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Timing Clear Water Walleyes

When water is clear, big walleyes like this beauty, tend to behave like the lake trout. • Credit: Gord Pyzer

A wise man once observed that there are only two certainties in life -- death and taxes. Well, I've got news for him -- there is a third. When you write a blog about catching huge walleyes through a hole in the ice in a lake in Northern Ontario -- as I did recently -- you can be certain you're going to be flooded with a flurry of questions, comments and observations.

lake troutIn lake trout-type waters, walleyes tend to concentrate their feeding around sunset, with small and medium-size fish being the first to arrive. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

Indeed, that blog spawned a host of inquiries, many of them centred on the best way to catch big Ontario walleyes in deep lakes characterized by clear water. The kind of waterways that are more commonly associated with lake trout than walleye.

And it is a great question, too, for several reasons.

Sunset Country walleye Late afternoon and early evening is prime time to catch walleyes like this 8-pound beauty nabbed by Winnipeg, Manitoba native Tom VanLeeuwen who was fishing, appropriately enough, in Northwestern Ontario’s Sunset Country. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

The most important being that these gin-clear, lake trout-type lakes usually harbour the very biggest walleyes. Double-digit behemoths in the 10-, 11-, even 12-pound plus class. As a matter of fact, I caught what was until recently, my personal best winter walleye, through a hole in the ice in Northeastern Ontario's famous Lake Temagami. And if the truth were known, it was a "lucky catch" because I was jigging for lake trout at the time.

And therein lies one of the key strategies to successfully home in on eye-popping walleyes. It pays to fish for them just as you would if you were targeting the trout with which they often share the same water. The reason, of course, is that both species are usually gorging on the same forage -- roving schools of ciscoes, smelt and shiners.

In the darker, stained, more typical walleye lakes of Northern Ontario lakes -- Lake Nipissing and Lake of the Woods are two classics that come to mind -- walleye typically pursue the plentiful yellow perch populations. Indeed, the walleye/perch predator/prey relationship is a classic study for first-year biology students.

Northern Ontario walleye Northern Ontario likely hosts more lakes with walleye, like this Northwestern Ontario Sunset Country beauty, caught recently by Liam Whetter, than anywhere else on earth. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

But, perch relate to the bottom of most lakes, whereas ciscoes, smelt and shiners tend to be pelagic, roaming in schools throughout the water column. It is why many times during the winter, I'll spot a mark in the middle of the water column on my Humminbird sonar unit, reel up my lure quickly to the same level and feel a big high flying walleye smack it.

As a matter of fact, it happened so frequently one day late last winter when World Fishing Network (WFN) Television host, Mark Melnyk, and I were jigging in 75-feet of water, filming a show focussed on whitefish, that we had to move from the spot. The big walleyes were actually distracting us from our duties.

The things you're forced to do some days, in order to shoot a television show.

By the way, the fact these high flying walleye are typically targeting substantial size silvery ciscoes, smelt and shiners tells you plenty about your lure selection. If forced to fish with only two baits, one would be a Half & Half Nuwrinkle Williams Nipigon spoon with a smelt head adorning the treble hook. The other would be a number 8 Rapala Snap Rap in glow tiger finish.

Last, but by no means least, you can often set your watch on when these giant clear water 'eyes will arrive on your favourite underwater point, reef, bar or shoal, that being 30 minutes prior to the sun hitting the horizon in the afternoon.

It is why I like being on the spot, with my holes drilled, covering depths from the deep, outside edge to the shallow structure top, before the witching hour.

baitfish luresLures that imitate silvery baitfish like ciscoes, smelt and shiners are using tops for catching walleyes in clear water lakes across Northern Ontario. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

Typically, what you see happen is that when the sun finally rests on the tree line, you spot the fish arriving on your sonar screen. Just don't be surprised if the advance party is comprised of 15-, 16- and 17-inch 'eyes. Maybe even a little smaller. But, then "rush hour" arrives and the bigger dudes show up like clockwork when the sun drops out of sight.

Right now, the frenzy of activity is lasting for about 30 to 45 minutes, until it's too dark to see and the bite peters out. But in a few more weeks, at the tail end of the season, it will often last for an hour or more, as the fish filter up and over the structure, leaving you with a smile stretching from one ear to the other.

Such is the winter ways of the wonderful walleyes living in the deep, clear lakes of Northern Ontario.

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