Trophy Walleye

Lake Erie's Western Basin

It is often said that in order to catch big fish you have to fish big water. That might be the first mistake many anglers would make. Sometimes skinny water will hold a trophy of a lifetime. But, for argument sake let's take a look at both so we can start a search for trophy walleyes.
From about the beginning of May I like to fish Lake Erie. Lake Erie's Western Basin is the place that I like to start. The basin is shallow only about 35 feet in depth and the walleyes move up into the shallow water in the spring of the year. It's not uncommon to catch a couple hundred walleyes a day trolling crankbaits on segmented lead core line or using a bottom bouncer to take your monofilament and live bait offerings down to the walleyes. The walleyes in Erie travel in large suspended schools and when you find them you will have your hands full, reeling in large walleyes from 7 to 12 pounds. This is trophy walleye fishing at its best.

 The area that I like to fish is around the Bass Islands. There are plenty of places that I can get out of the wind on those hard blowing days on Erie and sometimes I can get into some trophy smallmouth fishing, that is always a bonus.
The presentation is usually in the form of crankbaits like the Glass Shad Rap or a Rapala Tail Dancer trolled along varying depths and speeds until I see a cloud of baitfish on my Bottom Line depth finder. When I find the baitfish slightly below and behind, I will find the monster walleyes. Keep track of the depth at where the fish are, and you are set on a trolling pattern for Erie.
Many anglers like to use live bait when fishing for Erie walleyes as well. Weight forward spinners have been used for many years and they are extremely effective. I like to use Lindy Little Joe spinners on about a 4 foot snell trolled behind a 2 to 3 ounce bottom bouncer. This allows me to move the live bait up or down in the strike column when I discover the depth at which the walleyes are feeding.
Moving just a short distance to the Sandusky and Maumee rivers in Ohio I like to be there for the spawning run in the spring.
I like to long line these fish in the shallows, because they are spread out over a large area. Walleyes can be found in shallow water at any time, but are likely to be in there during low-light conditions, like dusk, dawn, cloudy days and the no-light conditions of night. Sometimes they will be found tightly grouped on shallow structure, but usually they are scattered.
A walleye may be taken here, another there and another 30 yards away. When the fish are schooled, a casting approach is the best method of presentation. But when they are scattered, trolling is by far the most effective.
When trolling the shallows, I use a Minnkota Maxxum bowmount 101 lbs. of thrust system. This system gives me the power to tame the rough water or pound through heavy vegetation, and take the pounding that day after day of hard fishing delivers. This is an essential tool when trolling shallow water and when want to be quiet. When trolling use floating Rapalas in the No. 7 or 9 size. Fish may be aggressive and will quickly respond to this larger-sized bait.
If the fish are spooky, however, it is necessary to get the bait a great distance behind the boat. Walleyes have a short memory and a boat going overhead will make them wary, but a bait 75 to 100 feet behind will be real attractive.
The same approach of long lining can also be used not to far away is Sturgeon Bay located off Lake Michigan near the town of Sturgeon Bay in Wisconsin. Here night fishing is probably the best for trophy walleyes. Crankbaits are the lure of choice, but many fish are also taken with jigs and live bait rigs. The additional bonus here is sometimes you hook into a salmon and that makes the trip very memorable.
For the really serious angler who wants to catch the largest trophy walleye the Rainy River on the border of Ontario and Minnesota is the place to be in the early season. All the elements are there. Fish are congregated in the river staging to make a move into Lake of the Woods and they are full of spawn and heavy in weight. In fact, there are so many large walleyes in this confined area that they are literally "stacked in there like cord wood". Walleyes can be taken with a jig and minnow combination or crankbaits can be trolled, the presentation is up to you. I prefer an 1/8 ounce Lindy Max-Gap jig tipped with a redtail chub and believe me I have taken and released a number of fish over the 10 lb. mark. The bonus fish here is the Sauger. These underwater neighbors of the walleye are cousins and they grow large in the Rainy River, not quite as large as the walleye, but fight and table fare they are equal to their cousins.
Don't overlook area lakes, rivers, farm ponds, or creeks that run by your house or are just down the road. Just spend time on or near the water. Trophy walleyes can be loners or travel in schools according to size and sex. Next time you hear people talking about big water and big fish, tell them you know that searching for trophy walleyes can be almost anywhere.

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