Last weekend once again was an invasion of eager walleye anglers hitting the northern woods. The number of trucks, campers and boats navigating our highways and dirt roads was mind-boggling to say the least
Yes, I was one of them out there.
The opening of walleye season in Northwestern Ontario is one of the most profitable times of the year for grocery stores, gas stations, liquor and beer stores and of course – who can forget the most important – bait shops.
Selling minnows and worms this time of the year is extremely demanding on bait retailers, and in talking with a few of them, it was a testament to how many anglers were out there targeting the elusive marble eye.
Gary Turpin of Rockwood Bait and Tackle told me it was one of his busiest openers ever, with hundreds of dozens of minnows heading out the door.
Gary was telling me he actually was up at 3 a.m. out in the shop the night before, bagging custom orders for anglers who were heading into remote lakes for several days.
Hotspots like Lac Des Mille Lacs, Shebandowan, Dog Lake and Dog River, Athelstane and many others were covered with fishing boats.
I also heard the OPP and MNR were out in full force as well ensuring boating regulations and licensing requirements were met. Ride programs were everywhere and as usual it was a normal May Long.
Speaking of walleye, the common name, walleye comes from the fact that their eyes, like those of lions, reflect white light. These shining eyes are the result of a light-gathering layer in the eyes called the Tapetum Lucidum, which allows the fish to see well in low-light conditions.
In fact, many wallye anglers look for walleyes at night since this is when major feeding patterns occur.
The fish’s eyes also allows it to see well in turbid waters, which gives it an advantage over its prey. Thus, walleye anglers will commonly look for days and locations where there is a good “walleye chop,” meaning rougher water.
This excellent vision also allows the fish to populate the deeper regions in a lake and they can often be found in deeper water, particularly during the warmer, bright part of the summer.
Last weekend it was a quarter-ounce pink and white jig tipped with a medium-sized dace minnow that seemed to do the trick in the Dog River system. Bouncing that jig off bottom in about 10 feet of water stirred up the yellow bellies and the action was fast and furious.
Wayne Cerven and I made the trip to the river, stood on the deck of his 20-foot Ranger boat and landed and live-released many good-sized fish.
Of course we kept a few to take home for a fresh feed.
The number one choice of walleye anglers everywhere has to be the jig, as it accounts for a large number of fish that are caught annually. It is a simple bait to fish, and it provides a presentation that is close to the bottom structure where walleye forage.
A round, lead-headed jig is the most common and can be tipped with a number of different options. Some of the more popular are plastic grubs, twister tails and shad bodies, as well as live minnows, worms or leeches.
If the fish are inactive, or if you are experiencing a cold-front condition, your best option is to tip with live bait. If the fish are in an aggressive mood and the water is warm, oftentimes a plastic body will suffice.
Choosing the right weight of jig head can often be a game of experimentation, although there are a few general rules to follow. For water less than 10 feet, a one-eighth jig will get the nod most of the time.
This can be bumped up to a quarter jig if the conditions are very windy and you are having trouble maintaining contact with the bottom. Water between 10 and 25 feet are best fished with a quarter-ounce jig, and should be upgraded to a half-ounce jig head for water more than 25 feet deep.
Maintaining contact with the bottom is the key to catching walleye, and experimenting with different lifts, and drags of the bait will upgrade your catch significantly.
I hope all of you who were out for the opener and will be out again this weekend will have some luck, and remember, always wear your personal flotation dsevice (PFD); it could save your life.
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