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Have Your Walleye Cake and Eat It Too

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Have Your Walleye Cake and Eat It Too

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The rods and cones in a walleye's eyes allow it to see in the dark and detect colours such as green, orange and yellow

Double your action while ice fishing for Walleye in Northern Ontario.

Walleyes, yellow perch, and Northern Ontario.  Now that's an unbeatable combination.



Some things go together naturally, like ham and eggs, peaches and cream, pancakes and maple syrup. 

Oh, and yes – walleyes and yellow perch.

In fact, the fishy twosome is such a classic pairing that first-year biology students are taught about the classic relationship in the same way drama students study Romeo and Juliet.

Consider the connection.

As the largest member of the perch family, walleyes are famous for their enormous eyes, among the largest of any animal on earth in relation to their body size.  But it is the almost eerie, light-reflecting tapetum lucidum, formed within the cells of the retinal pigment, that gives Northern Ontario's most popular fish species the ability to see better in dark, dingy, night-like conditions than in bright, clear daytime situations.

The reflective, disco ball-like coating at the back of a walleye's eyes starts forming when the fish is tiny and continues spreading rapidly. As a result, by the time a young walleye reaches four or five inches in length, the rods and cones in its eyes have been rearranged so that it can not only see better in the dark, making it negatively phototactic, but it can also detect certain colours more positively.  Especially hues such as green, orange and yellow.

At first light in the morning and last light in the evening, walleyes like this one that Liam Whetter hooked in Lake of the Woods, become active and feed more intensely

By contrast, yellow perch are much smaller than walleyes and, lacking the tapetum lucidum, are positively phototactic. In other words, they are visual feeders that see better, and are thus more active during the daylight hours.

Now, consider the possibilities.

On the one hand, we have a large fish eating predator that sees better in dimly lit conditions and is stimulated by certain specific colours. On the other hand, we have a close relative sharing many of the same habitat requirements that is most active during the day and cannot see well at night. Oh yes, and those smaller, tasty, walleye morsels are dressed in green, yellow, and orange-coloured robes.

I am sure you can see where I am heading with this. 

Every day, at first light in the morning, last light in the evening, and whenever it is cloudy, overcast, or the water is murky, walleyes become active and feed more intensely, while yellow perch become inactive and drop down to the bottom to rest.

It's then that predator meets prey in one of the most classic overlapping relationships in the animal kingdom. And it is something you can't afford to miss out on if you're ice fishing in any one of the thousands of walleye lakes across Northern Ontario.

Yellow perch are "positively phototactic," which means they are most active in the middle of the day.

As a matter of fact, my heart skips a beat whenever I am ice fishing for walleyes and I start catching yellow perch. Actually, it skips a couple of beats, because jumbo yellow perch are a delight to catch on their own, but knowing that they're frequenting the underwater point, bar, shoal or reef that I am fishing usually means that walleye aren't far away.

It is a poignant lesson I have been enjoying lately with my grandson, Liam, while we have been ice fishing on several lakes in Northwestern Ontario.

Setting up in the early afternoon, we've been enjoying a steady yellow perch bite by jigging 1/8-ounce chartreuse and orange coloured ReelBait Flasher jigs tipped with small salted emerald shiner minnows. Occasionally, a brighter red arc will float across the sonar screen and a bonus walleye will gulp down the jig meant for its smaller cousins.

By the time the sun drops down to rest on the horizon, however – around 4:45 in the afternoon these days – we usually detect a short lull in the action. It is the dead giveaway that the perch are having trouble seeing our baits in the diminishing light and are dropping down to the bottom to rest away the night.

Walleyes, yellow perch, and Northern Ontario – talk about an unbeatable combination.

It is also the signal to pick up our heavier-action walleye rods, spooled with 8- to 10-pound test Sufix Fuse line and short two-foot long 6- to 8-pound test Maxima Ultragreen monofilament leaders.  We've been tying on either a #7 Rapala Jigging Rap, #6 Snap Rap or 3-inch Kamooki Smartfish.

As for the best colour, I bet you can guess what it has been – but in case you can't, it has been either yellow perch, green tiger, orange tiger, firetiger, or hot perch.  Anything, so long as it has plenty of green, yellow, and orange and mimics the pattern of a perch.

And just like clockwork, the short lull has been predictably followed by a torrid walleye bite, as day gives way to night and hordes of eerie-eyed predators sweep up and over the same structures on which the perch have been frolicking, devouring their hapless cousins like they are so many salty pistachio nuts spilled on the kitchen table.

Walleyes, yellow perch and Northern Ontario.  Now that's an unbeatable combination.

As Gord Pyzer, shown here with a Sunset Country walleye will tell you, the colour of your lure doesn't matter, so as long as it is yellow, green, and orange and looks like a perch.

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