So you know how to catch enough small walleyes, but what about catching those big ones? Eights, nines or even double digit walleyes are out there and we’re going to tell you how we catch a lot of the big fish you see us holding up in photos! If you’re looking for a trophy, this fall offers tremendous opportunity. For starters, you’ll have to know is where to look for big walleyes.
September is the beginning of the fall trophy bonanza. Targeting the biggest fish in a system calls for searching specific locations and figuring out what techniques will work best. Let’s look at big natural lakes, reservoirs and areas around the Great Lakes, first in general terms, then point out some particularly good waters.
Generally speaking, in September look for big walleyes in the area leading to mouths of the rivers. We’re not talking about the river proper, but out in the lake or reservoir, perhaps in the area within six miles of the river mouth. We’re talking about walleyes that are staging somewhere in their migration that will eventually lead many of them up the river for a false spawn or later into the river to prepare for their early spring spawn. This holds true almost anywhere rivers provide spawning habitat and dump into a larger body of water.
Somewhere within this area of the lake that’s influenced by the river are smaller areas in which the fish are eating, and you need to find them. In the fall, walleyes start going on a baitfish binge. As fall goes into full swing, the big females eat everything they can sink their teeth into, putting egg development into high gear.
Sometimes this feeding area will be a reef that the walleyes move up onto at night, perhaps feasting on spawning ciscoes. Or it could be shallow, weedy areas, also foraged at night. Other times, especially in reservoirs, they suspend out from points, moving in throughout the day and night to feed. In Great Lakes walleye fisheries, the walleyes often hang the basins of deep bays, attacking clouds of bait that are so big they look like humps on the fish finder.
Let’s take them one at a time:
These are areas found on most Great Lakes and large natural lakes. Find reefs topping out at 10 to three feet. Cast crankbaits or jigs at them during the day or–often better–light the top with a buoy and troll the reef at night. Use floating baits like a shallow ThunderStick, and add a split shot or two, if necessary, to keep the bait near bottom. Troll around the top and the edge. A small “kicker” engine will normally work great since you’ll be long lining the bait. If stealth seems necessary, use the electric. A Minn Kota Auto-Pilot is especially easy to use for this.
Find the greenest weeds you can. During the day, a jigging spoon fluttered over the top and dropped down the weedline can be killer. Or wait until dark and twitch Shallow ThunderSticks over the top. Anchoring right in the middle of the weeds and casting to open water beyond the edges with a Storm Rattlin’ ThinFin can also produce awesome results. Walleyes often seem programmed to attack bait as it comes from open water and into the weeds.
You’ll sometimes see the schools, suspended, say 18 feet down. That’s when you select a crank that will go that deep, like a Deep ThunderStick, and troll the structure at the 18- foot level. If they don’t respond to that, you might have to switch to a more subtle crankbait like a shallow ThunderStick Jr. and use Snap Weights to get it to the fish level. Keep the colors simple. Black or blue backs with a white belly are hard to beat!
Big live bait is a second choice. For presentations like jigs and minnows or bottom bouncers and spinners, use minnows at least three inches on up to six inches long. Redtail chubs or shiners are a good bet. Or opt for the big crawlers – ones that look like minature snakes. Big walleyes often prefer a big bait at this time of year. Early morning and late afternoon are often the best times to try these areas. We like to use Mustad’s Finesse hooks when using live bait. The hooks are light wire, but are manufactured using Aus Tempering – which keeps them strong even though they’re so thin. Use #2 hooks for minnows, #4 or #6 two hook harnesses for crawlers.
When walleyes are belly to the bottom in Great Lakes basins, target them with crankbaits put right in their faces. Try higher action baits like Hot-N-Tots and Deep ThunderSticks first and get progressively more subtle with Deep Jr. ThunderSticks, regular-size shallow ThunderSticks and ThunderStick Jrs.
For all of the trolling applications mentioned, make sure to take a look at using Berkley’s FireLine. It has several advantages for pulling crankbaits. First, since it is no- stretch you will be able to monitor the lures action – even though it might be several hundred feet behind the boat. Second it is thin diameter, so you can get 30 to 40% more depth from the diving crankbaits. Finally, for the trophies you’re after you won’t find a stronger line. Two years ago, Keith caught his largest walleye ever (15.8 pounds) on 6-2 FireLine (6 pound test, 2 pound diameter). For trolling use the 10-4 FireLine. If there is any problems with breaking off fish then we need to talk about how to fight big fish, not how catch big walleyes.
To really increase your odds of big fish contact, concentrate on big fish waters. Here’s a list: The Winnipeg River system in Canada near Pine City. Lake Tobin in Nipawin Saskatchewan. Missouri River system, both the mouth of the Cheyenne in Lake Oahe, South Dakota and at Oahe’s headwaters near the North Dakota/South Dakota state line; the Red River system in Manitoba.
Lake Michigan areas for big fish include Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, and Little Bay de Noc, Michigan. Lake Huron’s Saginaw Bay can be incredible near river mouths. The St. Louis River area of Lake Superior on the Wisconsin/Minnesota line and the deeper reefs of Lake Ontario near the Thousand Island area of New York or on Lake of the Woods in northern Minnesota. And, of course, there are dozens of areas in Lake Erie that fill the bill. And if you want a superb fishing vacation, try the night bite on Lake Winnibigoshish out of Judd’s Resort in Minnesota.
It really doesn’t take a lot more skill to catch big walleyes than it does small ones. It’s really just a matter of finding them and putting a big fish presentation in front of their faces. By targeting the above locations and bodies of water, your chances for a landing a trophy walleye will be improve dramatically.