Lake Erie Walleye
Fall 2004 Issue
Bone-Chilling Big Fall Walleyes!
For most walleye
anglers, the coming of fall means an end to another fishing
and time to make plans for next year’s pursuits ... Not so on Lake Erie
and many other Great Lakes fisheries!
This is the time for hardy souls, warm clothes and bruiser sized walleyes.
That’s why we so often schedule TV and video shoots on “Big Water” in the
fall ... to capture on video, the excitement of landing numbers of big
walleyes from the chilling waters of The Great Lakes.
The day-time bite is always the first order of business. While most summertime Erie open-water fishing involves runs of 20 miles or more out into the lake, these fall fish are much closer (at least in Erie terms), cruising the basin 4 to 5 miles off shore. Weather patterns can be a big factor in where you’ll find these fish. If warm temps in the early fall have been the norm, and water temps are above 50 degrees, the walleyes should be suspended. If the opposite has been true … water temps dipping below 50 degrees … look for the fish to be relating to the bottom. Don’t get caught going by what the calendar tells you, we’ve fished Erie as late as early December and found the walleyes suspended, 20 to 25 feet down over 40 to 50 feet of water.
In fall it’s typical for the walleyes to roam in small packs rather than huge schools, making it especially important to rely on your electronics to find the fish before setting up on them. The beauty of suspended fish is that they are usually pretty easy to spot on most locators. However, searching for these walleyes in the vast waters of Lake Erie can be time consuming when you’re cruising along at five to six miles per hour graphing the water column to spot signs of fish. A locator with high power and resolution like the Lowrance LCX-104C will allow you to perform what we like to call “Speed Searching”. With an easy to read color display, 4000 watts peak-to-peak power (with the standard 200 kHz transducer) and 480 vertical pixels, the X-104 can mark fish and subtle structure while covering water at speeds as high as 25 mph. That saves you as an angler a lot of valuable fishing time.
GPS is another invaluable tool for fishing these large walleye waters, which is another reason the LCX-104C is a top choice among Great Lakes anglers since it’s a “combo unit” featuring both sonar and GPS. One draw back to combo units in the past has been the fact that when put in split-screen mode to view both sonar and GPS, the displays were so small it made viewing a challenge. With the X-104’s huge 10.4 inch diagonal display screen however, there’s plenty of room to view both without straining your eyes. GPS is important because it allows the angler to put out an icon (electronic buoy marker) when pods of fish are located, and by monitoring the plot trail, make precise, effective trolling passes through the school of fish. Most trolling passes will cover 1/4 to 1/2 mile areas at most, unlike the long trolling passes often associated with summer patterns on the Great Lakes.
Although fishing can be great, these are not suicidal walleyes. It takes the right presentation to boat these brutes consistently. You need to cover water efficiently, so spreading your trolling program out is a must. In-line boards like Off Shore OR-12 Side Planers are essential to get the baits well out to the sides of the boat. The OR-12’s are ideally suited for walleye trolling because they’re ballasted for perfect balance, making them suitable for a wide range of trolling speeds, particularly the slower range speeds (.75 to 1.5 mph) needed to trigger walleyes in cooler water temps. This feature also makes them good trackers in heavier seas which is a big plus when fishing big water in the fall.
Top lure choices would lean toward big baits ... Storm Deep ThunderSticks and Rapala Down Deep Husky Jerks run 100 to 150 feet with 10# Trilene XT behind the boards are good producers. Remember to troll ‘em slow ... 1 to 1.5 mph is ideal for triggering these cool water walleyes.
When the sun goes down on these late season fish, the pattern takes a different turn. The walleyes begin moving in from the basin to feed along the transition break where the soft basin turns to rock, usually around the 20 foot mark. Here you’re only 1/2 to 1 mile off shore, and the fishing can be dynamite! Larger shallow running stickbaits like Storm ThunderSticks and Rapala Husky Jerks become the lures of choice. Start off running the baits 120 feet back, putting them in the 6 to 8 foot range. As in the day, the fish are suspended and spooky, so boards are essential. If you have trouble reading bites on boards in the daylight, you can imagine how tough fishing them at night can be. Off Shore Tackle offers the OR12-12NL, or Night Light, to help solve this problem. The handy light easily snaps on the flag of the OR-12 Side Planer, and flashes with a red beacon off to the side of the boat, making it easy to keep track of boards on the darkest autumn night.
While the fall bite on most Great Lakes fisheries usually begins in October, the closer it gets to “ice-up” the better the fishing gets for the bigger fish every walleye angler dreams about. For those willing to brave the icy conditions, it’s a bonanza of monster walleyes few fishermen will ever experience. It comes with a price however. You have to respect the Big Water, especially this time of year. Open water fishing can be rough enough in warm weather, but when you start fishing here in the cold weather time of year it demands some special precautions. This is no place for a small walleye boat ... the seas can kick up big in a hurry, so larger boats, in the 19 foot plus range are important. Boats like the Tracker Tundra 21 are built for this kind of fishing. They can handle running in rough water, and are as dry as any open style fishing boat could possibly be.”
Quality water-proof, cold-weather clothing is also a must. If you get wet, you’re going to suffer ... and that will quickly put an end to your fun fishing trip. Layer to stay warm and dry with good long johns, heavy insulated coats and pants, and top-of-the-line rain gear like Bass Pro Shops 100 MPH suits to shed off the cold and water.”
If you’re looking for a fall hunting trip of a different kind ... don’t be so quick to put the boat away for the season. Hunt up some big Great Lakes walleyes to heat up your late season.
Editors Note: If you have questions or comments on this or other articles from Gary Parsons and Keith Kavajecz, visit their website www.thenextbite.com..