Last spring the walleye fishing in southern Lake Erie near Turtle Island was off the hook fantastic. It started in late March and lasted for almost an entire month, then north winds, cold, clear water rolled in and changed the conditions enough that schools of active walleyes moved. When it was on fire limit catches of eater size walleyes were common and those lucky enough to be on the water at first light were treated to frantic fishing action.
April 4 was almost 60 degrees and calm winds promised the big lake would be dead calm as we raced from the Bolles Harbor boat launch toward Turtle Island. There in the mid-morning fog was a group of fishing boats silently drifting with the current as anglers twitched blade baits. We set down in 12 feet of water and began jigging, but action was slow. I noticed the lake was so calm, there were no waves and our lines stood straight up and down. That’s when I moved to the bow, unhooked the trolling motor, set it overboard and began a slow trolling pattern. POW! Scott Goldammer hooked a fish and Bang! Zach Johnson hooked a second, and then Johnson hooked another. He shouted with joy as the fish bent his rod double and frantically splashed in the net. My turn was next and in a matter of a few minutes we had several fish in the live well.
Both fishermen commented on how the action picked up when I used the electric trolling motor to cover new water. Little did I know I hit on one of the hottest blade bait tactics ever used by Erie anglers. Put simply, I stumbled on the slow trolling method while jigging blades and the results were very impressive. In a matter of a couple hours we had our limit of walleyes and we headed for shore.
Next trip I was field testing a new color blade when Bryan and Brendon Smith joined us on the water. The lake was flat, dead calm and I immediately dropped the trolling motor, set the speed on #2 and began slow trolling while jigging. My Lowrance graph lit up with marks as we moved over a rocky hump and immediately hooked fish. Soon as the fish were netted I made a sharp turn, made a second pass over the gravel bar and hooked a dandy. Bryan watched in dismay as we tuna fished walleyes and he couldn’t buy a bite. I yelled “Hey Bryan, ya know that electric motor on the front of your Lund. Well, drop it in the water and try pulling lures for more strikes”.
Bryan was quick to get settled in the bow seat as he maneuvered his Lund using the electric motor and monitored his Lowrance HDS graph mounted up front. Soon Brendon hooked a fish, then another and in a few minutes they were both dancing to the excitement of a double header. Wow! At lightning speed the duo was done, limited out, live well overflowing with beautiful walleyes. They were all caught using the hot new trolling tactic while jigging blades. At one point our boats must have looked like mallards feeding on surface bugs, turning left, then right and circling locations that featured hard bottoms. We had a riot and both boats were busy landing fish. Although Bryan’s boat clearly out fished mine, perhaps because he is smart enough to mount his Lowrance HDS graph up front in the boat so he can see structure and mark fish while he is operating the motor and jigging.
The idea is to stalk walleyes in 4-15 feet of water using an electric motor to position lures in their face. There is something powerfully attractive about a Blade Bait jigged at an angle, rather than straight up and down. The motor provides just enough speed to give the perfect angle and you cover enough water to constantly get the lure in front of new hungry faces. This tactic is deadly in stained water of southern Lake Erie when thousands of post spawn male walleyes pause in the discolored water near the mouth of the Maumee River. The technique is simple; start jigging blades if you are hooking fish do not move but if action is slow hit the electric motor and move several feet. Keep jigging blades when running the motor because most strikes come when you are moving and the line is at a 30-45 degree angle. If you move too slow you get less strikes, too fast means fewer strikes also and it is a good idea to hit the electric, move several feet, then shut it off and glide silently across the lake surface while you are jigging blades. Sometimes walleyes in the skinny water strike when the motor is shut down.
Oh sure, there are some fish in Michigan waters but after chasing spring walleyes I’ve come to the conclusion the massive schools of hungry fish are found east of Turtle Island in Ohio water of Maumee Bay. For this fishing you need an Ohio license which is about $40 for an out-of-state yearly license. It seems the drop back walleyes prefer to hesitate, pause and take a break from the rigors of river spawning and they school on shallow offshore reefs in 4-12 feet of water. But most of the fish you catch have white tummy’s, are very clean with no scars to indicate they are river spawners and it is my opinion the majority are reef spawners.
If there is one word that best describes the ideal color of spring water in southern Erie it would be stained. I’m talking brown as coffee with lots of creamer mixed in and in the discolored water fish gather by the thousands. I’ve seen the same fish holding capability of discolored water on Saginaw Bay. Two years ago it was difficult to find walleyes on the AuGres side of Saginaw Bay but the east side was full of walleyes near Sand Point and around Caseville. The reason walleyes migrating from the Saginaw River congregated on the east shore was directly related to water clarity. The east shoreline had stained water from the shore to about 12 feet of water and migrating walleyes preferred the protection of the discolored water. The trick to limit catches hinges on finding discolored water where the bottom is covered with spawning gravel. The kiss of death is a soft bottom in clear water.
Here is the important part…the action you give the blade bait determines how many strikes you get. The trick is to snap the lure off bottom, make it wiggle and rattle, send out noise and lure vibration walleyes can detect. Few lures have the loud vibration like a blade and it is this loud noise walleyes can detect and hone-in on in dirty water. The blade sends out a sonic vibration attracting savage strikes from walleyes. If you have weak wrists, stay home. A limp upstroke doesn’t give the blade enough resistance to make it loud. A hefty jerk, like you are setting the hook makes the blade come alive, wiggle like crazy and send out enough noise vibration to make your rod rattle and reel shake. The louder the noise the more vibrations sent through the water column, your rod rattles from the crazy action of the lure and you will get strikes. Lures that are snagged, hooked on themselves, covered with zebra mussels offer a muffled noise and you will not get strikes. Keep the lure clean, hooks dangling straight down and get a pumping rhythm going that will draw fish, allow them to hone-in on the sound and slam the vibrating lure.
The best approach is to lower the blade to the bottom and then snap it upward 12-20 inches. You will feel the vibration in the rod tip. If the vibration diminishes the blade is snagged on itself. Snap the lure up and let it fall on a tight line. When using the electric motor you simply use the same jigging action but the line is at a slight angle because the boat is moving. Once you get the rhythm of jigging blades you can fish two rods, no problem and double your catch.
Walleyes absolutely slam this deadly offering. The strike is a solid thud that comes when you pull the bait off bottom, make it vibrate and the walleye pounces on the sonic sound. They hit the lure like they are pissed off. Maybe the sound drives them nuts, makes them aggressive, invades their territory. All I know is the strike is like no other, powerful, deliberate, solid, exciting to feel and downright savage. Some strikes will almost pull your rod out of your hand and hooking a fish in skinny water provides an exciting fight.
I was electric motor trolling blades but fishing was slow. As daylight came I could see the water was clear. I immediately moved to 12-17 feet depths and took a couple fish when I noticed a kid in a camo boat landing a walleye. I made a tight circle near the boat and watched as the trio limited out. I eased close and asked what they were using. The gentleman driving the boat said “When Erie waters are clear you need to cast B Captain Jay’s Blade Baits, get them away from the boat’s shadow. You also need to switch to more natural colors. We have caught our limit the last two days on chrome and purple.”
That’s when I shut down the electric motor and cast into the emerald green sea and let the blade sink to bottom. I held the rod tip high and hopped the blade across bottom when I got a savage strike. In a short time I found casting and hopping blades to be the hot tactic in clear water.
Since the camo boat experience I automatically move to deeper water and cast blades for limit catches when north or northeast wind and current moves clear water into the area. Best colors in clear water are candy blue chrome, chrome and purple chrome. I also found that using 8 lb. yellow main line with fluorocarbon leader helped me to see when the bait hit bottom and detect strikes. Some other hot blade colors include shad and antifreeze.
Savvy blade fishermen need to be versatile in order to get a precise jigging presentation that guarantees strikes. If the waves are rocking you can have a riot jigging blade baits but you need a sea anchor to slow your drift speed. If winds are howling and your lure is zipping across bottom try using an electric motor to slow the boat or toss out two sea anchors. On dead calm days use the electric motor to cover more water and increase catches.
Most anglers use GPS to mark productive locations that hold fish. Wise fishermen outline a drifting pattern by shutting down upwind of hotspots and drifting over gravel bars holding schools of active walleyes. If you catch fish, mark the spot and in a few hours you will be able to determine the exact location where you can find fish. This strategy is very effective especially if you run to shore and want to get back on fish the following day. Your electronics can put you exactly where you caught fish and keep you in the strike zone.
I’ve fished all over the great state of Michigan in search of walleyes. Today, southern Lake Erie blade jigging is the hottest gig going. No, the fish are not monsters, but this fishery is all about catching plenty of eater fish and most are larger than Saginaw Bay walleyes. Just about the time the hawg bite on the Detroit River slows, Erie’s southern shore is on fire. Last spring the unseasonably warm weather and calm seas provided fantastic fishing that lasted into spring. Don’t think that blades only work at the mouth of the Maumee River; I’ve had good results when the water turns discolored at the Dumping Grounds, Stony Point reef and mouth of the Detroit River.
Tired of Michigan’s fast declining steelhead fishery, the stumbling Saginaw River and Bay walleye fishing? Maybe you should take my lead and plan a trip to southern Erie and try blade baits. I guarantee if conditions are right and the walleyes are biting you will catch your limit at lightning speed.
For more information contact Captain Jay at www.ifnwhen.com or If-N-When Fishing Charters (517)403-9632. Watch Lake Erie Walleye Jigging with Captain Jay’s Blade Baits on YouTube. My all-time number one color is White Knight with Clown in second place and
Shad third but if stained water becomes clear you need to switch tactics.