Ontario Walleye FishingOntario Walleye Fishing Tips and Resorts
As the last stray snowflake bids its final farewell for one more year and the returning robin makes its colourful presence felt, walleye anglers everywhere prepare for their first cast of the open-water season. The Kawartha region of Southern Ontario rates as one of Canada’s premier and most productive fisheries, and, although the angler to lake ratio can be high at times, the fishing is never short of phenomenal. Standard and simple rigs still account for a large share of boated fish, but a change to new and out-of-the-ordinary tactics has helped me play a few extra games of tug-of-war with the resident walleye. Break the rules for these undiscovered fish, and discover for yourself why the Kawartha’s has been dubbed the “consistent producer” for the walleye angler in search of action in Ontario.
Where To Go?
The Kawartha lakes region of Ontario is comprised of eight lakes, namely Pigeon, Rice, Canal, Buckhorn, Stoney, Chemong, Sturgeon and Balsam. Most of these lakes are very similar in composition, with the majority being fertile, both with weed and rock structures. The tactics I will discuss will work throughout the entire lake system, and, although the majority of my time is spent in the tri-lakes (Pigeon, Buckhorn and Chemong,) the walleye will react in similar ways in most situations.
When most people think of trolling, they inevitably picture deep water and long-lipped crankbaits. This will definitely work, and it is a tried and true tactic, but shallow water trolling is the new route I take come spring.
I first stumbled upon this technique four years ago at Pigeon Lake on opening day. I spent the morning casting twitch baits and jigs around any weed growth I could find in the southern end of the lake. After a couple of fruitless hours, I glanced to my left to see a boat chugging along, baits out behind the stern, and a hooked walleye during each and every pass. The water they were working was between four and five-feet- deep, and, since the weather was overcast and rainy, the walleye were actively feeding during these optimum conditions. It didn’t take me long to switch gears, yet, the one adjustment I made was to run the electric motor instead of the big engine, in order to make my approach more quiet, with less chance of spooking any fish in my path. And the results paid off during the first trolling pass as I lifted the net up under a chunky three pounder! The action was steady all day, and, if not for making this change in presentation, it might have become another dinner of beans and toast.
There was a number of reasons this technique paid off, the first being the weather. Walleye are light sensitive, so a day of unstable, rainy or cloudy weather will have the fish roaming and feeding actively. Sound also played an important part that day, with the switch to an electric motor resulting in less commotion and vibrations throughout the water column. This is especially important when the water you are fishing is shallow.
The last point to concentrate on is your bait. I like to present thin, minnow-profile baits in the three-and-a-half to five-inch range. If the water is clear, then I choose a crank in a natural colour, either shiner, perch or baby bass. If the water happens to be murky, then go with brighter colours, with chartreuse, orange and red getting the nod. Choose smaller cranks towards the beginning of the season and gradually upgrade as the water begins to warm up. Depending on the depth you’re faced with, choose a lip size that will suit this style of fishing. I try to concentrate on water in the four to six-foot-depth, so I try to choose a bait that will run two to three-feet deep. Try to go with a crankbait with a built-in rattle as it seems to draw the walleye out of the weeds, and the sound definitely gives them something to key-in on.
A misconception many people have when searching for walleye is to probe deep water, especially where rocks and boulders are present. This is the right train of thought for many of the Shield lakes, yet for the Kawarthas, a huge population of walleye are shallow and weed-orientated fish. The majority of my fishing in the Kawarthas is done in water less than 10 feet deep, and 90% of that time I’m probing the weeds, so keep this point in mind when launching the boat this spring.
Bright Days = Jigging Time
I generally start the morning period by trolling shallow, and, if the conditions stay overcast and favourable, then I will continue with this pattern if I am catching fish. If the sun comes up, however, or the fish are in a negative mood, then I reach for my jigging rod and head straight into the weeds after them.
Early in the season my main concentration is on newly emergent weeds, as these will attract bait fish, which will in-turn, attract hungry walleye. This weed growth also acts as cover for the walleye to retreat to when conditions brighten up. My game plan at this time of year is to cruise the shallows (concentrating on water between four and eight-feet-deep) in search of productive-looking weed beds, weed lines, or where one variety of weed changes quickly into another. Once these prime areas have been found, it is simply a matter of pitching a jig up beside the cover in order to entice a strike. Concentrate on the outside edge of the weed first, and progressively work into the weed bed itself until you connect with a fish. Thoroughly probe and work the weed bed over until you have connected with a fish, or are convinced a walleye is not lurking inside, then simply move to the next.
Jigs for this type of fishing are quite standard and straightforward. My first choice would be a bucktail jig, in either a quarter ounce or half ounce model. The reason for going with a jig a bit heavier than usual is to get the bait quickly down to the base of the weeds where the walleye’s strike zone will be found. There are hundreds of different bucktail jigs on the market, yet one thing to keep in mind is to find one with a sturdy and sharp hook, and also one with a good bucktail-to-body construction. One of the better types on the market today are created by the editor of this publication, Big Jim himself. These jigs have accounted for a large number of walleye for me over the years, and are the first I reach for when tying up each season.
The other type of jig I like to throw would be a soft plastic twister tail. These differ from the bucktail in respect to the action they have and water displacement they create. A twister tail creates more of a vibration and action throughout the water column, and is a good thing to keep in mind if the walleye are in more of a positive feeding mode. A rule of thumb I follow is: cold water – bucktail jig; warm water – twister tail. One of the twister tails I have had my most success with are those manufactured by Kalins. These come in a wide range of colours, with a beautiful action and suppleness to them.
The choice of tipping your jigs is a personal one, but I find that early in the season, a jig tipped with a minnow or worm does seem to produce a few extra fish for me. Regardless of whether you tip your jig or not, always coat your bait with a scent product, as this seems to cause the walleye to hang on just a second or two longer for you in order to provide a better hookset.
Tackle for this type of fishing is also quite straightforward. Choose a medium to medium-heavy action spinning or bait casting outfit, and spool up with premium line in ten or fourteen-pound test. (the latter if you are choosing a bait casting outfit) Remember that you will have a short amount of line out for this style of fishing, and due to the thick weeds you will encounter, getting the fishes head up and horsing him out of the weeds, is the name of the game.
Spinnerbaits for Walleye?
Spinnerbaits for walleye may seem like a peculiar statement, but let me assure you that they definitely work. After countless encounters with walleye while fishing for bass, I decided to give spinnerbaits a try during the spring opener a few years back, and the results amazed me! Fishing these lures out amongst the weed flats found me unhooking many a walleye, and I was surprised how readily, and hard, these fish would slam the bait. They are an effective search lure for walley due to their weedless design, and give the angler the opportunity to cover large expanses of water in a shorter period of time. These baits truly shine on the Kawartha system, due in part to the weed composition of most lakes found in the area. Pigeon lake walleye truly love this bait, and I never grow tired of force-feeding it to them.
I have found that any of the standard bass spinnerbaits will work for walleye, but a single colorado model seems to work best. This bait allows the angler to stop the retrieve quickly, and enables the bait to flutter down alongside productive weed edges. This draws many strikes from walleye holding in weed beds, as it represents an easy meal to them. Oftentimes after I connect with a walleye on a spinnerbait, I will slow down my presentation, and usually jig the surrounding area in hopes of connecting with one or two more fish. One thing to keep in mind is that the walleye is a schooling fish, so once one is found, there more than likely will be another one close by. Keep the spinnerbait in mind this spring when chasing the walleye. This bait is more than just a bass lure nowadays.
Hotspots on the Kawarthas
Spring walleye fishing on the Kawarthas is a wonderful time to dust off the rod and reel and take part in some of the hottest action of the year. As you can see, I prefer to break the mould a bit, and fish different techniques and areas of these lakes in order to escape the crowds, and connect with untouched fish. However, I will touch on a few of the hotspots on a number of the Kawartha lakes, but be forewarned, the action may be good, but the crowds will be thick. By concentrating on some of the hotspots, and by finding your own this coming season, the walleye of the Kawarthas will surely become your new best friend.
Gannon’s Narrows (located between Pigeon and Buckhorn Lake) – This area is a definite hotspot come opening day, with many boats and anglers vying for the walleye’s attention. The number one choice of lure in this deeper-water area is jig and minnow combination, slowly and deliberately bounced on the bottom.
Burleigh Falls (located on Stoney Lake) – This is another tried-and-true area with the abundant current holding many walleye in place. Jigs and minnows seems to produce best, although casting with minnow baits does pay off in big dividends, especially for those willing to go out after dark.
Causeway (located on Chemong Lake) – Shorecasters have been making the journey to this hotspot for years, as it offers a chance for those without a boat to scrape up some walleye. Fishing live bait under floats and casting crank baits seems to be the best presentation during spring.
Weedbeds at Red Rock Island (located on Buckhorn Lake) – Casting crankbaits and jigging in the weeds are the keys to cashing in on this area. Watch for the sudden depth changes, and present you bait at these key spots.
Islands east of Crowe’s Landing (located on Stoney Lake) – The islands located at this area are like magnets to the walleye. Trolling with deep-diving cranks or live-bait rigs seems to produce best, with many good-sized fish being taken during the “witching hour” at this spot.
Spend some time on the Kawarthas this year and enjoy the fantastic fishing this region offers. The ever-present walleye is always willing to pull on your line, and you will have many more pulling this year by trying out some of these new, and proven, fish catching techniques.
By Justin Hoffman