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A New Spin On Early Season Walleye

Northern Ontario walleye pro John Butts, who guided Luke Turcotte and Aidan Butts to this beauty, says a spinner rig works across Northern Ontario offering anglers the best walleye fishing in the world. • Credit: Gord Pyzer

Editor's Note: This article was originally published in late Winter - Early Spring of 2017. It's never too early to plan for Walley Opener in Ontario and is one of our favourite species! Try a spinner rig on your next trip.

While opening day of the walleye season across Northern Ontario is still a few weeks away, depending on where you fish, it's not too early to start planning for the big event, especially, now that the secret is out.

Indeed, as most Northern Ontario walleye veterans will tell you, few lures excel better at attracting and triggering the tastiest fish in freshwater to bite than a spinner rig dressed with a lively, vivacious minnow. It's a universal walleye presentation from Lake Nipissing, Lake Temiskaming and Horwood Lake in Northeastern Ontario clear across to Lac Seul, Eagle Lake and Wabigoon Lake in the Northwest.

By the way, I mention these last three specific walleye hotspots for two particular reasons. First, they're three of John Butts' favourite haunts. And if the name sounds familiar it is because Butts, who hails from nearby Dryden, Ontario is a veritable wizard in the walleye world, being only the second Canadian ever to win a tournament at the prestigious Professional Walleye Trail (PWT) level.

The second reason the trio of famous Sunset Country walleye waters stands out, however, is because they are so diverse in their physical makeup. Lac Seul, for example, is a mammoth reservoir with plenty of underwater structure and cover, including flooded timber, while Eagle Lake offers a mixed bag of just about everything, including a deep, crystal-clear basin full of lake trout, whitefish, and walleye in the far west end. 

Wabigoon Lake, on the other hand, is another pole apart, being much shallower in general, with a shoreline comprised of clay that gives the water a distinctive milky colour when the waves wash against the shoreline.

walleye-fishingLocate a knee-deep channel or the shallow water off the mouth of a creek, stream, or river and then troll a weightless spinner rig this spring, and you’ll be rewarded with walleyes, like this fish Aidan Butts caught in Northwestern Ontario’s Wabigoon Lake. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

You'd think that faced with such a diverse assortment of conditions and being forced to counter so many variables, Butts would stuff any number of arrows into his early-season walleye quiver. But he doesn't. Instead, he often relies on a single tried-and-true method that he was reluctant to divulge when I first interviewed him for a major magazine feature.

It's a trick you'd be wise to copy this year on your Northern Ontario spring walleye pilgrimage.

"I am not overly thrilled sharing this one," John chuckled when he finally agreed to spill the walleye-catching beans. "It is an early season method I use from Opening Day until the water heats up in mid-to late-June.

What Butts looks for on a map when he is planning a trip, as well as when he is out on the water fishing for walleyes, are all the small creeks, streams, and rivers that flow into the lake – especially the fertile deltas in front of them – as well as the shallow, knee-deep channels that connect neighbouring waters. And when I say shallow, I am talking about two to four feet deep. The places where most walleye anglers would never dream of wetting a line.

Now, remember those universal walleye spinner rigs I mentioned earlier? Butts fabricates his own, tricking them out so that they become even deadlier.

Spinner-rigsSpinner rigs reign supreme in the spring for catching Northern Ontario walleyes, like this beauty that Aidan Butts landed while fishing with his dad, elite walleye angler John Butts. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

He starts by tying a #2 or #4 Tru-Turn hook to the end of a 36- to 48-inch long length of 12- to 15-pound test monofilament or fluorocarbon line. By the way, Butts favours the Tru-Turn hooks because they offer a slightly longer shank that separates the lip-hooked minnows he uses for bait from the rest of the rig.

After attaching the hook, Butts slides six beads – four orange and two chartreuse – down the line. Then he completes the spinner by adding a tiny #2 or #3 silver Indiana blade at the head of the rig.

Butts confessed that this spinner rig has worked wonders for him in every walleye lake he has fished across the Northern Ontario landscape, to which he is quick to add offers visiting anglers the best walleye fishing in the world.

But it is how Butts trolls his spinner in the early part of the season that bears attention. He fishes it without adding any weight to his line, keeping the rig 40 to 50 feet behind the boat.

And get this: the personable pro says that he always places his rods – he prefers 8 1/2- to 10-foot sticks – into rod holders, and he never uses his electric trolling motor to power the boat, insisting that you'll catch far more walleyes with a small kicker outboard putting along at a speed of one mile an hour.

walleye-opener From the season opener in May, until the end of June, few presentations beat trolling a weightless spinner in shallow water in Northern Ontario. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

You'd think the noise of even a quiet outboard would spook the fish in such shallow water (remember, Butts prefers to troll in waist-deep water), but he thinks the noise flushes out the walleyes that are sitting in any depressions or nestled up against clumps of weeds, submerged logs or isolated boulders.

"When I first developed the technique," Butts confesses, "if another boat ever came by, I'd turn off the kicker and act as if I was casually eating lunch. Once the boat was out of sight, however, I'd go back to catching fish. As a general rule, you'll catch three walleyes trolling this way compared to everyone you'll catch jigging. And it is a big fish technique too, not just a numbers game."

Words of wisdom to keep in mind, when you open the season this spring, walleye fishing in Northern Ontario.

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