Big Fish And Lots Of Them
In the Great Lakes State we’re fortunate to be smack on top of some world class walleye fishing opportunities. Just a short drive from Michigan the opportunities for summer walleye can only be measured with one word…. BIG.
Adult walleye in the 25-30 inch range prowl all over the Great Lakes, but these fish are rarely found in substantial numbers. Take Saginaw Bay for example. It’s common on Saginaw Bay to catch 20-40 walleye in a day of fishing and on average about 99.9% of those fish are going to be under 24 inches in length.
Saginaw Bay once was a destination for anglers after trophy class walleye, but these days that’s all changed. Today the total population of walleye in Saginaw Bay has skyrocketed and the average size of the fish taken has plummeted. Anglers after trophy class walleye are better off targeting the Central and Eastern Basins of Lake Erie. It’s here that time on the water is going to yield trophy sized walleye all summer long.
Understanding Adult Walleye
Compared to the eating sized walleye most anglers target, adult walleye are a different animal. Bigger fish require more food and this species isn’t shy about traveling to find the best possible food resources.
On Lake Erie, adult sized walleye take a seasonal migration that starts in the Western Basin during late winter and early spring for the annual spawning runs. After spawning, these fish start making their way east towards the Central and eventually Eastern Basins of the lake.
Three things lure walleyes east. Ample supplies of protein rich forage like rainbow smelt and emerald shiners provide walleye with a nearly perfect food supply. Ranking nearly equal at second and third, the Central and Eastern Basins are much deeper than the Western Basin and the water temperature is cooler. Deeper and cooler water not only makes for a comfortable environment for the walleye to live, the modest water temperature slows down their metabolism and allows these adult fish to get the very most from every morsel of food they take into their teeth laden jaws.
When an adult walleye caught in the Central or Eastern Basin of Lake Erie is sliced open on the fillet table, there is proof inside every fish that these fisheries are perfect for growing trophy fish. Rolls and rolls of a white or silvery fat tissue line the body cavity of just about any fish over 24 inches in length.
These fat reserves are especially prevalent in larger fish that have learned to take advantage of the abundant forage and cool water. During the months of July, August and September these fish literally gorge themselves, packing on the pounds in the process.
Unique Trolling Tactics
Because these walleye live and forage in water way deeper than can be found anywhere in the Western Basin, some unique trolling methods specific to the Central and Eastern Basins have evolved. In many ways, the trolling tactics used to target Great Lakes trout and salmon closely parallel those used to catch deep water walleye, with a few walleye specific twists of course.
The majority of the fish taken in these regions of the lake are found suspended 20, 30, 40 or even 50 feet below the surface and often over 60 to 100 feet of water.
Deep diving planers like the popular Luhr Jensen Jet Diver 40 are routinely fished on planer boards to achieve a spread of lures that covers the water on both a horizontal and vertical plane. To get the maximum depth from these floating diving planers, many anglers switch from monofilament lines to super thin low stretch braids in the 15 to 20 pound test range. Spectra braids in this break strength have a diameter similar to four or six pound test monofilament respectively.
At the terminal end, walleye class spoons are popular. The most productive walleye spoons are those sized specifically to catch walleye. These spoons range in size from about two inches to three inches long.
The spoon manufacturers dominating this market include Wolverine Tackle, Michigan Stinger, Yeck and Dream Weaver. Each of these brands produces spoons in all the popular surface color finishes and plating options.
Crawler harnesses are the other popular summer walleye trolling lure. The harnesses trolled in the Central and Eastern Basins of Lake Erie are considerably different than those commonly used in the Western Basin. The big difference is in the eastern ends of the lake, trollers are moving faster and for the most part using bigger boats that aren’t capable of super slow trolling speeds normally associated with crawler harnesses.
Open water style crawler harnesses are tied on heavy leader material so they can take the abuse of trolling at higher speeds. Wolverine Tackle is a leader in manufactured trolling harnesses. Their rigs are tied on 40# monofilament and feature a No. 4 Treble hook in the back and a No. 1 single hook in the front designed to hook and hold large fish. Rather than the normal Colorado blade typical of the Western Basin, the Wolverine Tackle rigs are tied using willow leaf blades that can be trolled at 2-3.5 MPH.
The Wolverine harness is 12 inches long and is normally attached to a five foot leader and fished behind a Jet Diver or a diving planer like the Dipsy Diver or Slide Diver. These rigs are also commonly fished 25-50 feet behind the ball.
The typical trolling boat in the Central and Eastern Basins is incorporating all three of these trolling methods at the same time. Three or four Jet Divers per side of the boat are fished on planer boards covering the top 40 feet of the water column.
On the corners of the boat, a pair of diving planers can be used to fish a little deeper than the Jet Divers are capable of.
Finishing up the trolling pattern, a pair of downriggers are used to reach the deepest depths. This “V”shaped trolling pattern fishes deepest directly below and behind the boat. Fish that may be higher in the water column and more likely to be spooked by the presence of the boat are targeted with the Jet Divers and planer board presentation.
The clear and deep waters of the Central and Eastern Basins find walleye anglers paying pretty close attention to color combinations on both spoons and crawler harness blades. Often spoon or blade color makes a difference, so savvy open water trollers buy their blades and spoons in multiples of four so they can duplicate hot colors.
The new ultra violet painted finishes are catching tons of walleye and a growing number of anglers feel that UV finishes are more visible to walleye especially when fishing in deep water or on dark days.
Ports To Try
Some of the most productive summer walleye fishing ports on Lake Erie include Huron, Lorain, Cleveland, Ashtabula, Erie and Dunkirk. The fishing at all of these ports tends to be off shore so larger boats are the norm.
Summing It Up
The summer trolling action on Lake Erie’s Central and Eastern Basins is something to behold. No other walleye destination in the Great Lakes can compare with the average size of fish caught in this region. Not only do the walleye grow large, limit catches are so common anglers expect a full box of fish every time out.
Big fish and lots of them, now that’s something every angler can appreciate.