A Thanksgiving to Remember

As any fisherman or outdoor enthusiast knows, weather can define a fishing day, weekend or trip. Weather is fickle. It can be beautiful one moment and brutal the next. It can be heavenly, spontaneous, unpredictable or downright cruel. As Mark Twain wrote if you don’t like the weather, just wait a few minutes. The contrast in conditions between last weekend and this Thanksgiving weekend certainly gives his words true meaning.

Last week a friend of mine sent me a last minute invite and despite the pelting rain, 20-30K East wind and cold I felt a little onset of cabin fever and decided to accept the offer. I threw on my rain-gear over thermal underwear and a warm hoodie and made my way to our meeting spot at the ramp. We found areas to fish in tucked in behind the shelter of islands (fishing the open water would have been downright dangerous) and did very well all things considered. However after a few hours of constant rain, wind, waves and frozen fingers I was definitely happy to head home to a warm shower. I suppose there is a sense of satisfaction to be gained from battling it out in fierce conditions, but I’d trade it in for 26C and sunny any day of the week.

Fast forward to this past Thanksgiving weekend and you would think you travelled in time back to July. Donning shorts and t-shirts, we were now looking at relatively calm waters and a warm breeze. I jokingly asked my guests if they’d rather fish or water-ski. It was absolute heaven. The only hints revealing the true time of year were the short days, colourful foliage and flocks of geese. Now, let’s not confuse things here. Nice weather doesn’t necessarily mean good fishing; far from it. However, there are times when the stars align; when you do get to have your cake and eat it too and when you do get the best of both worlds. Two of my guests found this out over the weekend with their personal best walleyes and steady action amidst a setting fit for the gods.

I’ve been off the water for a few weeks with a bad back so I started working areas that produced fish for me last time I was out, which was about 3 weeks ago. My eagerness dissipated when I realized spots that produced so well mere days ago were bone dry. I had some catching up to do. I spent the first few hours of the weekend searching for fish. Walleyes are a strange bunch (not sure what that says bout walleye fishermen), one minute you can’t keep your lure away from them and they seem to be everywhere you expect them to be. The next, it’s like you’re fishing the Dead Sea. Staying on the fish requires a lot of time and persistence and if you’re a weekend angler like me, this can get tricky. Even though it can be discouraging when the fishless hours pile up you have to keep going. Walleyes can’t just leave the lake. They are always somewhere and they have to eat at some point. After fishing 2-3 spots without as much as a hint of a fish, I stopped, looked around and asked myself what had changed since the last time I was out.

I figured the most dramatic difference was water temperature. In the spring, the shallow bays, creeks and small rivers warm first. In the fall, the reverse process occurs. When the longer, cooler nights prevail in late September going into October the water starts to cool off in the shallows and the deeper basin maintains warmer temperatures longer. Water takes more time than air to change temps, and the more of it you have, the longer it will take to cool down or warm up. Picture your typical creek or large shallow bay or small river mouth for example. These areas are usually good congregating places for baitfish and in turn predators in the spring because they warm faster. In the fall, the opposite happens. The weeds die off, the water in the shallows cools faster than the main lake, so logically the fish move deeper. This doesn’t mean you won’t find fish shallow, but you are more likely to find schools of fish in or near deeper water. Find good structure nearby where they can come up and feed are you’re likely closing in on walters. Another way to picture this phenomenon is to imagine a shallow bowl filled with warm water. If you put it in the freezer the water in the middle stays warmer longer as the edges cool off and freeze up first. If you take the same bowl, fill it with ice cold water and put it in the oven the deeper water in the middle will remain cold longer and the water on the edges will warm faster. The same thing happens in every lake, every year, but obviously on a much smaller scale.

This doesn’t mean you can only find fish in deep water, but it does mean fish tend to school up in areas where deep water is readily accessible. As soon as I started focusing on structure adjacent to deep water the fishing picked up in a big way. The first spot I checked out, basically a large deep basin with a rock pile topping at 25 feet in the middle of it, I immediately found walleyes. They were schooled up very tightly around the edges and they were on the feed. Once I scattered the fish on that rock pile I looked at my map and tried to find other spots that offered the same type of characteristics (deep water and nearby structure). I started getting fish on every spot I tried all at about the same depth. Once this happened, it became a matter of fine tuning the right presentation and enjoying the action. I had the blueprint for a pattern.

Now that we’d found the fish, it was time to worry about the business end of things. The key to getting fish to bite this time of year is to slow it down. Whether you opt for a horizontal or vertical presentation you can’t be moving slow enough. I remember reading about a “do nothing” jigging technique in a magazine a while back. The author used 3” tubes on ¼oz jigs in the fall for bass and literally let his jig sit there on the bottom and waited for the fish to bite; kind of like fishing with live bait. I’ve had great success using this technique for bass in the past and I now know it works with my Percidaed friends too. Basically you need to treat your jig like it’s a live worm or minnow. This is what I tell my guests. The “do nothing” technique is really easy for anyone to master. As long as you feel contact with the bottom the rest is simple. You do nothing. I use the current and my trolling motor to ensure my line remains as vertical as possible and stay on top of the fish. Choose a jig that allows you to maintain bottom contact and work the area very slowly. If you have a transom mount sonar it’s a huge help. I have a sonar unit mounted in the front of my boat specifically for jig fishing and I couldn’t do without it. By the way, don’t worry about using jigs up to 1/2 or 3/4 even 1oz if the conditions dictate a need for it. Walleyes will suck ’em up like candy despite the fact that they look heavy enough to be used as anchors.

When people ask me what time of year I like best my answer is quick and easy; fall. As cottagers slowly but surely store away their boats, the air cools and the leaves change, fall consistently provides some of the year’s most memorable moments at the lake. Not only are the fish putting on a feed for the winter, but the air is invigorating, the colours breathtaking and the overall experience well worth the effort. The weather isn’t always in the record breaking range we had this weekend, but with the right clothing you can always be comfortable. Many people reject the idea of a weekend at the lake after the first few strong frosts and that means quieter times in a beautiful setting for those of us who don’t. So invite your friends and family and head out to the lake this fall. Make sure you bring plenty of firewood, warm clothes, a camera and more importantly your sense of adventure. I promise you won’t be disappointed. Oh and don’t forget to wet a line, you may even be rewarded with a personal best walleye.

Until next time…Stay outside.

Jigger.

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28.5 inch Personal Best in 2011

This walter had a face that looked like it could swallow a bass whole. It was one of many fish caught in a very quick afternoon of fishing, mid-day, sunny September. Definitely my best outing this year by far. If this doesn’t get your blood pumping as a walleye angler, you’re in the wrong business. Looks like I have my work cut out for me before ice up to better this catch. Stay tuned…

Until next time, Stay Outside, Jigger.

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Summer in September and Rogue Walleyes.

It’s no secret that when it comes to successful walleye fishing, location is one of, if not the most important factor. You wouldn’t believe the amount of times I’m asked about where the walleyes are. Those who know me know I’m not overly secretive about spots, though all of us do keep a few honey-holes to ourselves and I’m no different. If there is anything I’ve learned it’s that good fishermen don’t fixate on spots. What I mean by this is that rather than just being content with knowing there are fish in a given area, good anglers ask themselves what that area offers to walleyes, and extrapolate this knowledge to help find many more suitable locations for walleyes. A spot fisherman instead is more likely to hit dead ends when the bite subsides in known spots. Anyone who has spent time chasing walleyes will tell you this is bound to happen at some point. You hit the nail on the head one day, but if the fish move it’s easy to quickly lose confidence and come home empty-handed or just assume “they weren’t biting today”. A good fisherman adapts, tries a variety of techniques and presentations, always looks for new locations and most importantly, establishes patterns. Ask yourself, “what does this spot offer” and more importantly, “where can I find other spots like this”. In our local waters there are literally hundreds of places that hold walleyes. This has helped me stay on fish, and often big fish, all year. This is also what really gets my blood pumping and a huge part of why I love to catch walleyes so much. I get a kick out of putting a pattern together and catching ‘eyes in new places regularly. It is as they say, the thrill of the chase that keeps me coming back. Now, I am not claiming to be the authority on walleye fishing around here, far from it, but what I can tell you is this approach has almost doubled my catches and all but eliminated those dreaded proverbial goose egg days. If there are no fish in a spot, I’m gone. If I find fish in another spot, I break out the map and find other similar spots until I find a pattern.

Speaking of patterns, I have been working on something different lately thanks to a tip from my a friend and local angler. I have been finding fish off of typical structure wandering open water. This certainly goes against the grain of what is commonly said about walleyes. Indeed the vast majority most of fish I catch are bottom and structure oriented. It’s no secret that in places like large northern, deep reservoirs or the great lakes walleye do suspend. However in the shallows of the St-Lawrence surely this can’t be right? Well, I remember one time, as a kid, a friend and I accidentally spotted a huge school of walleyes suspended in the main channel in 10 feet of water over 40 feet. I could not believe my eyes. There were dozens of them just sitting there on a sunny day, in plain sight, in the middle of the channel. I was amazed at what turned out to be a lasting image for me. However, it wasn’t until very recently when this same friend confirmed he was onto suspended fish that I decided to try and find some of my own. I really wasn’t sure where to start and was warned to stay away from my friend’s spot 🙂 so I began working gradually off my usual structures towards open water while paying close attention to sonar. It took a while to adjust to fishing what seems like featureless water, but then I started noticing a few promising signs. Fist off there was a lot of activity on the surface. Baitfish were breaking surface over deep water and I headed towards them. I then began to find nice arches on the sonar 10-15 feet above bottom and also seeing larger fish break surface (which I assume were not walleyes though). I quickly gained confidence and worked the area thoroughly trying different depths and presentations. Before long, I had my first suspended fish in the net.

I wanted to make sure that fish wasn’t a fluke, so we worked that area pretty thoroughly and much to my surprise before you know it we were putting gold in the boat using sonar to find suspended fish. It seems a lot of the open water walters were fairly large; no monsters but all slightly above average. Once we scattered that spot we began studying the map and quickly found another area very close by which seemed to offer the same characteristics. Our instincts proved correct and we were rewarded with two more open water walleyes. The best part about the last two fish is that they came out of an area I had never fished before. In fact, I had never really noticed it until it caught my eye on the map that day because of the similarities between the two areas. This to me is what walleye fishing is all about.



I only found these fish late in the weekend and with hockey started my fishing time is greatly reduced, but I am looking forward to getting back out there looking for these rogue walters.

On the beautiful boat ride back to the dock on a dead calm warm September night I thought to myself, this is definitely a good place to be. Anytime you’re fishing in a tee-shirt near mid-September after sunset you have to think life is pretty good. And anytime you’re not fishing your usual spots, trying to discover something new and the plan comes together, there is no better feeling.

Until next time, stay outside.

Jigger.

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A Silver Sunset

When local guide and absolute walleye and musky nut Mike Rousseau extended an invitation to join him for a day of trolling the elusive St-Lawrence River Musky there was no way I was going to pass it up. He is quickly building a reputation for finding fish and boating some of the larger beasts in our challenging local waters with regularity. With his advice I purchased a quality rod and reel combo and I was really looking forward to trying it out.

Unfortunately, Mother Nature had a different plan this weekend. Not very much will keep me from the water especially around the last few weekends when fishing without having to layer on the clothing is still an option. After feasting on a few Jigger-style Lancaster Walleye Rolls last night I checked the weather network and realized Hurricane Irerene’s remnants were about to wreak havoc on our plans. I texted Mike and said “looking pretty nasty tomorrow”, to which he replied “really nasty”. With that said, we decided to salvage the few hours we had left and headed out on our impromptu Franny predator chase. Today’s high of 18C, relentless 40km NE winds and 30 millilitres of rain tell me we made the right decision.

I met up with Mike at Wimpy’s marina and after a few handshakes and a “fun” boat launch we were on the water. The first thing that struck me is how well equipped Mike is. As he says quite often for musky fishing there is no substitute for the right gear. You don’t want to get caught ill-equipped when going toe-to-toe with these toothy fish. Excellent hook cutters, a large basket net, extra hooks, split ring pliers, strong rod holders for trolling, quality rods that can handle heavy fishing are only a few pieces of equipment that are a must to keep you and the fish safe.

We started working pieces of structure that aren’t quite what I’m used to fishing for walleye but yet are similar in many aspects. We were looking for smaller transition areas on larger features. For example, an area where weeds meet rocks, or sand. Anything that would hold smaller baitfish. Also, seeing as muskies will attack prey up to a third of their size at times it is no secret they feed on walleyes on a regular basis, on lakes where that forage is readily available. Once you do find walters, you can determine that muskies are around lurking somewhere near that structure.

After hitting a few spots with no luck, and with me begining to think it was probably not going to happen on this night, Mike’s constant experimenting with bait size, colour and retrieve speed paid off. The rod’s ticker screamed and I was handed the St-Croix with an impressive looking fish breaking surface a few feet behind the boat. This wasn’t one of the legendary man-eaters (ok maybe not man-eaters) of the mighty St. Lawrence but pound per pound; it certainly lived up to its reputation.

With that epic fight out of the way, it was time for a few pictures, a quick release to minimize handling and a celebratory hand-shake. This personal-best fish for me (and my first musky not caught accidentally while walleye fishing :)) was back home safely where it can grow into a trophy. If you’re ever in the area and want very good odds in hooking up with one of these silver beauties I’d strongly recommend getting in touch with Mike. Not only does he put you on fish, he makes the entire experience fun, instructive and memorable. The one thing that struck me the most about Mike however is his undying passion for fishing and his ability to share it. That, in my mind is something you can’t fake.

If you’d like to book a trip with Musky Mike you can call him @: 613-363-6453.

Until Next time, Stay Outside…Jigger

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Pure summer gold

It was a hot, calm day on the Franny…

And with the promise of a great day’s fishing ahead I was on the water at 7am on Saturday. It just felt like one of those days where you have that feeling you’re going to have a solid day on the water. Unfortunately, the wind died completely by about 9am and the fishing was extremely slow after that. I caught two fish early and thought to myself “this is going to be a good morning”. Little did I know I would wait 4 hours until my next walleye (I did catch two smallies in between though so at least it kept me going). Some of the better walleye fishermen in the area tell me they like the calm days. Personally, for me they equate to tough fishing conditions. Which could mean a number of things one of which being I don’t know what I’m doing. What I do know is that calm “dog” days mean a lot more boats in and around the main channel, especially on weekends. Perhaps more importantly however, when the water is dead calm the surface turns into an aquarium wall. You, and thus the fish, see everything that is going on above and below a flat surface. When the wind kicks up, even a little, light penetration is reduced because an uneven surface retracts light. This allows the angler to “hide” the boat. Another wind benefit on a river is that small, wind-created ripples allow you to read the water more easily. In other words it becomes easier to see evidence of bottom structure on the surface of the water. Sure the wind challenges boat control, but what it provides in pros outweigh the cons. If wind and boat control do become an issue, which is often the case in an aluminum boat, one trick that helps is filling the livewell. The extra weight up front helps stabilize the bow and prevents you from fighting the wind so much, whatever type fishing you do.

After a gruelling 5hours and finally a limit of walleyes in the boat I got a text from a friend who wanted to go snorkelling with his wife. Hallelujah! It was like he read my mind. And since I was thinking about it I knew exactly where I was going to take them. The spot in question basically consists of a well defined vertical ledge pounded by heavy current adjacent to a shallow flat and a deep hole. The ledge, or transition area really, is lined with weedbeds caught in an eternal sway in the moderate current and drops vertically onto a hard sand bottom scattered with small stone. This bottom tapers down to 50 feet of water at its deepest. I had fished this spot numerous times before with mixed results, but I had never snorkelled it. I can’t believe I waited this long to do so. I was amazed to see how many fish used this structure.

Smallmouth and walleyes were everywhere on this wall. Not only were they quite visible, they were inquisitive and curious, sometimes seemingly posing for the camera.

Sheepshead and eel seemed completely oblivious to my presence.



Snorkelling spots is tons of fun and helps you learn a thing or two. There’s nothing like seeing fish behave naturally; getting up close and personal with ’em. As long as you can pop your ears you’re in for a treat if you find the right areas.

The fishing was slow on Saturday, and Sunday morning looked pretty similar weather-wise so I decided to skip out and sleep in a little. By the time I was on the water Sunday it was 11am, absolutely no cloud in the sky, 28C without the humidex…but…windy(er)!

When I fished with a gentleman from Vancouver the weekend prior, I noticed we only started really getting into fish around noon. Although most fish go deep at the height of the day, through trial and error I noticed some fish on the lake hold tight to weedbeds when the sun is at its apogee. Weedy areas provide walters with shade, cover, cooler water, higher oxygen content in the water due to photosynthesis and more importantly, plenty of food. That morning I decided I’d fish a pattern that’s worked for me this summer during the brightest part of the day and it paid off. I was limited out within an hour and a half and threw in my personal best in 2011 as a culmination of the moment. This fish came out of the weeds and hit my bait like a freight train. I thought I had a musky until I saw that beautiful defining white tip on the caudal fin. I took my time with this one.

As fast as I had started the weekend it seems came to an end.That night as I put the boat away and looked out on the lake and felt pretty good about the day.


Until next time, Stay Outside…

Jigger

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