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Erie Walleyes: Kings of the Road
By Mark Brumbaugh
Lake Erie walleyes are certifiable nomads. They depart the reefs of
western basin in spring and circle the lake in a counterclockwise direction
to return come fall. The bad news is that the fish are never in the
place very long. The good news is that their patterns are highly predictable
based on water temperature and time of the month.
As a pro angler who fishes the In-Fisherman Professional Walleye Trail
Operation Walleye's RCL tournament circuit, I've competed in many tourneys
on Erie over the past decade, learning all about the wandering ways
big-water walleyes. While it¹s true that the here-today, gone-tomorrow
tendencies are tricky, it's a whole lot easier to follow the spring
you know the next steps in the progression from reef to open water
to crankbaits and spinners.
Where's the Reef?
In late March and early April, often when the water temperature is
the 30s, Erie's walleyes will stage near the reef complexes west of
Islands before the spawn. There they hang in 20 to 30 feet of water
sliding atop the reefs when the water gets into the low 40s.
You're in a precise spot in cold water, working jigs and spoons slowly
in the fishes' face. It seldom takes long to figure out if the fish are
there. Once my two
|Before the spawn, I look with my Pinpoint electronics for walleyes
hanging on the edges of the reefs. And before dropping a line, I motor
around at a slow speed, watching the liquid-crystal unit for blips of fish
tight to bottom. When I spot them, I head slightly upwind and drop anchor.
In a way,
how you fish on the edges of the reefs is similar to ice fishing.
partners in the boat caught three fish before I had even baited up.
|The best bets for prespawn walleyes around the reefs are jigs, spoons
|It's hard to beat a 1/4- to 3/8th-ounce Lindy Fuzz-E-Grub with a minnow.
Other options are Swedish Pimples baited with a minnow or Reef Runner Cicadas,
hard-strumming blade baits that excel in cold water. With blades, you can
lift the bait six to 12 inches and let fall, which is when most strikes
occur. Or, after pumping a Cicada and letting it fall, you can shake the
blade in place to trigger strikes.
The walleyes, however, can slip atop the reefs, spawn and depart in
often within the span of a couple of warm days and with the coming
full moon. One day you catch walleyes full of span, the next they've
their eggs. But on Erie, unlike many other places, the fish start biting
Going for a Troll
The next step is to follow the fish farther beyond the reefs to open
That¹s where the postspawn females chase bait with water temps
in the 40s,
cruising to the east and northeast toward the Bass Islands, while the
smaller males tend to stay on the reefs.
Again it's important to look for fish on your electronics in 30 or more
Mark Brumbaugh holding and early Erie Eye
of water and, when you spot them, to put lures in their face. If I¹m
fish or bait, I start by trolling lures right above them, since walleyes
feed moving up, not down. You might not spot the walleyes, however,
they¹re running high in the water column, a common occurrence
in April. Most
of the time, the way to figure out how high the walleyes are, particularly
when you¹re not marking them, is to start trolling for them. The
be anywhere from five feet under the surface.
The ones I run, though, are determined by water clarity. When it's muddy,
I turn to mud minnow, Texas red and copperhead; when extremely muddy, flame
or red hot tiger; when clear, Eriedescent, gray ghost, chrome blue and
cheap sunglasses. After a lot of time fishing with Reef Runners, trolling
them at 1.0 mph to 1.5 mph, I know that Reef Runners, with their big bills,
get down to 24 feet with 120 feet of Berkley 10-pound XT line out. Ripsticks
reach about 12 feet with the same amount of line; Deep Little Rippers dive
to 15 or so feet with120 feet of line out and 21 feet with 210 feet out.
|Crankbaits pulled slowly are my first choice right about now. Of all
the crankbaits out there, I have the most confidence in Reef Runners, Ripsticks
and deep-diving Little Rippers. The ones I run, though, are determined
by water clarity.
If crankbaits are a first choice, spinners with night crawlers are a
close second, particularly as water temperatures reach the high 40s and
low 50s. What's nice about spinners in spring is that you can pull them
at the same speed as your slow-moving crankbaits, which is about the only
time of year crank and spinner speeds coincide.
Whatever I'm trolling, I always impart start-and-stop motion to the baits
Off Shore Tackle OR-12
|To see which offering the fish prefer, I put crankbaits on my outside
Off-Shore planer boards, spinners on the inside boards. I get the spinners
down to depth with Off-Shore¹s handy Snap
Weights. Most of the time I choose No 4 to No. 7 blades, and sometimes
I drop spinners to bottom with a three- or four-ounce bottom bouncer. Be
sure to check the bottom after storms or spells of rough weather.
with S turns. So many of your strikes will come when the inside lures
down or the outside lures speed up, most likely from following fish.
side of the boat is outproducing the other, it's a clue to speed up
The bottom line is that Erie's walleyes demand constant adjustment.
knowledge of their movements from reefs to open water, it's possible
anticipate the highly predictable next steps in the big-water walleye's
wandering ways. For more information on great walleye fishing
you can also visit me at www.markbrumbaugh.com
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