Ontario Walleye FishingOntario Walleye Fishing Tips and Resorts
Tournament Tips – What Can We Learn from the Walleye Pros?
Some of the thousands of Canadian anglers that chase walleyes every year pursue them for more than just enjoyment, relaxation, sport or even a meal. These anglers fish for money and glory in big-dollar professional walleye tournaments across North America. While these tournaments may not interest all walleye anglers, can the average recreational walleye angler learn something from these pros?
To answer that question, I spoke with four top Canadian walleye tournament pros. As a tournament angler myself (although, admittedly, not in the same league as these gentlemen), I suspected that I wasn’t likely to get these pros to reveal their tournament secrets. Instead, I asked them each one basic question: What is the one piece of advice that you can offer to the average walleye angler to help them catch more or bigger fish? I also asked them to reveal their number one, go-to techniques when they’re down to the last few minutes of a tournament and absolutely need to catch one more fish.
Greg Horoky of Harrow, Ontario, has competed on the In-Fisherman Professional Walleye Trail in the United States for many years. He is Canada’s all-time walleye tournament money winner, and is the only Canadian to ever win a major U.S. walleye tournament.
“I think that the number one way the average walleye angler can catch more fish, especially in western reservoirs, is to move more and find the fish; they won’t come to you,” Greg told me. He added, “Too many guys just sit all day on a spot that has produced in the past, waiting and hoping for the walleyes to bite at some point. We have a saying on the tournament circuit: ‘fish fish, not memories.'”
“Once you find the fish, catching them is easy. All you have to do is suit your tactics to where the fish are and the best way to catch them. There are countless different techniques you can use to catch walleyes, but they all depend on finding the fish first. Even the best angler in the world can’t catch fish if they aren’t any around,” Greg said. “That means that you need to cover water until you find the fish, and to do that, you really need to use your electronics.”
I couldn’t help myself, so I asked Greg to let me in on just one of his tournament secrets.
“There aren’t really any secrets. Tournament guys just know how to refine different techniques to suit the conditions and situation at hand,” he told me. “For example, because I fish such diverse waters, I’ve developed seven different ways just to troll.”
As for his go-to tactic, Greg reaches for a bottom bouncer and spinner combo, usually rigged with a full jumbo nightcrawler.
“In one tournament I was fishing so close to the weigh-in stage that I could hear the competitors being interviewed and their weights announced. In the two previous days I caught my five fish very handily, but I knew I had to catch one last fish on the last day to cash a cheque. I continued to use the technique that got me there, bottom bouncers and spinners across the mouth of the feeder stream flowing into a main river. Sliding up and down the drop off, first slowly then quickly back up, produced that last fish and a cheque.”
Richard Mellon of Strathmore, Alberta, began fishing professional walleye tournaments in 1995. He qualified for four Professional Walleye Tournament Championships between 1996 and 2000, a record unequalled by any other Canadian angler. Rich has now retired from the tournament circuit to host his own outdoors television show, Outdoor Quest Television.
“Without question, the best advice I can give to all recreational walleye anglers is to learn to use your sonar,” Rich advised. “Note that I didn’t call them ‘fish finders,’ as I think they are better referred to as ‘structure finders,'” he added.
“I’m amazed at how many people don’t even use sonar and just rely on a map instead. Maps are good, but I won’t even fish without my sonar,” Rich told me. “It’s your underwater eyes picking apart the lake. Without it, you’re like a blind pig trying to find an acorn.”
“Learning to use your sonar consists of first learning how to physically operate your sonar unit, and then learning to understand what it’s telling you, as your sonar is always telling you something,” he stated.
“The best way to learn how to use your sonar is to read the manual and make sure that you know how to switch it into manual mode so that you can control settings such as sensitivity/gain. You simply can’t get the most out of your sonar in auto mode. For instance, your screen should always be set to show no more than a 20-foot section of the water column in order to get maximum resolution,” Rich told me.
“Once you’re comfortable operating your sonar, you simply need to spend some serious time on the water learning how various structures, objects and fish mark on your screen,” he advised me. “Some of the sonar manufacturers have very good online tutorials on their websites that can also help you to understand and interpret what your sonar is showing you,” Rich added.
OK, Rich, but what about a secret or two?
“Pay attention to all of the variables and conditions around you. When you catch a fish, you have to be able to figure out what just went right, so that you can hopefully take advantage and repeat it,” he answered.
When it comes down to crunch time in a tournament, Rich suggests doing whatever it is that you do best.
“Many times I’ve had a bite die, but I was still marking fish. In frustration, I’d switch to the technique that I’m best at,” he told me. “Even if that technique is 180 degrees from what you’ve been doing, if you have the confidence, it will pay off many times. Of course, it’s up to you to know what you do best,” he added.
Chris Kindraka of Winnipeg, Manitoba, is a hot young walleye angler who has fished in some of the biggest walleye tournaments in western Canada, as well as PWT and RCL events in the U.S., including three RCL Championships. He has tasted victory on the Saskatchewan Walleye Trail, and has numerous top ten finishes throughout western Canada.
“The best advice I can give anyone looking to catch more and bigger walleyes is to be versatile,” Chris told me. “Too many people insist on just fishing jigs, or just pulling cranks, or just trolling crawler harnesses. These tactics will all catch fish, under certain conditions and situations, but not under all conditions and situations,” Chris added.
“Because tournaments are held on so many different bodies of water, to be successful you have to be versatile so that you can catch fish under a variety of conditions,” he advised. “In fact, some individual bodies of water, such as Lesser Slave Lake in Alberta, are so diverse that one or two techniques alone are probably not going to be enough to allow you to fish as effectively as you need to. As a recreational angler, if you fish large or diverse rivers or lakes, or you fish numerous different bodies of water, you need to be versatile too.”
“To become versatile, you have to experiment and practice with different tactics, techniques and lures,” Chris told me. “And that’s harder than it sounds, because when a certain pattern is working, you want to stick with it and keep catching fish. But you have to have the discipline and dedication to experiment and see what else might work as well,” Chris added.
“It’s not a fair test to try a new technique or lure under dismal conditions when nothing seems to be working. All that will do is ensure that you’ll never try that new thing again. The goal is to develop confidence in new tactics so that when the old standbys don’t produce, you’ve got other tricks up your sleeve,” Chris continued.
Any secrets you care to share, Chris?
“Be aware of what’s going on around you, such as other people catching fish nearby, perhaps at a different depth than you are fishing,” he replied. “Often they are just doing one thing differently than you are, and that’s all it takes.”
What about Chris’s can’t fail lure or bait?
“I don’t really have such a thing,” he insisted. “Fish will move around during the day as wind and light conditions change, especially in natural lakes. If I’m down to just a few minutes left, I’ll just head back to the spot that produced my biggest fish or the most fish for me earlier in the tournament. In this situation, you need to have the confidence in the spot to know that you can catch one more fish. Confidence can make all the difference in the world, regardless of what lure or bait you’re using,” he added.
Andrew Klopak of Winnipeg, Manitoba, is a veteran of many western walleye tournaments. He has placed in the money numerous times, and has won the Vanity Cup Walleye Tournament in Saskatchewan, the Canadian Walleye Championship in Manitoba and the 2004 Prairie Walleye Classic in Manitoba.
“In a tournament, although we may be fishing for eight to nine hours a day, we may actually be catching fish for only 10 or 20 minutes in total. That means that in addition to concentrating and remaining focused, we need to keep our confidence up for the entire day, because when it happens, it can happen very quickly. I think confidence is the biggest thing that the average walleye angler can learn from the tournament pro. Confidence can make all the difference,” Andrew told me.
“If you don’t have the confidence in your bait, your location and yourself to believe that each cast will produce a bite, then you won’t fish thoroughly or effectively and you’re just wasting your time. It doesn’t matter whether you like to jig, rig, run crankbaits or whatever, as long as you are confident,” he added.
Andrew doesn’t really have a go-to tactic when he needs just one more fish. Instead, he lets the setting and circumstances dictate his actions.
“It all depends on the particular body of water, but if I need one more fish to fill out a limit, I’ll try whatever has produced the most fish for me that day. If, however, I need a big fish, I’ll use bigger baits in my best big fish spot,” Andrew told me. “This tactic can be especially useful for recreational walleye anglers where slot limits are in place requiring certain sizes of fish to be released.”
Can you share a tournament secret or two, Andrew?
“The best anglers never stop learning,” he replied. “They always strive to improve their skills and knowledge by watching and listening to other anglers, especially the good ones, and keep an open mind to new techniques, baits or locations. Weekend anglers should do the same. The more you know, the easier it will be to put the pieces together and catch fish,” he added.
“Also, always remember that a walleye is a walleye, wherever he swims. I’m not saying that walleyes won’t show a preference for particular baits on certain waters, because they can, but don’t be afraid to try your favourite tactic from back home on a new lake, even in another province,” he informed me. “Even if local anglers tell you that it can’t work and that you’re crazy to try, you just never know. In fact, that might be the best bait to try, as the fish probably haven’t seen it before.”
Professional tournament anglers are among the most talented and skilled walleye chasers. When you simply must catch fish to get paid, you learn what it takes, and heeding the advice of these four tournament pros can help all of us catch more walleyes.
How many different ways can you think of to put a walleye on your hook?
Let’s start with some early season live bait tactics.
LEECHES AND NIGHTCRAWLERS
Leeches and nightcrawlers are favourite foods of the walleye because they are natural offerings in most waters and walleye are accustomed to feeding on them.
When presented properly they are irresistible. A stretched out, wiggling leech bouncing along just over the bottom of a gravel bar or weed bed, will make even the most reluctant walleye take a second look, turn around and zero in on target, mouth open and taste buds tingling.
Hook the sucker end of the leech to the first hook of a spinner rig and place the tail section on the last hook. Place it in the water and pull it at the same speed you are going to troll or retrieve at and look for the size, movement and or roll of the leech. It should run straight ( not roll up into a nondescript little ball; this does not attract walleye). When you have the leech trailing the way you want it is time to add a few light splitshot to get it down to the desired depth. By placing the splitshot about eighteen inches to two feet in front of the hook you should be within six inches of bottom with the leech as you troll or retrieve, and you wont have to run a whole lot of line out behind the boat.
Nightcrawlers are attached to your spinner rigs in the same way. Again, make sure they are stretched out along the rig so they trail out on the retrieve. Choose the largest and fattest worms available.
The spinner rig can be purchased at a local tackle shop and comes in many variations of size and colours.
A simple rule to remember when faced with colour choices is: bright days + clear water=silver spinner.
Darker water or cloudy days try a fluorescent or gold spinner.
The beads most often used are red with white, or yellow; try mixing the colours until you come up with the pattern that works best for you.
Try trolling or retrieving the leech at a fairly fast pace at first to take advantage of more aggressive fish. A rate of about half again the normal trolling speed usually works well. Keep track of where the fish are hitting and come back over these same spots again but a little slower this time to take advantage of the less aggressive fish. Remember that it is not always the larger fish that are most aggressive and by fishing back you can add considerably to your creel.
Having reached the place you are going to fish, maybe a shoal or weed bed that you have had some luck on before, try fan casting. Start at a right angle to where you are standing facing the water. Throw the first cast to the right and keep working to the left until you have gone in a complete arch to the other end. This will allow you to cover every bit of the water facing you. Now move down until you are at the edge of the spot you covered last and start the same procedure over again. When you have worked your way to the end of the area that you wanted to fish, you will have covered the area correctly.
River mouths are a good place to practice this pattern of casting, especially early season as the walleye are quite often in this area looking for small, early baitfish or crustaceans. By fan casting you can cover this entire area of water.
The above methods have consistently proven to be successful for opening season walleye. So head for your nearest live bait shop and have fun.
By Don W. Sangster