Juls WFA Blog
Lake Erie Spring Walleye Tactics
My first trip to Lake Erie was in the fall of 1999, when I was invited by one of the areas greatest walleye anglers, Rick LaCourse, to do a little night fishing out of Huron, OH. It was a balmy December night, with a light 5mph South wind, and the temperature outside was 60 degrees. There was a full moon lighting up a clear sky, that shimmered on the calm water, making it look like it was made up of diamonds.
The fishing was incredible, and the size of the fish astounded me at the time. I’m originally from Wisconsin, where the walleye fishing is also very good, but it was nothing like what I experienced here for the first time at Lake Erie.
That night, we trolled with crankbaits behind Off Shore Tackle inline planer boards at slow speeds. The boards were lit up with glow sticks attached to the flags, so when a fish hit, it looked like a shooting star going back in the water. Seeing a large walleye, with a mouth large enough to stuff a grapefruit in it, coming up behind the boat elevated my excitement to the next level. I was hooked! I knew then that Lake Erie was the place I wanted to fish forever.
A couple years later, I had had enough dreaming and made the move from Wisconsin to Ohio. I had quit my job as a color correction specialist in the pre-press dept of Reiman Publications, sold my house, and moved to Ohio to pursuit of a career in the fishing industry. With much work and dedication, I have achieved that dream by first fishing for many years on the Pro/Am walleye circuits across the country, as a journalist covering the tournaments for Walleye Central, and for the past 8 years as a guide on the Lake I love. Many of my sponsors have been with me through this entire adventure and are the ones responsible for making all my dreams possible.
The first spring that I fished Lake Erie with Rick, he told me that they start by “ice fishing” out of the boat and then, by jigging with ice fishing baits. Then, as the water warms, they would start jigging with regular jigs, and then on to trolling with crankbaits. This made me scratch my head, because it confused me that we could troll in the fall when the water was almost the same temperature, but we couldn’t troll in the spring when the ice went out. It didn’t make sense to me, so I asked him if we could try trolling instead of ice fishing out of the boat. Being the kind of guy, he was, he indulged me, and we put the crankbaits out.
Now, I’m not saying that I’m the first one to try this, because I’m probably not. I’m just saying that in the circle I was in at the time, it wasn’t done that way. As it turned out, it was successful, and we never had to ice fish out of the boat again, which is something that made me very happy!
In the spring, the walleye spawn in the Western Basin of the lake, where there are plenty of reef complexes and rivers. This happens in late March and April as the water warms after a long winter. The opportunity to catch trophy sized pre-spawn and post-spawn fish is at its highest during this time, and several tactics to catch them can be used.
For those that like to jig the reefs, a 3/8oz to 1oz hair jigs (best used with stinger hooks) are often tipped with Emerald Shiners, or soft plastics, but can also be successfully used without bait or plastics. Color can matter, so having an assortment of colors available to you will better your chances of catching fish. Popular colors are Purple, Chartreuse, Orange, Pink, Blue, Green, and Black.
For those who like to troll, most anglers will start out with some popular proven crankbaits like the Smithwick Perfect 10 and Top 20’s (very similar to their earlier “Rogue” baits), Rapala Deep Husky Jerks (size 12 and 14), Bandits, Bomber Long A’s, Berkley Flicker Minnows (sizes 9 and 11) and both the shallow and deep diving Reef Runner baits. I know other baits get used, and the list could be extended, but these are the baits I have used over the years and are the ones that I put in my boat each season.
I was taught that when the water is in the high 30’s to low 40’s, the fish are sluggish, so trolling very slow is key. A speed of .8 to 1.0 has always been recommended. However, that’s not always the case. For instance, over the years, I would hear of someone trolling at much faster speeds, at the same time that I was trolling slow, and they were catching fish too. So, keeping an open mind and trying new things can make you a better angler and increase your catch rate.
If you’re marking fish, and not catching for some reason, it only takes a few minutes to try a different speed. Get radical and try a fast speed like 1.5 to 2.0mph, to see if it triggers any response from the finny critters below. Sometimes, I’ll use the “Rabbit” feature on my Minn-Kota trolling motor to speed up the baits, and then turn it off again, to slow it down. My thinking is, it gives the fish something to react to and can sometimes make the difference between a slow bite and a fast bite.
Changing colors often, until one stands out from the rest is another tactic I use while trolling. Sure, I have my favorites that I start out with, but if they are not in the mood for those colors, I have a plethora of other colors to try until I find the ones, they like best. It’s a lot more work, but it’s worth it when the bite becomes steadier.
Boat handling is another tactic I use to improve the catch rate. To help find the right speed, I will make turns during my trolling passes to determine if they want the baits faster or slower. When you make a turn using inline boards, the boards on the outside of the turn will be moving much faster through the water than the boards on the inside of the turn. If a fish hits on one side over the other, and it’s repeated so I know it wasn’t a fluke, I will slow down or speed up to give them what they desire.
The most actively feeding fish will be higher in the water, and not always seen on the sonar picture, so I always like to have at least one bait up in the top 10 foot of the water column, just in case. It’s not uncommon to end up having all the baits running that high during the spring.
The walleye I see on my Humminbird’s sonar screen, that sit close to the bottom out on the flats, are usually in a negative mood, and will not usually eat a bait that is trolled by them.
The walleye up on the reef complexes, that sit close to the bottom are fair game for the anglers who prefer to jig though. While I prefer the trolling game, I will take customers out to the reefs to do some jigging if they want to. Sometimes, it’s fun to feel that bite at the end of the line and feel the weight of the fish as soon as it hits. I must say though, that a jigging trip is much more fun for my customers than it is for me, because I don’t get to fish when we are jigging. I just man the net for them. It’s not that I don’t know how to jig, or that I’m not good at it… I just wouldn’t want to chance catching a big one right out from under them and steal that opportunity for one of them to catch it.
If the chance of catching a trophy walleye is on your bucket list, then I highly recommend a trip to Lake Erie’s Western Basin from March through the end of May. June and July have some tremendous fishing too, but as the water warms the bigger fish that migrated from the east end of the lake, have already headed back to their summer haunts by then. That’s not to say, that some bigger fish do not stay in this area, because it’s not uncommon to find a trophy walleye hanging around from time to time during the summer. But, if table fare is your desire, then June thru September is the time to come here. The catching can be very fast during these months, when conditions are right, and a ton of fun! Come fall, until ice up, the big fish move back from the east and we start the process all over again.
If Perch fishing is more to your liking, then I recommend looking at August thru ice up for limits of the green and gold treasures.
Now is the time to book your Spring Lake Erie fishing Charter for a chance at a trophy walleye, so don’t procrastinate, or you might be left wishing you had reserved your date(s) earlier!
It was windy in the morning, so we planned to meet at Mazurik's at 10am when the wind was forecast to die down for the afternoon. Steve and Jeremy, who I know you all know by now, since they have fished with me for the past 7 years, were just a few minutes late, so we were in the water a little after 10.
Woke up this morning, and went outside with the dogs for their morning ritual. I was greeted to a warmer than usual morning for the end of December. There was absolutely no wind, which made it feel warmer than it really was. The morning started out at around 32 degrees, and was expected to get as high as 40 degrees.
I just wanted to take a moment to say, "Merry Christmas" everyone! :)
I just wanted to bring this to the attention of all the folks who come from other states to fish Lake Erie's Western Basin in the spring for Trophy Walleye.
I'm counting down the days until Spring, when I start the 2019 Lake Erie charter fishing season. It's been relatively warm for December, and we've gotten out a couple of times, but it's been windy for the most part, keeping us on shore more than we would like.
Well, it's that time of year...deep sigh. The boat is put to bed, and the cold/dark month are upon us....deep sigh.
I left the house early this morning to go get my boat out of storage for today's trip, gas up the Ranger, and get some breakfast at Big Bopper's before heading over to Mazurik's to meet my crew.
Got the call yesterday from Jeremy..."Looks like the weather is going to be nice tomorrow. Do you want a trip?" "It does! I said. Let's do it...it will be the first trip out on the new Ranger." I replied grinning ear to ear.
Spent the day putzing in the new Ranger. She showed up last week, and I found some nice heated storage for her, for the winter. However, she's not hibernating, and if the weather permits I'll be taking some late season trips before the ramps ice up.
The new ride should be here around Halloween, so I'll be running trips through November/Decembere as long as the weather allows...:)
Today I had one of my regular customers, Tim McGlothlin out for a morning of perch fishing. He normally comes with his brother, Matt, but he had to stay behind for a soccer game. He coaches his daughter's team at school.
Since I hadn't been out since last Sunday, I was really looking forward to getting back in the boat this morning. The forecast was calling for light winds out of the south, and although they were really from the ESE...they were indeed light.
A little background on Mark Bray before I begin...
My PA crew met me at my house at 6am and we headed over to Rickard's for some ice and shiners, before stopping to gas up the Ranger. The plan for the day was to go for walleye first, and if there was time we could finish off with some perch fishing. (Unfortunately, once we were on the lake, I realized I had perch bait, but forgot the perch rods in the back of the Excursion...uffda! lol)
Picked up my crew at the White Caps Motel at 6:15 and headed over to Rickard's for some ice, and then across the street to get gas for the Ranger. I took my crew from Illinois over to Huron to launch, because I thought it was going to be foggy as hell again, like the day before was, and I figured it would be a shorter run to my fish.
Let’s set the stage: It’s a beautiful morning, the wind is light, there’s a beautiful sunrise happening, and there’s a small chop on the water, and I have great expectations for a good bite here on Lake Erie. I have new customers in the boat that have never fished with Off Shore inline planer boards before and are excited to learn.
My Off Shore Boards: I use the Tattle Flag system on mine. The front arm has the OR-18 black “Snapper” release on it, and on the back, I like to use the red OR-16 release. The Snapper has a toggling closure that allows me to use it two different ways, but I only use it one way, with the closure pushed down, to put the pin in the front of the line, keeping it from releasing until I take the board off. The OR-16 has a pin in the center of it, so when the line is put behind that pin it will not release from the line until I take it off.
There are many different set ups used by many different people, and what works best for one person might not be the best for another person. The way that works best for you is the way to use them. That’s why Off Shore Tackle has a plethora of release options to choose from.
I have used mine this way for 18 years, and it hasn’t let me down. Is it the best way? I don’t know, probably not. But, it works best for me. Will this work for you too? It most certainly will!
The first question from a novice board user is, “How do you bring in the outside board when a fish is on?” “I’ll show you”, I say. This is something that I’ve started doing, and it seems to work out pretty well. Will it tangle with the other lines inside? Sometimes, but for the most part it’s tangle-free.
I’m usually running three boards per side and will try to run leads as short as I can. That means, if I have to run the baits deeper, I’ll use a “Guppie Snap Weight” on a crankbait, or a “Tadpole” on a crawler harness. By doing this, the outside board has less chance of tangling in the other lines when a fish is coming in.
For the sake of my story, picture the outside Off Shore board going back with the tell-tale sign of a big Lake Erie Walleye on the line. The board wiggles and falls back violently. I say, “Fish on! Let’s go…who’s up?” The next angler takes the rod from me, and I give these instructions:
“Point the rod tip to the other side of the boat…let that rod bend in half if it needs to, but just keep reeling nice and steady. Not too fast and not too slow.”
At this point, I move the middle board rod, and the inside board rod, forward to the next rod holder. This allows those two boards to move forward in the water a couple feet. It’s usually enough to allow the outside board to come in behind them. When the outside board has cleared the inside board, I have the angler straighten the rod up, and keep it at a 45-degree angle. At the same time, I tell him/her, “Now, move back between the driver’s and passenger’s seats, and keep the rod tip over my outside shoulder” … (meaning the shoulder on the side of the boat that the fish is coming in on). When the Off Shore board is a few feet from the boat, I grab the line and start bringing the board up to me and undo the releases from the line in one smooth action, as the angler keeps reeling.
Once the board is off, I have him/her move to the back corner and keep the rod tip pointed out to the side of the boat. This allows the fish to come up off the corner, where I can net it easily, instead of behind the boat where it can, and most often will, get in the motors.
More often than not, this procedure works well, but there are times when a fish just has evil intentions and decides to take a run at the other lines too, and it might bring in one or both with it. However, it doesn’t take long to untangle and reset the Off Shore boards in “Marching Soldier” fashion again.
Give this a try next time you’re out and see if it works for you too. One tip though, if you don’t keep that rod pointed on the opposite side of the boat and bent in half until you clear those other two boards, it will never work. That is the key!
I wish you all the best of luck fishing and hope you find this helpful!
My 5 day trip with the Wisconsin crew was cut short by two days...and, my weekend trips were canceled due to the strong winds out of the ENE. Today's trip (Monday 9/10) was rescheduled by my customer, even though I would have rescheduled it due to weather conditions too to another date.
Yesterday, was the beginning of a 5 day trip for my Wisconsin crew. Walleye Weiss and Jim fished with me this same week, for three days, last year with their friend, Jack. This year though, Jack couldn't make it, so they invited their friend, Dennis to come along. They are a friendly crew and a lot of fun to fish with, which is no surprise since they come from my home state....woot! woot!
This morning, I picked up my crew at 5:30am and hit Rickard's for ice and a couple new spoons, and then the gas station to gas up the Ranger. We hit the highway and headed to Huron to have breakfast at Lemy's before launching.