Walleye anglers going vertical

Lake Erie spring fling offers opportunity to reel in large fish

  • Matt-Markey-mug-2

  • The book on Lake Erie walleye fishing, Western Basin chapter, normally calls for long drifts with weight–forward, spinner-type lures tipped with night crawlers, or trolling with worm harnesses or with a wide array of crankbaits — anything that imitates the baitfish walleyes feed on.

    But for a short period each spring, anglers toss the standard playbook aside and go after big walleyes with different gear and a radically different approach. While walleyes stage throughout the area and then move en masse around the Lake Erie reef complexes to spawn, vertical fishing is the preferred and productive tactic.

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    Using primarily jigs tipped with large minnows, anglers try to distract fish from the business at hand, and when they are successful, they land some of the largest walleyes we will see all year.

    “I’ve been using the same stuff for this spring fishing for 25 years,” said angler Bryan Johnson of Oregon, who recently located a large push of fish moving toward the spawning areas.

    “A three-eighths to half-ounce pearl jig head with a chartreuse tail, with a big shiner three or four inches long on it. It’s just a matter of putting the bait straight down over the side, moving it around a little bit, and trying to entice them to bite.”

    Bryan Johnson of Oregon caught two walleyes that weighed more than 12 pounds while fishing in roughly 25 feet of water off Catawba Point recently.
    Bryan Johnson of Oregon caught two walleyes that weighed more than 12 pounds while fishing in roughly 25 feet of water off Catawba Point recently.

    Johnson and a friend were fishing in about 25 feet of water when he caught two fish that weighed more than 12 pounds and missed a few that were also in the trophy class.

    “Watching the fish finder, there were a lot of fish coming through there, heading up to spawn,” he said. “And we didn’t catch any little fish. When you hooked one, you had to use the drag and wear them out since you can’t muscle a big fish into the boat. And we lost some nice fish, too.”

    Bob Barnhart of Jann’s Netcraft said anglers on Lake Erie are catching big fish using jigging techniques and adapting their methods to the cold water and sometimes lethargic walleyes.

    “The approach right now is much like it is for ice fishing,” he said after a recent trip out to the some of the reef areas. “Fishermen are using jig and minnow combinations, or even ice fishing lures such as Swedish Pimples tipped with big minnows. The ice hasn’t been off the lake for very long, so the water is still pretty cold, and you have to slow things down a bit.”

    Lake Erie’s surface temperature registered just 37 degrees Thursday off South Bass Island, but Barnhart expects warmer days to bring out more fishermen, and a real bonanza should ensue. Enough huge fish have been caught so far this winter and spring to make Barnhart believe a chart-topper is likely lurking out there.

    The Ohio record walleye weighed 16.19 pounds and was 33 inches long. It came from Lake Erie in November of 1999, reeled in by Tom Haberman of Brunswick. A spring fish loaded with eggs would theoretically be at its peak weight for the year.

    “There are so many big fish in this end of the lake right now, it is stunning,” he said. “We could see a new state record come off of those reefs this weekend.”

    As with any kind of fishing, lures, techniques, and tactics vary. Some spring anglers out on the lake prefer a slow drift to anchoring, while others use heavier jigs to get their bait down near the bottom much quicker. Some fishermen insist that color selection is a major consideration at this time of year, while others swear by hair jigs and won’t touch those rigged with plastic twister tails.

    SAFE BOATING CLASS: The American Legion Post No. 320 on Illinois Avenue in Maumee will be the site of a safe boating class offered on April 26 by the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary. The class runs from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., and the registration fee is $30 per individual or $45 for two students sharing one textbook. Lunch will be provided.

    For information and registration contact Dale Steinfurth at 419-464-1719 or Terry Cleary at 419-367-0222 or via email at the terrytcleary@aol.com.

    Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: mmarkey@theblade.com or 419-724-6068.