Hopefully you've been pacing yourself this winter, and saving the best for last, because March and early April in Ontario -- depending on where you wet a line -- offer arguably the best walleye ice fishing of the winter.
I know I've seen the bite heating up here in the Northwestern part of the province the last few days, but it has been every bit as blistering hot across fish-filled Ontario. And I am talking about monster size walleyes, as well as numbers of fish.
How big is big?
Well, how about the giant 35.3-inch Bay of Quinte walleye that Grant McAllister recently hauled up to the surface that weighed a mind- boggling 14-pounds 10-ounces? It is a pending new world record in the catch-and-release division.
And get this: It was one of over two dozen walleyes that McAllister and his buddies caught that day, and while the behemoth is McAllister's new personal best, beating by 3-ounces his previous PB, he had no idea the goliath was a record breaker.
"I was on the ice at 6:30 am in the morning," says McAllister, "with good friends Keith Mallette, Rob Rizzuto and Cezar Spirala. We'd been on a good bite in the eastern end of the Bay of Quinte and were hoping it was going to continue."
"I'd set up in 29-feet of water, on one of my favourite big fish spots, in the hopes of intercepting some of the big ‘eyes that I was certain were cruising around. By 11:30 am we had landed 19 walleyes and missed a bunch more! In fact, the bite was so good, my 3/8-ounce Firetiger Glow PK Spoon looked like it had been through a war! Then, as typically happens, the bite slowed down. But, I was aware from other trips, that there is typically a short but ravenous window between 1:00 pm and 1:30 pm."
Ravenous indeed. When the lunch bell finally rang, McAllister marked what seemed to be a rather small fish on his Marcum LX9 sonar unit, suspended 16-feet below the ice. He quickly reeled up his lure to entice the walleye into biting and the mark grew bigger and bigger.
The rest, as they say, is history.
"The fish crushed my spoon," says McAllister. "When I set the hook I felt nothing but dead weight. That is when I knew this was possibly the walleye I'd been hunting for so many years. I screamed to Cezar that I needed help and he was there in a flash. After a brief but hefty fight, the beast was on the ice. That is when Cezar broke out the measuring tape and scale. It all happened within seconds and we quickly released the fish without issue. What a day!"
What a day, indeed.
But, McAllister's record breaking catch highlights something else. Comparing notes with several skilled anglers this winter, I've noticed that for some strange reason the walleyes haven't been turning on as frequently or as typically happens in the afternoon and evening. Instead, the morning period has been stellar.
Ditto, at mid-day.
Temagami area angler Brian Teal and Thunder Bay walleye hound, Dale Gaudry, for instance, make no bones about the fact that 10:00 am until 1:00 pm has been prime time for catching walleyes this winter.
"It is unusual," says Gaudry, "but it seems to be the same every time I've been out. Usually mid-day is slow for walleyes, but not this year. By the way, the Rapala Clackin' Rap has been the hot lure for me around the Thunder Bay area."
Buddy Don Pursch, who owns Nielsen's Fly-In Lodge, the world famous muskie resort on Northwestern Ontario's Rowan Lake agrees. Don says he has noticed the walleye bite heating up much earlier in the day this winter too, with many fish hitting his small silver Doctor spoon, tipped with a minnow head at high noon.
"Without a doubt," says southern Ontario's Pete Garnier. "Deep flats and basin areas have consistently produced a significant bite during the late morning and mid-day hours this winter. And the walleyes at this time of the day have been far more committed to hitting our lures. In the afternoon and evening, we had a lot of "lookers" but tripping their trigger has been a 50/50 proposition at best."
Sault Ste. Marie walleye wizard Adam Vallee has been seeing something similar, while catching scores of walleye in the bays and channels connected to Lake Huron.
"The bite has been different," says Adam. "Some days the fishing picks up before first light in the morning, while on other days the walleye don't seem to leave the bottom until a half hour before dark." By the way, Vallee says the major river systems around the Soo are where he has been finding his most consistent walleye action.
What is causing the walleye action to be more evenly spread throughout the day this winter seems to be additional ice and snow that is blocking light from penetrating the water column. Being crepuscular critters that become most active at dawn and dusk, it appears conditions below the ice this year are almost perfect from first to last light.
Indeed, while many of us have noticed the stellar dawn and mid-day bites this winter, friends Jacqueline Leigh Grundy, Wayne Christie, Stan Vlotaros and Steve Delyea have all relied on the last hour or two to ice their best catches.
"Twilight has become the main bite for me," says Delyea, who adds, "you can set your watch for shortly after 5:00 pm and in come the walleyes."
Vlotaros, who fishes structure-rich Rainy Lake agrees. Stan says, "The fastest action and the bigger fish are coming between 3:30 pm to 5:30 pm. The walleyes are following the schools of bait fish, as they come up on the reefs. When you see the cloud of minnows on your sonar screen -- get ready.
Get ready, indeed, because you just never know, when you drop your line down a hole in a lake in Ontario, if the next bite is a new world record walleye.