3”-4” 1/2oz-1oz Kamooki Smartfish in tow. The results were nothing short of amazing.
Kam explains “Retrieves are usually quick and steady to keep the bait high in the water column, even at night”. This rings true to me as a quick steady retrieve can create an aggressive reaction bite as Salmon seem to be very competitive for forage.
As far as color selection goes, it is very simple. During daylight hours Kam favors the gaudy “Green Tiger” and the flashy yet neutral “Natural Shad”. Both can be very effective as “Green Tiger” mimics a variety of forage while “Natural Shad” represents one of the most prolific baitfish in the Great Lakes, in this case, Lake Ontario. Once dusk falls Kam snaps on a 4” “Glow Tiger” which was literally designed with Great Lakes Salmon in mind. Darrell Smith (pro guide) explains “It’s a pier fisherman’s dream and a Chinook’s worst nightmare. Big long casts, super loud rattles, all in an extremely snag resistant glow in the dark package”.
“Your gear selection is very important” Kam explains “Rod/reel/line combos should be both super tough, yet comfortable enough to cast and retrieve all day and night. Pier fishing can be rough on your line as rocks are abrasive so checking for frays is of the utmost importance. Better to find a fray than lose a fish”. He continues “On this trip my gear was a (baitcasting outfit) 10’ med/heavy Daiwa Heartland paired with a Shimano Calcutta 251 loaded with 20lb power Pro (braid). I also had my Dad’s 9’ heavy Eagle Claw spinning rod dressed with a Shimano Stradic 5000, also spooled with 20lb Power Pro”. One thing to note is that Kam tied the braided line directly to a heavy snap swivel without a fluorocarbon leader, which is something I have observed many times myself while walking the piers.
This style of fishing is what I describe as a simple pleasure. It is walking the banks with friends, old and new, your son, and maybe even the fond memories (of the good old days) when your greatest friend, your Dad, netted your first King along those rocky banks. A rod in hand, a backpack with a small assortment of rattlebaits, the inevitable sound of a screaming drag and the subsequent slaps of high five and loud hearty laughs. As Kam said “Get out there and get crankin’ as the run doesn’t last long”. Will do, my friend,
See you out there.
Jamie Wilson- Exist To Fish Canada Lead Writer Editor