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Walleye T-Time

Liam Whetter used a leadcore outfit with a line counter reel and a silver coloured F11 Rapala Minnow to catch this nice Northwestern Ontario walleye • Credit: Gord Pyzer
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Walleye T-Time

Tips to take advantage of this transitional time of year

Understanding why walleye transitioning away from their spring locations, on their way to their summer haunts could be one of the best fishing times of the year.

It's T-time right across Northern Ontario.

No, I am not talking about reserving a tee-time to play golf on one of the many fine courses that you will find across the Northern part of the Province. Nor am I suggesting you make a reservation to enjoy a cup of tea at one of the excellent restaurants and dining establishments.

Rather, it is Walleye T-Time, when the fish are transitioning away from their spring locations, on their way to their summer haunts. It is a time of the year that gives many walleye anglers fits. But, if you systematically search for the fish, you may discover, as I have, that it is one of the most fun fishing times of the year.

What is happening is a convergence of several factors that are enticing the fish to move away from the locations where we have been catching them since opening day, to structures and elements of cover where the fish will typically spend their summer vacations.

But it is not a quick, here-today-there-tomorrow sort of movement. Rather, it is like an all-you-can-eat-buffet where you tend to slowly graze among the overabundance of tasty food stations.

Indeed, on the weekend, when I was walleye fishing with my grandson, Liam, we started close to a well-known walleye spawning area. The same place we enjoyed what was probably my best seasonal opener in more than 40 years. 

Upon returning to the same general area on the weekend, however, it was quickly apparent that the fishing was only so-so. I noticed, too, that the water temperature had climbed well into the upper 60s, very close to 70° Fahrenheit in a couple of sections. That is a dead giveaway the walleyes are on the move to their summer haunts.

But, when I checked a few of our favourite mid-lake summer structures, the fishing there was no better, nor worse, than what we had experienced at the spring locations. Another giveaway that the fish are in transition.

Look for the walleyes, like this beauty that Liam Whetter caught on the weekend, around structures and cover on the transitional highway.

So, what did Liam and I do? 

We looked at the structures, underwater points, reefs and rock pikes, as well as cover elements like deep weedlines that were situated between where we've been catching the walleyes up until now, and where we know we will find them in another week or two.

In other words, the structures and cover along the transitional highway would entice the fish to pull over, rest for a while and enjoy a meal or two. 

Think of it this way: school is out for the season and you're heading to the summer cottage. But on your drive to the cabin, you pull over to get gas and enjoy a burger and cup of coffee at a highway pit stop. 

It is precisely what the walleyes are doing right now on nearly every lake, river, reservoir, pit and pond across Northern Ontario – from Lake Temiskaming, Lake Nipissing, and Abitibi Lake in Northeastern Ontario to Eagle Lake, Rainy Lake and Lac Seul in the Northwestern part of the province.

And while I like fishing around the structure and cover that you find along the migration routes – fish restaurants, I like to call them – if you look closely, you can often find giant size pods of walleye on the highways themselves.

It is why, at this transitional time of the year, your best strategy is often trolling, especially trolling tactics that employ bottom bouncers, crawler harnesses, lead core outfits, crankbaits, and snap jigging. Because you'll often find the fish spread out over fairly large flats, trolling lets you put your bait in front of far more fishes’ faces.

Liam and I found just such an extended school on the weekend and we enjoyed a lights-out walleye slugfest. 

We caught the first few walleyes trolling spinner rigs behind bottom bouncers adorned with Trigger X crawlers instead of real worms. The artificials are sweetly scented, so they appeal to the walleyes' olfactory senses. But more importantly, they are much more durable so you can often catch half a dozen or more fish without needing to put on another piece of bait. 

Trolling strategies involving bottom bouncers, crawler harnesses, lead core outfits, crankbaits and snap jigging are often your best bet to catch walleyes in transition at this time of the year.

Indeed, on the weekend, we'd often feel a walleye take a swipe at our spinner, miss the hook, and then feel either the same fish or another one grab the bait. If we had been using real crawlers, the first strike would have torn up the bait, necessitating a ton of wasted time re-rigging.

I should mention, too, that after we caught close to a dozen nice 'eyes pulling crawler harnesses, I dug out the lead core outfits with line counter reels and we pulled gold and silver coloured, 5-inch, F11 Rapala Minnows. It is a strategy I almost always adopt when I get into a school of better than average size walleyes because the bigger minnow imitations tend to select the biggest fish in the school.

This is what we proceeded to catch for the rest of the afternoon, as we interrupted the walleyes’ journeys, transitioning away from their spring locations to the summer cottage, with a stop over at the local highway restaurant. 

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