Catching eating-size walleyes for the skillet is fun. But, who wouldn’t want to see a 10-pound walleye in the net?
Big fish get big because they’re wary. They’ve got what it takes to avoid the hazards of the fish-eat-fish world they live in, and they’re tough to fool into biting. That’s what makes hoisting one into the boat something special.
Two things are needed to have that dream come true. One is attention to detail. You can’t have the fish of a lifetime up to the surface only to have your line snap.
The other important ingredient is to fish where big fish live and fish for them when they’re most vulnerable. Your local river, reservoir or lake may hold a handful of big fish, and you may be lucky enough to catch one of them. But, if you want to increase your odds of a trophy, be prepared to travel to trophy destinations at peak fishing times.
Now’s the time to start planning a trip in order to make sure 2008 is the year your dream comes true. Here are suggestions of where to go and when to go there for each season of the calendar…
It’s no secret the western basin of Lake Erie is the walleye capital of the world during the spring. Hundreds of thousands of big fish congregate near the Bass Islands to spawn.
Best month is April, the month when Ted caught his personal best walleye of 12.5 pounds and set a Professional Walleye Trail record of 53.2 pounds for 5 fish! The area is massive. Trolling with boards is the best way to cover water and connect with a 10-pound-plus fish. Cold water temperatures are the norm that time of year. The water will range from 45 to 55 degrees F. What the temperature gauge can help reveal is what trolling tactic is likely to be most effective. The rule of thumb: crankbaits work best under 50 degrees and spinner rigs and nightcrawlers work best over 50 degrees.
For cranks, try Reef Runners, deep diving Rogues and Husky Jerks. Be sure to try purple, blue prism and firetiger but experiment with other colors, too. Let the fish tell you what they want on any given day. Use 10-pound Gamma High Performance Co-Polymer line, on line counter reels. Ten-pound diameter is the basis on which the dive curves in the book, “Precision Trolling” is based.
Often called the Troller’s Bible, this book makes trolling at specific depths easy. Simply look at how deep you want your lures to run and see how much line to let out to get them there.
Productive depths are usually 10 to 20 feet down over 30 to 50 feet of water. Go slow, 1.5 to 2 mph. Use planer boards to take baits away from the boat. Troll in S-turns to cover more water and vary the speed of the lures. As you turn, lures on the ‘inside’ will slow down, and those on the ‘outside’ will speed up. Use your GPS to mark locations where you connect with fish and vary your trolling path. You’ll soon have an idea of the exact location and size of the school. Humminbird’s new side imaging technology marks suspended schools of fish off to the side of the boat.
Trolling spinners requires even slower speeds of 1 to 1.5 mph. Use #4 to #6 blades in metallics for sunny days and clear water and colored blades on cloudy days or when the water is murky. The X-Change clevis makes changing them a snap. Slightly off colored water, where you can just barely see the bottom of your prop, is the best. Bottom bouncers and snap weights should be used to take the spinners down. Lindy’s new Shake-E-Blade bottom bouncers provide a unique action/vibration in addition to attractive flash to your spinners. Vary the weight of snap weights to cover different parts of the water column
As spring turns to summer, shift your trophy search to America’s western frontier and visit Fort Peck reservoir in July. Walleye pro John Hook nailed a 12-pound-plus walleye to set a PWT record there. Bottom bouncers and spinner rigs using #3 and #4 blades are the favored tactic, but with a twist. Instead of focusing on deep water, walleyes tend to inhabit shallow water from 4 to 12 feet deep. Target big points of main creek arms where walleyes will be on the tips or humps just off the tips.
Note wind direction and concentrate on the windy side of the lake. This is where a little bit of a mudline lets walleyes use their lateral lines to attack baitfish. Follow the breaks as precisely as you can. Rather than planer boards, use long rods to keep baits away from the boat as much as possible and troll with your electric bow mount trolling motor at 1 to 1.5 mph. Use a run-and-gun approach. The more points you fish, the more likely you’ll intercept the fish you’re after.
Lake of the Woods
When July turns to August, try taking your trophy hunt to Lake of the Woods out of Baudette, Minnesota. Lake of the Woods probably produces more 10-pound fish than any lake but Erie.
Target main-lake humps in Big Traverse Bay using Lindy Rigs dressed with nightcrawlers and leeches. The sinker can be the conventional Lindy sinker, a NO-SNAGG sinker, or a Shake-E-Blade bottom bouncer. Three-eighths of an ounce to one ounce should be heavy enough. Add a bead for color.
A lot of the most productive humps don’t even appear on any map. Watch your depthfinder as you travel from one spot to another. If you see a hump in the productive 15 to 30 feet of water, look for marks near the bottom with your sonar.
Late fall is trophy time on the Winnipeg. Big fish become vulnerable as they fatten up for winter. This was illustrated very clearly in October of 2005, when Lindy pro staff member Tom Backer caught a 13-pound walleye in Traverse Bay, which is the basin where the Winnipeg River empties into massive Lake Winnipeg.
The most productive tactic is to anchor and jig right below the boat. The weight of your Max Gap jig depends on how close you are to the mouth of the river, which pushes current well out into the lake. Sometimes one-quarter ounce is enough. Other times three-eighths of an ounce is needed. Within the river, a one-ounce Fuzzy-E-Grub works best. Dress your jig with a frozen emerald shiner. For short strikers, add a stinger hook to your jig.
Two hooks per line are legal there. Add a Diachi Stand Out Hook a foot above the jig and dress it with a frozen shiner. Make sure you pinch the barbs back as it is a barbless province.
Look for turns in the river channel. The presence of rocks makes that spot even more attractive. Productive depths are 10 to 14 feet. Anchor when you see fish on the sonar.
Bay of Quinte
When asked for suggestions on where to go for trophies through the ice, Lindy pro staffer Dave Genz is quick to answer– the Bay of Quinte in Ontario, Canada. Focus on Big Bay. There’s a neckdown that creates fish-attracting current and shoals in the bay itself. Keep fishing until you connect with perch. The walleyes will be there. No perch? No walleye. Stay mobile.
Genz uses the new Rattl’n Flyer Spoon. Because it’s a trophy you’re after, change the stock hook for a larger-sized treble hook. Add a shiner or fathead.
Other destinations he recommends have been mentioned earlier — Lake of the Woods and the Winnipeg River. He also sends anglers to Saginaw Bay and the Saginaw River in Michigan for ‘Shiver on the River,’ an ice-fishing event held in January. As an indication of how many big fish are there, cash awards are paid for the top 25 places. A 10-pound walleye is usually needed to make it into the money.
A final word: 10-pound walleyes are rare no matter where you fish. No one will fault someone for taking a trophy of a lifetime. But, don’t make it a habit. Consider taking measurements, several photos, and releasing the fish. Graphite reproductions are easier to care for than skin mounts, they look just as good, and you’ll win the praise of friends. They will appreciate the fact you let the fish go for someone else to catch and to keep its superior genes in the gene pool. That way you and others can catch the same fish again later– after it’s grown even more!