Ontario Walleye Fishing Tips
Each year the lake level falls, during the long winter months, exposing walleye spawning beds that are cleansed and refreshed by the freezing temperatures. Come spring, the spawning environments are free of silt, sediments and other residual build-up, allowing Lac Seul to produce healthy and prolific walleye hatchlings. As Lac Seul’s waters rise higher, in early spring, new forage areas emerge for bait fish and game fish alike. The introduction of another food supply helps Lac Seul maintain its balanced and healthy fishery.
Lac Seul beats fly-in lakes for both walleye numbers and size. It’s rated #1 by many world-class walleye professionals. In fact, Babe Winkelman rated Lac Seul as “the best drive-to lake in Ontario”.
Most of Ontario’s walleye spawn on the shorelines and not just the rivers. Spring walleye, in Lac Seul, are found in the warmer areas of the lake like shallow, muddy bays. Most folks know that the spring walleye are in (and below) waterfalls and in the faster-moving water between islands. Spring walleye fishing on Lac Seul is very rewarding. Anyone who has dropped a line here in May will tell you that, compared to any Ontario lake, the spring walleye fishing on Lac Seul is the best anywhere! Not bragging, just stating a fact!
Lac Seul’s lake structure is very similar to most lakes in Northwestern Ontario. So, if you’re fishing Lac Seul, Lake of the Woods, or Eagle Lake, the same basic fishing methods hold true. Look for a bank with broken rock (the smaller, stony type); walleye need those areas for successful spawning. The mud lines off the tips of island and points, during a windy spring day, are also worth checking out. Lac Seul has over 5,000 miles of shoreline, and hundreds of islands, so finding these areas is simple.
Trolling is another great way to cover a lot of shoreline, while looking for successful fishing areas. A simple spinner, tipped with a minnow or shallow diving crank bait, is a sure bet! Once you’ve caught a walleye, stop and work the shoreline with a 1/4 oz jig and minnow. In the spring, work anywhere from 2 to 8′ deep and, once you find the school, you’ll enjoy hours of great walleye action and fun.
Jig & Minnow:
There are many types of lures and baits that will catch spring walleye, on Lake of the Woods, Lac Seul, or for that matter, just about any lake in Northwestern Ontario, but one of the very best tried and true methods is the jig and minnow combo! Not only is this a great set-up, but it’s an ethical one, too. On Lac Seul, we’re blessed with great walleye fishing. So great, in fact, that it’s not uncommon to catch 50 to 100 walleyes per day, per boat! When releasing this many walleye, bass, or northern, it’s vital that your ‘catch and release’ techniques are successful! A jig results in about 90% jaw or lip hook-up, making for a quick and easy release. That virtually guarantees a high survival rate!
Crank Bait and ‘The Edge’:
Another successful bait, for this time of year, is the crank bait! A good example is the S-18 Rappala. With the bigger baits, you need not worry about fish swallowing it as much. Troll this type of bait along those mud lines and rocky points too! Try the ‘edge’, a 4 to 6′ drop-off from the shallow areas. A drop-off can be found in the middle of a bay or just feet from the shoreline. You may not catch 50 to 100 fish at the ‘edge’, but you may just catch that walleye trophy of a lifetime! A trophy northern pike is a real bonus, too, and will hang out at the ‘edge’ waiting to feed on bait fish or even a smaller walleye. Bottom line? Spend some time on the ‘edge’!
It’s July or August, and you are lucky enough to be on a lake in Northwest Ontario. Life is good! Time to start catching those walleye and big pike you’ve read about all winter. You’ve made the right decision in coming to Lac Seul this time of year. Mid-summer is very best and easiest time to catch large numbers of walleye. The weather is more stable, for longer periods, helping keep the fish at the same depth and same spots day after day.
Follow the Bait Fish:
One simple rule to remember, when fishing lakes like Lac Seul, is this: walleye (and all game fish) must follow the bait fish! The minnows and perch have given up the shallow water, as the lake heats up, and move to deeper water, where PH levels, and all that good stuff, suits them better. Not all fish have moved from the shorelines, but the majority have!
Deep Water Reefs:
The May walleye were shallow but now, during July and August, they’ve moved to rocky points with access to deep water. The reefs (and Lac Seul has many) are the hot spots! Like a rocky point, a reef has to have a decent drop-off. A reef with 15 to 25′ of water covering the rocks below is great, but it also needs that to drop-off into 35 to 60′ or more. This is the perfect structured reef! Long sand bars, reaching out into deep water, are also very good spots for this time of year. Now that the walleye have made their move (and don’t forget that the BIG PIKE follow and eat walleye) you don’t need to hunt the shorelines like in the spring. Large numbers of walleye will congregate, and hold on to these hot spots, for the next couple of months, day after day, making this some of the best fishing of the year.
Here’s another tip: look for rocky points. Why? Because they hold feeding walleye. Work your way out into deeper water, in the same direction as the point indicates land flow. Many times that same land mass comes back up again and you’ll find another walleye reef. Many times, these are the reefs that produce one of those 100+ fish days that Lac Seul is so famous for. To find these hidden reefs, start down-shore 75 yards or so from the peninsula. While back-trolling into the wind, slowly work your way out past the point to the very end, and then go a little further to see if the rocks jut back up. It’s a good idea to mark the end of any arm, and then scout the deeper waters looking for new reefs. Besides finding the school, at the end of these arms, your marker buoy will give you a reference point to work off of. Assuming you’re now catching walleye and pike, fish both sides of the marker buoy to judge which way the school may be heading. The feeding fish may also be going in one direction, along the shore, so try one way and then the other.
As morning turns to mid-day the walleye may head out to deeper water, along an edge or drop-off. Boat control is extremely important (ask any guide). So back-troll into the wind using an ‘in and out of gear’ action with the shifter to slow down the speed. You want that jig within 1 foot of the bottom at all times. If it’s not, your odds of catching fish just fell off the chart! This ‘in and out of gear’ method also helps keep you right on top of that school of feeding walleye. If you are anchored and the fish move, you have to wait for their return. Remember, the walleye are hunting their prey and the prey is on the move most of the time. A slow back-troll is your best bet for staying with the school. Anchoring substantially reduces your chances for catching large numbers of walleyes in a day.
Another thing to consider is your fish-finder… while, it can be a great tool, the ‘beam’ is like a flashlight. If you’re in shallow water, you may only see a 6-foot area and no fish, when in truth there could be hundreds just outside the circle of the beam. In shallow water, use this tool for depth only. In 20 feet or deeper areas where most walleyes are found, you’ll see a better view of fish. Also, many depth finders will only show a flat line when indicating walleye and may only show that classic arch or hump when it’s a bigger fish, such as a large northern pike.
The temperatures are dropping and so are the colorful fall leaves. This is a great time to spend a week fishing on Lac Seul. Cool mornings and warm afternoons make for some of the season’s best, and most beautiful, fishing days. I’ll bet that I’m not alone when I say that I look forward to the shortened daylight hours, accompanied by classic smells found only during the fall excursions. You should get excited… Fall means great walleye fishing as well as large bass and hungry pike. That, and the opening of Ontario whitetail hunting season, will get your blood flowing! Isn’t life grand?
Besides the spectacular walleye fishing, and some of the best bass fishing, since early June, some of the largest muskies have landed during the fall fishing season. With the shorter days, cooling waters, and the urge to fatten up for the slow period when ice covers the lakes, trophy-sized fish (over 50 inches long and weighing in the 40 and 50 pound class) are following the walleye into their fall areas. A warning about these freshwater monsters… they will break your line, snap your pole, steal your favorite bait, and rob you of that walleye you were just about to land!
Fish Shallower Waters:
Fall walleye can still be found on many of the same reefs as in the summer, but a little deeper (like 24-30 feet). You’ll see schools, on the fish-finder, at 35-40 feet but leave them alone… Their mortality rate is very high because most fish released from these depths will die from too much air in their swim bladders. Fish, no deeper than 32 feet, and bring them up very slowly so they can expel air and live. The most active fall walleye are in 25 foot reef areas. For some mysterious reason, fall walleye return to the shallow, muddy stump-filled bays, and will then head back into the deeper water. My advice? Take time to investigate these areas and also cast a few big jerk baits. That monster pike may be waiting for you.
“Big Bait, Big Fish”:
In fall, an old saying is so very true, “big bait, big fish”. It’s true with big walleye, big pike and even big bass! Those fish are doing their best to put on weight before winter, so bring out 4 – 6 inch sucker minnows! It’s not that the trusted jig and minnow has stopped working, it’s still producing 50+ walleye, but now the fish have increased appetites and want large meals!
During the afternoon, switch from a jig and minnow to a slip sinker and straight hook. Tie a swivel on after sliding a 1/2 oz sinker up the line, add 20 inches of monofilament, and tie the straight hook right to the line. Now put one of those big sucker minnows on and keep the sinker about 30 inches off the bottom. Big bass love this rig and with the slip sinker all you need to do is drop the weight to the bottom and let the fish pull out the line while it pulls the minnow into its hungry mouth. Tighten up the line until you feel the fish, then set the hook hard, and get the net ready!
Pinch the Barb:
It’s a good idea to pinch or snip the barbs, when using a slip-sinker set-up, as many fish will swallow the hook. With a pinched barb it’s easy to remove hooks. If the hook is too deep, just cut the line. The fish’s digestive acid will dissolve it in about 5 days, with no harm done.
Everyone wants to catch their very own trophy walleye or trophy northern pike and we have some tips, about fishing large fish, that may help! Start by fishing known walleye areas, such as the reefs we talked about. They’re a great spot to hunt for trophy pike or musky. A 20-pound musky or pike will gladly have 2-3 pound walleyes for a meal. Have you ever been in a fast action bite when things suddenly come to an abrupt halt? Chances are that a large predator has moved into your school of walleye! With safety in numbers, the whole school left the area in one big ‘swoosh’! That is, all but that one unfortunate walleye! When I’m guiding and find the walleye come to a feeding halt, I bring out the big guns like 6-foot HD rods and large jerk baits. Many of my guests have taken their first real trophy pike at times like these. We’ll also fish the outside edge of the reef. Like any grocery shopper, the big musky and pike don’t stay in the meat department all the time! They go home to enjoy their meal of fresh walleye. In this case, home is out beyond the reef in deep water. The water may only be 30-100 feet deep, but no worries, these trophies are only down about 15 to 20 feet below the surface, digesting their meal and slowly circling the reef. This is where I like to troll big baits, looking for that one fish… a 20+ pound hog! Chartreuse crank baits, in the 8 to 10 inch size, with a running depth of 15 feet are a good choice! I also have a gold coloured ‘bomber’ that has seen a lot of big fish… It has the scars to prove it, too! Another proven tactic is trolling out past the edge. Keep a close watch on your fish-finder and when you mark that one solitary fish, drop a large minnow and jig down to whatever depth it’s at. With a few jerks, you’ll be in for some fun! Many times, some of the big northern pike markings on a fish-finder are 30+ inch walleye! That will be sure to brighten up your day!
Care & Handling of Trophy Fish:
If you land a trophy walleye or trophy northern pike (and I hope you do) please take great care when landing these fish… It’s best to use a cradle for the musky and northern pike. If you only have a landing net, don’t let these fish roll in the netting; keep the net in the water until they stop their flopping around. The slime on these fish is very important and should never be wiped off. Also, try not to let the fish bang around in the boat. When lifting a monster for fast photo, use the ‘gill plate grab’ and support the rest of the fish under the belly. Return the fish to the water as fast as possible. Hang on to the tail, to keep the fish upright, until it regains its balance and is ready to swim. If the fish is released too soon, it may sink to the bottom and die there. Sometimes it is necessary to slowly work the fish back and forth by the tail, while in the water. Once the fish fights back and tries to swim, it’s time to let go! These are little things that responsible fishermen do that make all the difference in the survival of these Ontario trophies!
How Much Line?
The amount of line you spool out, along with your motor speed, will dictate the depth your lure runs and that is very important! Usually the more line let out, and the faster you’re moving, the deeper your bait will go. Too fast, and some baits will start rolling, which is never a good thing. To find what speed, and amount of line, is needed for your different baits in order to reach the 15 foot mark, try trolling over sand bars where you’re less likely to snag up and lose your bait. It’s not very high-tech, but it works.