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Northern Ontario's 2014 'Eye Opener

Briskly retrieving a Mepps spinner through the warm surface waters will nab plenty of Northern Ontario walleye like this beauty. • Credit: Gord Pyzer
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Northern Ontario's 2014 'Eye Opener

A warm spring put a twist on the walleye opener

Editor's Note: This article was first published in Spring 2014. Although from a few years ago, the fishing tips, techniques and gear recommended by the author are still relevant today. Enjoy!

Can you believe the glorious weather we've been enjoying across virtually all of Northern Ontario since the walleye season opened two weeks ago?

It is as though we've completely bypassed spring and leap frogged straight into summer, with the air temperature many days reaching or exceeding 80ºF / 27ºC.

Not surprisingly, the walleye action has similarly heated up; although, with a very neat, new twist. And, something, I have to confess, I've never seen. At least not to this intensity.

How so?

Well, believe it or not, for the past two weeks we've been sight fishing schools of walleye in ultra-shallow, knee- and waist-deep water. And the fish have been exhibiting belligerent behaviour, totally out of character for post-spawn walleye.

Indeed, we've been spotting packs of white-tail-tipped perch roaming just under the surface of the water, sometimes less than a foot or two down. And if you cast a lure just ahead of the fish, or off to one side, you can watch them spot the bait, rush over and then bite it with the ferocity of a mean junk yard dog. As a matter of fact, they've been hitting the lures with such intensity they feel like northern pike or bass slamming the baits.


Unlike most early seasons in Northern Ontario, when the water temperature warms up slowly and steadily, this year it has shot up in many areas more than 20ºF or 10ºC in a matter of days. As a result, instead of circulating gradually throughout the water column, it has warmed the upper layer much more quickly.

Anglers, like young Liam Whetter, are catching walleyes in shallow water right now, even up near the surface, in lakes right across Northern Ontario. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

Being sensitive critters preferring water temperatures in the mid-60s Fahrenheit (high teens Celsius) the walleyes have found the shallow, near-surface zone perfectly to their liking. So they're feeding with gusto.

And instead of lying with their bellies nudging the bottom, they are cruising like sharks -- well, almost like sharks -- with their dorsal fins scraping the surface.

Another key to the pattern has been finding a sheltered, wind-protected bay or cove close to a recent spawning area; although, a couple of times yesterday, when I was fishing with my 11-year old grandson Liam, it didn't take much of a shoreline irregularity or indentation to house a huge school of fish.

Wish I could say too that I had to use all my cunning to painstakingly develop a secret presentation, but it hasn't been the case either. Indeed, the fish are seemingly hitting anything you throw their way, although a trio of presentations is excelling.

Bait and Gear

The first is a 1/4-ounce jighead like the ReelBait Flasher that features a tiny willow leaf blade beneath the head and hook. I think the flash of the blade is first catching the walleyes' attention and then exciting them to bite. And, as so often is the case when walleye are feeding this aggressively, soft plastic dressings -- the best has been either a 3 1/2 or 4 1/2-inch chartreuse and orange coloured Trigger X paddletail minnow or a 3-inch UV black/yellow Mister Twister Sassy Shad -- are far out producing live minnows.

Perch-coloured swimbaits like the X-Zone Swammer and Bass Magnet Shift'R Shad pinned to a 1/4- or 3/8-ounce Freedom Tackle jig have also been duping scores of big walleyes for us. The key, however, has been keeping the lures up off the bottom, and swimming them at a good clip through the middle and upper portions of the skinny water column.

And talk about eye-opening presentations that have been piquing the fish to flex their jaw muscles this spring, a #3 Mepps Aglia spinner retrieved briskly through the water column has resulted in arm jolting strikes.

Indeed, I was comparing notes this morning with buddy John Monteith, who runs Kenora-based Fish Hunters Guide Service on Lake of the Woods (807-468-4766) and John was telling me about steering a group of clients from Toronto on the weekend to more than 40 walleye up to 8 pounds in weight and the only lure he tied on their spinning rods was a Mepps spinner.

I know it sounds different -- totally atypical to most early-season walleye fishing patterns -- but this season has arrived in a much different fashion.

So, whether you're fishing for walleyes in Northeastern Ontario in the Timmins, Cochrane, Temagami or North Bay area, around Sault Ste. Marie or along the north shores of Lake Huron or Lake Superior, or in my Northwestern Ontario Sunset Country backyard, don't be afraid to step outside your comfort zone this spring and show the walleyes something a little different.

It could be a real 'eye-opener!

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