It’s all about the “Eyes”
Shelley Langley_ Exist To Fish Canada Writer
I was able to get out just after the spring and I achieved one of my main targets, to catch my first nice sized Walleye. Walleye typically are found in deep water and are easier to fish for very early in the morning or early dawn, dusk and into the nighttime hours. Their eyes are situated on the sides of their head and have a luminescent glow when light is shined upon them. Their eyes are very sensitive to light so anglers prefer dusk fishing for this particular reason. In the spring they make their way to the deeper waters after spawning in creeks and rivers, and subsequently I caught mine at the base of a river mouth.
I had put on a Rapala lure and covered it with Liquid Mayhem attractant. I thought that I would try something unconventional with my attractant that I had done in the past and it paid off. When we started trolling, my rod instantly had a large hit on it. There was no consistent fight that I am used to having with bass so I was unsure of my catch until I reeled it in. I was thrilled when I saw the size of my first ever Walleye.
The following weekend, with the excitement still running through me, I decided to set up the dipsy divers on the Shimano Telora rods and reel combos. The boat was set up with pickerel rigs and we set out for a day to find the Walleye. I ventured to an area known to seasoned anglers for being a great walleye location. However, after much rain and hours spent trolling, the bite just wasn’t on.
Feeling frustrated, I decided to take a stop to the 444 Walleye International Canada/USA tournament hosted in Port Colborne. The tournament this year was capped out at 100 teams, consisting of 4 people, 4 rods with a 4 fish limit per team. Each team pre-fish for this tournament days before the event as there is no season on Lake Erie, for walleye. The teams need to pre-fish on the Thursday and Friday in order to find and secure their places to find them as walleye are known to travel the lake and are not as territorial during the summer season. I wanted to watch the seasoned anglers to see the size of the walleye that they would catch from the depths of Lake Erie. The tournament fee is $444 and with 100 teams that secures a guaranteed first place payout of $10,000 and second place of $5,500.00. There are other chances to win, with the Calcutta (side bet) in which teams can win $200.00 each day for “big fish”. There is also a “big box” payout for both days which pays out an additional $100.00 for the total weight of the four fish limit.
The venue takes place at H.H. Knoll Park in Port Colborne and includes everything from personal dockage in the Sugar Loaf Marina, to campsites at the boat launch. This tournament has been producing great anglers from both Canada and the USA for 23 years in Port Colborne, making this tournament one of the most popular in the area.
When I arrived on the Saturday, I was surprised to see that this event is family oriented. There is not a lot of trailers or boats to be found as those are all kept in the Sugar Loaf Marina, making it convenient for teams competing. Teams are shuttled over to the stage along with their catch of the day and called on stage for the weigh in. As the captain, and his crew make their way across the stage, their “big fish” is weighed along with their total catch for “big box”.
This year the trophy was secured on the final day by Captain James Hall (Team Hall’ Em In). I recently had the opportunity to discuss his passion for fishing walleye and his team’s win, which included members Rob Crowe and Brandon Ottaway.
James comes from a family of commercial fishermen with both his Grandfather and his Father having spent their lives fishing out of Port Maitland and Port Dover. Since he could crawl, he spent his time on the water learning from his Father. They spent their time catching perch, walleye, whitefish and smelt. Now he operates his own charter business full-time during the summer months taking out clients on Lake Erie to find the large walleye. James said winning this tournament was particularly special to him since his Father passed away when he was just 13yrs old. He was honored as “the 4X4 tournament was on Father’s Day and he won the tournament where his Father was buried”.
When I asked James why he decided to take up tournament angling, he indicated that he likes the challenge and competition. He said that the blast off for the tournament is very unique as all of the 100 boats take off at the same time, leaving some pretty big wakes for some of the smaller boats to handle. There was an airplane the captured the blast off and actual fishing footage this year and it shows everyone rushing to their spots.
Every team has their own secret techniques for fishing and second place finishers, also Canadians, Ben Merritt, Daaron Joyner, Josh Miller and Kevin Tremblay. Traditionally bass fishermen, this team made a decision to fish the tournament to try their hand at walleye fishing. Whatever their “secret” was for hauling up the large ones, they succeeded and it was close to the finish line but one they could not grab.
This tournament is run by the Port Colborne & District Conservation Club and proceeds from this event and others help with its own walleye hatchery in conjunction with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. Many walleye have been released into the Welland River where they are a native species. This in turn has helped with the natural reproduction of the species and it is now better balanced with other predator fish such as musky, and pike. If you wish to get out on Lake Erie to catch some of your own walleye, be sure to check out Hall’eminsportfishing.ca
Bassassins are proud to introduce a new breed of ice fishermen. These custom builds are laid out for maximum performance and efficiency.
Our first contender is:
The Run & Gunner
We have chosen this class as our intro because we believe it’s the most demanding but under the right conditions, the most exciting build.
Lightweight and agility form the base for hit and run tactics, fast moving, quick striking, until he finds actively feeding fish.
Only carrying minimum gear, bare to the bone, constantly on the go… It’s a challenging task but when well executed it can be tremendously rewarding, laying the foundation to future success for seasons to come.
Drill, Flash, Slush, Catch, Move
In a nutshell, these are our most important tools
- Pliers \ Pocket knife
The auger, 8” if we are targeting trophy pike and walleye but the bigger diameter will also slow you down significantly. In general a 6” drill will get the job done more efficiently. Don’t forget to plunge your hole when you are done drilling, this will eliminate pesty slushing and will save essential time.
The R&G’s best friend is a flasher, instantly knowing your depth with comparison to charts and your gps will tell you if your in the right spot or not. We don’t spend more than a few minutes over one hole. In general when there is fish close by they will key in to your offerings and show up on your screen, if it stays empty move on.
A good slusher comes in handy on those super cold days. We prefer the metal kind, since they can be used to quickly pop open older holes, also once frozen over they can withstand a beating on the ice to free them up again.
Pliers are gold, unhooking fish as quickly as possible in frigid conditions is most important, delicate fins covered in water, exposed to wind-chill will freeze to death within seconds. Fingers get cold fast and vital sensitivity goes first, pliers get the job done regardless.
My trusty old pocket knife will take care of dissecting minnows into bite sized little pieces. A pair of sharp clippers will make short process of heavy braid and steal leaders, making retying a breeze.
Always dedicate different pockets to different tools, this way you know where everything is at all times. When you have to think fast these little tweaks will make all the difference in the world.
Again, the less time is wasted with scrambling and fumbling, the more the R&G will fishand catch .
This is the key to the game, always be looking for the usual suspects,
The targeted species will dictate which one we will fish in particular but burn those 3 in to your mind and you can’t go wrong.
Shallow bays, away from the current or with close access to deeper water or both, are always a safe bet for any species.
Searching for and fishing on their feeding grounds is the main objective, eliminating less fruitful waters and staying on the fish is the ultimate goal. Knowing what fish like doing where and when will help establish useful patterns.
Do Your Homework!
Google maps, Navionics and Anglers Atlas are great tools to scout out an area before hand. Mark potential hot spots in your GPS. My Iphone is the ultimate multi tool, it has everything we need under one hood, paired with a waterproof case it becomes the teams tactical unit.
Electronics should always be attached, those numb hands become notoriously clumsy ,a simple lanyard is the winning ticket here. We have seen it over and over again, things just naturally have the tendency to slide down into the abyss. A 2 dollar investment will save yourself cries of despair.
If no technology is available or in case it fails, use your surroundings to your advantage. Carefully study shore lines and guestimate how they could continue under water. A pit stop at the local bait shop and a little chit chat with the owner can eliminate hours of searching. Always be prepared, you can never know to much!
The R&G doesn’t use portable shelters or huts, good clothing is the most important aspect to help brave the elements.
- wind and water proof outer shells
- warm and breathable inner layers
Being able to quickly undress and peel back when we drill a bunch of holes is vital. Sweat is your biggest enemy, staying dry and warm your main concern. An added bonus to this lifestyle is the amount off drilling that keeps the body exercised and the blood flow going.
Waterproof gloves are a must, when things get hectic at the hole and you have to reach in for some reason you can do so confidently. Paired with a set of warmers they can mean the difference between do or die.
A pair of knee guards, water resistant boots, a warm hat, polarized shades and a lightweight back pack will put the finishing touches on our R&G.
The R&G carries an elite selection of trusted weapons of confidence, there is no room on board for half the bait shop so downsizing is key. Our standard selection always contains ( from light to heavy ):
- spare hooks and trebles
- stingers in various sizes
- pretied heavy mono and steal leaders
- split shots
As for bait, frozen minnows are the perfect choice here as there is no room for bulky buckets and such. Instead easy to handle ziplock bags with small army’s of leftover minnows are much more appropriate.
The R&G is usually equipped with a medium heavy and a light rod, both rigged accordingly. A light fluo carbon line in the 6-8 lb range is well suited.
In addition the R&G can carry a Tipup, when he works longer on a particular area deploying a second line will double the odds. If time is available than most likely the Tipup will produce the bigger and better fish. It often attracts fish from further away, a seemingly free meal can sometimes fire them up and a suspended shiny silver minnow is visible from quite some distance underwater.
The key elements for this build are staying on the move and being as light weight as possible. Spending a day out on the ice jumping from hole to hole, exploring new territories, finding new honey spots has its perks. Fortune favours the bold!
Ice safety is at the utmost importance, venturing into an unknown area should never be taken lightly and always be handled with care. The R&G never goes out alone and always comes prepared.
We will never lose the fear and respect for the ice, We treat 4” the same way as 15” and don’t take it for granted. Ice conditions can change drastically fast. Keeping track of ice thickness can help point out weaker spots,.
The R&G’s ability to conquer great distances allows him by default to run into more fish. You never now, you just might walk right into a monsters backyard…there is only one way to find out and its the Run and Gunners way.
Its not for the faint hearted and willingly enduring long, cold hours outside is not everyone’s cup of tea. For those who will though, it can hold adventures and treasures and the experience has taught that it always seem to be well worth the hardship.
So don’t just sit there this winter, gear up light, go on a hunt and make your own luck.
Run and Gun lads
Originally posted at bassassins.com
Well, here we go. The winter walleye season will soon be entering its final stages. Anglers across Canada and the northern U.S are chomping at the bit to experience the impending hot bite during the late ice period.
Where will these fish end up? When will they end up there? How will they be tempted? Every lake is different, but there are key similarities that will make walleye predictable not only late into the season, but throughout their seasonal movements. I’ve heard some really experienced walleye specialists utter the words “there are two seasons, early ice and late ice”. I suppose they are highlighting the fact that there is a lull in the action around the mid-point of the winter. Why? One determining factor to keep in mind is that a walleye’s metabolism slows down during this period (consuming less than 1% of their body weight/day). Also, they are not relating to or staging around spawning grounds, thus, they are not driven to put the feed bag on in preparation for a long winter or a taxing spawn.
At first ice, walleye can be found on typical fall haunts. Throughout the season walleye can be found on structural elements such as points, saddles, main lake reefs and of course, bars. As the winter pushes on they will be staging on spots closer to spawning grounds such as river mouths or wind swept shoals where they moved to in late fall. At late ice, you can bet transitioning flats closest to these structures will be your best option when locating actively feeding marble eyes.
So how do you find these key areas? How about heading out during the open water season and scouting areas of the lake that have the structures I just mentioned with a GPS/sonar. Mid-day in winter is also a good time to scout these spots with an underwater camera or simply your eyes. Bottom composition can be a factor on how patterns emerge. Areas with a transition in substrate along a soft bottom could be the ticket. Maybe you find an opening inside a weed edge, or a rock outcropping along a predominately mucky shoreline behind a flat. Whichever it is, find areas that forage relate to, and you can bet walleye will be close behind. Now, let’s keep in mind that prime feeding times are during the low light periods of dawn/dusk. Some will argue that the peak time is the transition from afternoon to evening.
On an early season ice mission, Kawartha, Ontario angler Aaron Jolicoeur, noticed an emerging pattern. “I stumbled on early ice walleye while searching for crappie. I took what I had seen to lakes where I could target them and had good success”. He continues “In my experience, walleye enter areas abundant with green weeds during early ice. They are there feeding on perch and to my surprise, at times, have a belly full of bluegill as well.” After a few weeks, this pattern will break down as walleye move farther away from these areas and a mid-winter “doldrum period” as he puts it, sets in. At which point, crappie and panfish will be the predominant species you will find at the end of your line on these spots. Aaron explains that he will return to these shallower areas/lakes to find that these walleyes have returned to the same areas they were at the on-set of the season. As far as how he tempts them, Aaron counts on lipless crankbaits. “Rattles, size and cadence is more of a factor than color. Sometimes it’s the hard cadence of the ‘Clackin’ Rap’ while other times they prefer the higher pitch of a crankbait with more, smaller bearings. If I’m fishing with a partner(s) I will use different rattles, and dial them in on that factor alone”. On a few outings, one of Aaron’s fishing partners added attractants.
One was a garlic/minnow scent called Liquid Mayhem from Rage fish Attractants, and the other was a moldable/bubbling shad sent by a company called Fizards .
Gear is basic. Aaron counts on 28”-32” med-med/heavy rods paired with a Shimano Symetre 1000, spooled with 10lb Power Pro braid rounded out by a long 4-6’ 10lb fluorocarbon leader (he replaces the leader when it cuts down to 1’)
Sam Ecker, who spends his time chasing walleye around southern Ontario, will concentrate his time on “large sand flats typically between 10-25 feet of water with scattered weeds being a plus but not always present”. He continues “during prime time, I like to get to shallow structure adjacent to this flat”. Keeping an eye on his Vexilar FL20 flasher, Sam will use a noisy rattling, lipless crankbait (3/4oz Live Target ‘Golden Shiner’) to “call active walleye over to inspect”. This can result in hook ups. Sam preferred technique here is to give three hard rips of the rod tip while watching the flasher for walleye moving in. After 5-10 seconds Sam will repeat this presentation until he either connects with a fish, or decides on a change of tactic. “I caught a bunch of walleye on a bigger than average size bait this season. Don’t let the size of bait intimidate you, when walleye are on the prowl, they will often hit these baits like it’s the last meal they’re going to get”.
What to do when they are not in an aggressive state? Sam explains “when ‘lookers’ on the Vexlar don’t turn into biters, I downsize to a 1/8oz Northland Tackle Buckshot spoon w/rattle, tipped with a minnow head”. Sam utilizes the same ripping/jigging technique as with the lipless crank, just less aggressive. “When walleye come and inspect, the minnow head definitely pushes them to commit”. One good piece of advice is to have a fresh minnow head on more often than not because there is no substitute for a bloody scent trail.
Gear includes a 32” heavy action St.Croix “laker stick”, Shimano 1000 reel spooled with 10lb braid, coupled with a 12lb fluorocarbon leader to accommodate the aggressive presentation of the lipless crank. For the Buckshot spoon, a 28” medium action St.Croix Premier rod, Shimano 1000 reel spooled with 6lb fluorocarbon tied to a small cross lock snap swivel (to avoid line twist).
What about fishing for resident walleye in a river system? Robert Conley and Robert Fuchs spend their time bouncing around the mighty Ottawa River in search of toothy eyes, so let’s draw on their experience shall we?
First off, a walleye’s dominant forage base is the same anywhere you go. Perch, minnows such as shiners, and as was mentioned earlier, bluegill. When searching for walleye in the river, the Roberts look for shallow feeding shelves of around 8-12 feet of water adjacent to deep water. “Imagine it’s like a conveyer belt where baitfish move in and out tightly followed by hungry aggressive walleye. Throughout the day we focus on these deeper sections of the river, however, we move shallow towards prime time (dusk) following the baitfish”.
The Roberts (affectionately known as The Bassassins) favor flashers to scope a new areas depth and weed edges/structure to get a read on active/inactive fish, and how walleye are reacting to a specific presentation. The first choice of lures is an ‘orange glow’ Buckshot spoon, retrofitted with a stinger, tipped with a whole or half minnow. Robert Conley explains “When the bite is tough, downsizing is the key
. We turn the tables on tough days with micro jigs dressed with just a minnow head/tail.”
“A good set-up has to be versatile. The 26” medium action Streamside Predator is terrific, offering a soft tip and lots of backbone. Thin diameter 4-6lb fluorocarbon gets it done, for deeper presentations we add a 2’ leader to a swivel to combat line twist”. The big girls have seen it all, so the more natural the presentation, the higher the odds get in hooking a trophy”.
So there you have it. You have several anglers’ tips and tactics from the Kawarthas, to the mighty Ottawa River and everywhere in between. Some things vary slightly, while many variables remain constant. Take this knowledge and apply it to your favorite body of water and remember experimentation is paramount from season to season. So just roll with the punches and keep your options open so you can develop a generalized game plan that you can base your hunt for these golden beauties around.
See you out there.