Variety of techniques can help fishermen creel walleyes
Be versatile. Multitask. Do more with less.
That's the advice you hear these days when it comes to staying alive in business. It turns out those same thoughts apply to walleye fishing.
Walleyes became legal to harvest May 4 — you're allowed to keep six a day, provided they're at least 15 inches long — and the experts agree that if you want to bring any home, you'd better be able to adapt.
“To be successful consistently in walleye fishing, you've got to use a multitude of techniques,” said Pat Byle of Milwaukee, a top pro angler on the National Walleye Tour.
Early in the season, from the spawn until the water warms significantly and when walleyes are concentrated, jigging is the way to go, Byle said.
“Pitching jigs or vertical jigging is my favorite way to fish,” he said. “It can be effective in current, around dams, in slack water, near shore. You can fish a lot of structure in different parts of a river by jigging.”
If he's drifting with current, he uses a jig “just heavy enough to keep your line vertical while you're moving,” he said. If he's pitching, he wants a jig between ¼ and 3⁄8 ounces. He uses natural colors like silver, blue, black and green on clear or stained water and bright colors like chartreuse, white, orange and yellow in turbid water.
Jigs pitched toward shoreline structures — the same kinds of places bass anglers would target — can be especially effective if tipped with live bait, said Scott Gates of S&S Bait and Tackle in Chalk Hill.
“A lot of guys tip their jig with a nightcrawler or, more often, even just a piece of a nightcrawler,” Gates said. “Sometimes the fish don't want the whole thing. They just want the head or the tail. You've got to let the fish tell you.”
Minnows fished below a bobber also can be good.
Mike Walsh, a waterways conservation officer for the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission in Allegheny County, boated a dozen walleyes in just a couple of hours on the Allegheny River one morning last week.
Using 6-pound test and a single size-8 hook, he had a minnow 6 feet below his bobber.
“I'd cast it out and let it sit for 10 or 15 minutes, letting the river take it wherever it would. Then I'd reel it in real slow. About half of the time, they were hitting on the retrieve,” Walsh said.
He said he checked several other anglers fishing in a similar fashion who boated limits of walleyes on the river.
Later in the season, after the spawn and when the water warms, trolling takes precedence. Some anglers use crawler harnesses, which are a set of tandem hooks baited with a worm — or better yet, half a worm — behind a spinner blade. Others troll crankbaits.
In all cases, the key is to be methodical until you find the fish, said Keith Eshbaugh of Dutch Fork Custom Lures in Claysville and a former walleye pro. He starts out trolling in water up to 10 feet deep, then moves to water 11 to 20 feet and then 21 feet and deeper until he gets into the walleyes.
“You divide the water into three columns. The fish are going to be in one of them, so it's a process of elimination,” Eshbaugh said. “Basically you're eliminating water to find the best bite.”
There are many local waters where it would be worth your time to try those techniques. The Fish and Boat Commission lists the Allegheny River among the state's top walleye fisheries, and, indeed, the two biggest walleyes reported caught last year came from it. Greg Paul of Leechburg caught a 12-pound, 10-ounce walleye on a white jig, while Edward Dunmyre of Oakmont caught a 12-pounder on a Roostertail.
The commission also has Lake Erie, Pymatuning Lake and Lake Somerset on its list of “Pennsylvania's best” walleye waters. Lake Arthur, Yough Dam, Green Lick Lake, High Point Lake, Yellow Creek Lake and Cross Creek Lake are likewise good bets, said commission biologist Rick Lorson.
This is about the best time to be fishing, too. Walleye catch rates rise dramatically in May and peak in June on lakes, according to commission statistics.
Walleye fishing on rivers, meanwhile, is traditionally as good this month as it's going to be until October.
The key is to get out there and be flexible, Byle said.
“One thing I know, and I've been doing this professionally since 1992, is that I never have figured it out completely,” he said. “Just when you think you've seen it all, you learn something new.”