I am always amazed, and more than a little amused, by the number of fishy myths and old wives' tales that persist and refuse to go away. And I am not talking about the obvious fairy tales, either. You know, like the one about pike: they're supposed to stop biting in the summer because they lose their teeth.
Instead, I am referring to the half-baked facts that have just enough veracity to ring true. Like the one that says walleyes are lazy, don't bite during the day and always swim with their bellies close to the bottom.
Well, if that is true, somebody better tell it to the big feisty beggars that were bending over buddy Tom VanLeeuwen's and my rod the other day.
We were trolling on one of our favourite Northwestern Ontario, Sunset Country walleye lakes and, if the truth were known, we barely got the boat into the water before the "crack of noon".
To make matters worse, the sun was beating down, the lake was flat calm and it was hotter than the hubs of Hades. These are the precise conditions that " advocates of the walleye-are-lazy-myth" would have you believe, require a stealthy approach, long rods, light lines, tiny jigs and live bait.
Well, guess what?
Tom fine-tuned the big Mercury tiller handled outboard so we were purring along at our favourite brisk, two-mile-an-hour speed and then we let out our lines towing big, aggressive, in-your-face-crankbaits. At one location, for three continuous hours, we did not make a single trolling pass without catching at least one walleye. Several times, we hooked doubleheaders.
We didn't keep an accurate tally -- heck, they were coming into the boat so quickly at times we couldn't keep score -- but we reckon we caught and released at least 40, probably 50, and more likely 60 plus walleyes.
Most were gorgeous, fat, 22- to 25-inch fish that weighed between four and five pounds. At least half a dozen stretched beyond 27 inches in length, the two biggest being fat, black and yellow, 30-inch, 10-pound plus eye poppers with heads so big we couldn't wrap our mitts around them.
And get this: I can't recall a single time -- not once - that my crankbait hit, banged or ricocheted off the bottom. As a matter of fact, most of the time we were intentionally trolling our Rapala DT-20s and Deep Diving Reef Runners out over open water - off the deep breaks and edges of points, bars and shoals -- where the bottom was sometimes still another 40 feet down.
So what gives?
Well, what gives is my favourite late summer open water trolling pattern for catching big, eye poppin' Ontario walleyes. The only thing it requires -- beyond some basic fishing gear that we'll discuss in a moment -- is an open mind, free of any preconceived notions about the walleye's good character.
Indeed, anytime you spot walleye on your sonar unit that is bunched up, concentrated and relating to the very top of structures, or the deepwater edges, they're suckers for a well-presented crankbait. So long as you keep a couple of important details in mind.
For example, each time Tom and I found a whack of walleyes schooled upon a structure, we threw out a marker buoy to precisely pinpoint the spot, so we could troll within a foot of two of it. And, we always noted the depth at which the fish were hovering. That way, we could pick crankbaits we knew would dive down to the critical depth.
By the way, on this point, if you're serious about trolling for walleye (or any other species for that matter) you need to get a copy of Mark Romanack's book, Precision Trolling. It's known as the "troller's bible" and I can attest to the fact there is not a walleye angler on any professional tournament trail that doesn't keep a copy with them at all times.
Indeed, there is a page devoted to almost every popular crankbait ever made, showing its diving curve, a graph illustrating how deep the lure is running when you let out anywhere from 1 to 250 feet of line.
After consulting the dive curves for Rapala DT-20 crankbaits and Deep Diving Reef Runners, Tom and I knew precisely how many lines we needed to let out. By the way, we were both using Shimano Tekota line counter reels, so keeping track of the distance, fine-tuning the length and then duplicating the results once we got dialled in was as easy as hitting the button and spooling out 144 feet of 10-pound test Fireline.
As a matter of fact, as much as I'd like to tell you that it took hard work and constant experimentation on Tom's and my part, I'd be lying. It was, instead, ridiculously simple after we landed the first couple of walleyes and locked ourselves into the pattern.
What amazed us, however, was the number of walleyes we caught after we had trolled across the top of a structure, headed out off the edge and strained the surrounding deep water. The walleyes were suspended off the sides, at the same depths as the tops of the features.
In other words, if the highest point on a reef, or an underwater point, was 24 feet, and we spotted a school of walleyes around it, we pulled our lures about two feet higher -- at 22 feet -- and then continued trolling at that depth even after we had passed over the structure and were venturing out over "no man's land".
Indeed, several times as we pulled our lures off the actual structure, we'd mark several big arcs, denoting giant suspended walleyes, prompting Tom to utter the refrain for which he is has become justifiably famous among his fishing friends.
"This won't take long," he said.
And it didn't!