Those who want to put their bow, shotgun or rifle down for a day and pick up rods have a good chance of hooking up with the major ingredients of a tasty walleye dinner.
The anglers I’ve seen braving the elements on several local lakes and rivers say they’ve been catching ‘eyes. These walleye anglers are somewhat of a secretive group and aren’t easy to get information from, but when you catch a pair of them when they first come off the water and they have eight nice walleyes on the bottom of their boat, they’ll usually give you some information.
That’s exactly what I did last Tuesday afternoon at the Saratoga Boat launch. I didn’t really get a location of where they caught the fish other than “here and there,” but they told me what they were using, which was evidenced from their rods laying in the boat. If you are willing to get up well before sunup or go out on the water late in the afternoon, here’s the way to do it.
Fishing this time of year requires warm dry clothing, and nothing beats the layering system. Start with the long johns, a heavy wool or flannel shirt, hooded and lined sweatshirt and a good windproof jacket. For pants, jeans work fine, but bring along heavy water/wind-proof coveralls. If you wear regular clothes and they get wet, you’ll get cold and that will quickly end your fishing day.
Footwear will depend on what you like. I prefer waterproof shoes/boots. Rod-and-reel fishing with gloves can be clumsy, so I wear a warm left-hand glove and one with the fingers cut on the other.
The last and most important piece of clothing that must be worn is a personal floatation device (PFD). It’s the law. From Nov. 1 to May 1, all boaters on a recreational watercraft less than 21 feet in length, including motorboats, must wear PFDs. This regulation includes anyone on the water for any purpose.
START WITH WEEDS
All walleye anglers have their own special techniques, but many of them overlap. One thing they all seem to agree on is that November is the best time for the big ‘eyes which are usually female. If the weed beds are still green, those are very good starting areas and should be worked in and out of their turns, pockets and points.
Several years ago, while walleye fishing with a guide in Cape Vincent, where the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario meet, we were catching big walleyes in very shallow waters. At times, we were actually sight-fishing for those we saw cruising in just a few feet of water. I actually saw and caught two four- to five-pounders on a Husky Jerk bait that I watched hit the lure. These fish move in and out of these areas all day long.
In rivers, the ‘eyes can be found in deeper holes, 10-20 feet, around channel dropoffs and the deeper water on outside of the river bends. They can also be found in logs or downed trees and current breaks. Non-boaters have been catching walleye for years right off the Lock walls on the Mohawk River. For the river walleyes, especially when fishing from shore, use a heavy jighead to get your lure/bait down on or near the bottom. Tip the jigs with either night crawlers or medium shiners. Make long casts and retrieve with a slow jigging/hopping up and down motion. The hit usually will come as the lure is dropping. If there’s current, you can also try a lighter jighead with the worm/live bait and cast it up river and let it drift freely into the break or calm water.
As these cold days continue and water temperatures fall, walleyes tend to become more sluggish and therefore fishing for them requires a slower presentation. This is a good time to cast a big fat crankbait out and use a slow, wobbling retrieve. Cast into the shallows and retrieve out into deeper water. A glob of big night crawlers or leeches (if you can get them) attached to a Junebug spinner also will entice them when slow-trolled.
Trolling is the best way to cover a lot of water. There are a lot of choices when it comes to lures/bait, especially during the day. One method we used at Cape Vincent was back trolling. The boat is maneuvered also against the current or wind at the same speed as the water. The boat remains in a constant position with the lures/bait situated downstream to the lead of the boat. The lure/bait should be about 18 inches from the bottom weight. This method allows contact and control to be maintained, and eliminates tangled lines. This is a very effective way to present offerings, and if a school of ‘eyes is found, the boat can easily be kept in the area. The biggest walleye I’ve ever caught weighed eight pounds, two ounces, and came on the trip to Cape Vincent while back-trolling.
Take a day off from hunting this weekend and try to get hooked up with a big ‘eye. There are three very good walleye waters in our backyard: the Great Sacandaga Lake, Saratoga Lake and the Mohawk River. And don’t forget that PFD!
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