Right Time + Right Place = Worlds Best Walleye Spots
Getting in on great fishing is first a matter of being in the right place at the right time. This is the finest of seasons for catching a giant walleye and sometimes lots of them, given the quality of some of the walleye fisheries we have available today.
While the fisheries we highlight here have been dynamite in most recent years, our point isn’t only to focus on world-class fisheries, but also on the general process of how to get in on great fishing wherever your fishing takes you. You may not be able to travel to these fisheries, but you can plan excursions to waters with the best potential near you.
Each body of water has hot buttons that you can get a feeling for by calling the right people and asking the right questions. When does the fishing usually peak? What are the conditions this year? And, more importantly, what’s happening right now?
You also need a feeling for the presentation process on the target water. Can the fish be caught during the day in deeper water? Or does the best fishing transpire after dark, trolling minnow-plugs on a long line in shallower water?
Finally, it’s a matter of going and making the most of the experience and what you’ve learned by reading In-Fisherman, our Critical Concepts series of walleye books, and In-Fisherman’s Walleye In-Sider magazine. Find the best spot and when it’s best to be there. Then find out how best to catch the fish. Here, meanwhile, are notes on a few of the finest walleye fisheries the world has ever seen.
BAY OF QUINTE, ONTARIO
The Bay of Quinte, just off Lake Ontario in eastern Ontario, is arguably the best walleye fishery in the world for consistently large fish – in any season, but especially after Labor Day. From early September until freeze-up in late December, the fishing just gets better and better. In a couple days of filming In-Fisherman television footage last December, the smallest walleye In-Fisherman Contributing Editor Jeff Simpson and I caught was 6 pounds. Fifteen others weighed more than 10 pounds. The Bay actually may be the only place where it’s easier to catch a fish over 10 pounds than one under that mark.
The reasons for the remarkable fishing are interwoven. Gigantic Lake Ontario offers both food and refuge, even more so now that zebra mussels have cleared the once-fertile bay’s waters. As a result, the mammoth walleyes gravitate to the main lake faster in the spring and spend more time there in summer, foraging on smelt and alewives in the deeper, darker waters. The giants return in autumn, staging over winter before spawning in inflowing rivers and filtering back into Lake Ontario.
Like most Great Lakes walleye fisheries, one top presentation is to longline troll smelt-imitating crankbaits behind planer boards and downriggers. The fish usually suspend. During the day, we used Rapala Deep Down Husky Jerks and #11 Tail Dancer Deeps run on long lines (100 feet or so back) attached to trolling boards.
At night, giant fish move inshore over weedflats and especially along weededges. We used #12 Rapala Husky Jerks run about 100 feet behind the boat, or ran #10 Tail Dancers along weededges and over nearby open water. We trolled with a big gas motor at 2.5 to 3 mph during the day, but switched to an electric trolling motor and speeds of about 1.5 mph at night.
Shore anglers also take big fish at night, anywhere they can wade or use a pier to reach feeding areas. One bank-bound angler we met had released a brace of 14-pounders.
When ice eventually locks up the big shallow bay, usually around Christmas, the light-sensitive walleyes feel more secure. The winter bite still peaks during the two twilight periods each day. Jigging Raps, Nils Masters Jigging Shads, and William’s Ice Spoons tipped with a minnow head are top producers during January and February.
Contact: Kevin Lavers, 613-476-6894 (lodging and information); Guide Big Jim McLaughlin, 613/498-2517.
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WINNIPEG RIVER, MANITOBA
The portion of Winnipeg River below the Pine Falls Dam at Pine Falls, Manitoba, remains one of the most remarkably consistent places in North America for spectacular walleye fishing during late September and October. In most years the fishing extends into November, as long as the weather holds.
It’s not just a traditional river fishery. The river runs only about five miles before entering a large bay attached to Lake Winnipeg. In the bay, walleyes are caught by anglers anchored along the river channel as it twists through the bay, as well as by anglers anchored on rocky humps. Trolling – over open water, but more generally along and over rockbars – also produces here. Traditional lures include the #7 or #9 Rapala Shad Rap, trolled on a long line.
In the river, anglers generally use jig-and-minnow combos as they slip with the current to probe river-channel edges, and structural elements like humps and rocky flats. Trolling deeper-diving crankbaits like the Rapala #11 Tail Dancer Deep also triggers fish holding in rivers. This is one prime tactic employed by Guide Larry Snow, who prefers fatter bass-style crankbaits on this fishery at this time.
“Run the baits up current, as well as down current and cross current, over and along hard-bottomed areas where the fish wait to feed on shiners that have entered the river,” Snow says. “Crankbaits often account for consistently larger fish.”
Walleyes often enter the rivers in waves, according to Snow. “Depends on river flow,” he says. “If we get consistent releases from the dam, shiners continue to enter the river. That’s why the walleyes are here. Occasionally, we don’t have enough water in the fall to spur a consistent run of shiners and walleyes, so it’s best to call to see what’s happening before traveling a long distance.
“Most years this is one of the most fantastic fisheries anywhere for larger fish. Lots of fish push past 10 pounds and top out near 14 pounds or so.”
About an hour to the southwest, the Red River flows through the city of Winnipeg and often hosts great fall fishing in the river section below the Lock Port Dam at Selkirk, just north of Winnipeg. Some years one river’s hotter than the other, at certain times.
Contact: Papertown Motel, 204-367-2261 (lodging and information); Guide Larry Snow, 807-466-2188.
LOWER COLUMBIA RIVER, WASHINGTON/OREGON
Compared to the more popular fisheries on the Columbia River pools upstream from dams, the free-flowing Lower Columbia from Bonneville Dam downstream to Astoria remains a relatively untapped resource for consistent catches of huge walleyes. “The best bite period kicks off in mid-July and can last through October,” says regional walleye tournament angler Jerry Spiess, also the West Coast distribution and sales manager with Lund Boats. “Ten- and 11-pound fish are common, and 14s, 15s, even 16s are do-able. It’s an incredible fishery.”