BIG WALLEYE WHERE YOU LEAST EXPECT THEM….
A few years back Dixie and I did a fly-in trip to a Northwestern Ontario lake north of Red Lake. This was a catch-and-release lake where we could only keep what we ate during the trip, so fish were plentiful and always hungry. It was August and I simply refused to bring along live minnows or leaches for the trip. They would only last a couple of days and our experience with this particular lake was that walleye up on the reefs were easy to catch using artificial plastics such as Gulp minnows or leaches. And plastics didn’t spoil or go away.
We arrived at the cabin and unloaded the plane. Dixie arranged the groceries in the cabin while I readied the fishing gear. It had been a long while since we had a nice walleye dinner, so it’s safe to say we were more than ready for some hot walleye action.
With the boat loaded and plenty of optimism we headed for what I knew was a hell of a walleye hole – a big, long and wide reef situated between a stream flowing into the lake and some deep, deep water that held decent lake trout. By about noon we were on the spot and fishing jigs baited with Gulp minnows and leaches.
Now anyone who fishes walleye will tell you it doesn’t get much better than structure like this. The water was a bit low in the lake, but it was August and it had been hot for a couple of weeks. The wind was negligible and allowed us to set up a nice, slow drift from one end of the reef to the other. This was going to be good!
Well, we got a few “bumps”, but they were light and somewhat infrequent. Kinda’ strange, even if it was midday. We made several passes only to be disappointed by the unusually slow action. Making things worse the breeze died down to nothing and the sun began to bear down on us with more intensity than you would expect this far north. We tried several reefs in this area with similar disappointing results.
By late afternoon we had just two small walleye. Barely enough for our greatly anticipated evening walleye feast. Maybe I screwed up here. Maybe we should have brought some live bait. But woulda’ coulda’ shoulda’ wasn’t going to do us any good now. Time for “Plan B”.
We rigged up for lake trout and headed towards the deep water. We like dropping white 1 ½ oz. jigs straight down and then bring them back up with a quick retrieve. The graph showed lots of marks right above the 100 ft. mark, so we knew they were down there. We did this for a couple of hours, letting what breeze there was drift us over the length of the deep water. We had a couple of strikes, but we just couldn’t drive the hooks home.
So here we were out past 6 PM with two small walleye and nothing more. Now having been a guide in Northwest Ontario I knew there was only one quick solution if we were to have a decent dinner. A solution that any guide would find an embarrassment. Northern pike. We made a run over to some weed beds and sure enough hooked a nice of 3-4 lb. northern that would supplement our paltry walleye fillets for dinner. Now this was discouraging, especially because we had 4 more days on this lake before the float plane picked us up.
After dinner we discussed our strategy as best we could. Dixie asked about a lot of graph marks that were shallow while we were fishing lakers in the deep water. I said probably just trash fish or perhaps cruising northerns given it was the hottest time of the day. We decided to give the reefs a try again in the next day making sure to get out early in the morning.
Well, the next day we were on the reef (and several other reefs) early as planned. We tried the Gulps in various configurations and colors, but the results were about the same. One or two small walleye that we didn’t even bother to keep given the time of day and the size. We threw some cranks at the reef along with some spinner baits such as Mepps 3, 4, and 5’s. Nothing.
By about 11 AM we once again headed for the deep water to take a shot a lakers. This time we had zero hits, but we were again marking fish around the bottom as well as about 15 – 20 ft. deep. Around noon it hit me – maybe we should rig up some deep running crankbaits and try slow trolling for whatever was suspended over that 100+ ft. water.
Our first pass was simply amazing! We hadn’t trolled even a ¼ of a mile when we got a big, big hit. I figured a cruising northern as I brought him to the boat. Imagine my surprise when I grabbed the net and landed a 5-6 lb. walleye! Holy moly! Maybe this is where they were!
Long story short, we trolled over this deep water the next 3 days and brought in I-don’t-know-how-many big walleye. We never made a pass where we didn’t hook at least 3 or 4 nice fish. The challenge then became catching smaller “eating size” walleyes for dinner. To do this we extended our trolls more to the edge of the deep water, hugging closer to the reef, but making sure we were still in 50 ft. or deeper water. This worked perfectly and we never failed to have some nice sized walleye for dinner.
Safe to say since this trip I am convinced that trolling deep, deep running crankbaits over deep water close to reefs is one hell of a fishing strategy for big walleye. Especially when it’s hot during midday and the action on the reefs is slow on Northern shield lakes. And best of all: we never lost a single plug or got hung-up!
What can I say? It’s definitely worth a try if you’re on a lake in late June through August and need some great walleye action!
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