The Great Escape: Fishing the Canadian Wild
July 26, 2012
Nothing beats a great escape into the Canadian wild for a combination of super fishing, quality time with friends and family, and just plain relaxation away from the pressures and worries of the everyday world. Fly-in resorts offer an outpost of civilization amidst the majesty and splendor of the outdoors.
Walleyes are high on the list of most fly-in anglers, offering fast and easy fishing on light tackle, often with a minimal selection of lures. Traditionally, a handful of jigs and a few packs of 3-inch twister tails do the trick; the fish are usually hungry and willing to bite. Bounce jigs through current areas at river mouths, or the first pool of deep water below waterfalls and narrows, and hang on tight. Hundred-fish mornings are possible, even from a few key anchor positions.
Where far-north lakes are big and deep and cold, and particularly where good numbers of lake trout roam the open basin, walleyes do indeed tend to remain in and around the warmer, darker water at river mouths for most of the open-water season. But where northern fly-in lakes are smaller and darker and warmer, or where lakes lie at more southerly latitudes and warm to swimming temperatures in summer, walleyes can and do spread throughout the lake sometime after spawning. And that's where alternative search tactics come into play.
Add a few more lures to your flight bag of tricks: notably bottom-bouncers, spinners and soft plastic crawlers; and crankbaits. All will let you cover water quickly to locate walleyes on shoreline or midlake structures, determine walleye depth preference, and trigger strikes through increased speed. Once you have fish cornered, well, you can still drop a jig down on their noses if you wish.
Bottom bouncers are such snag-resistant devices that they're natural options for drifting or trolling spinner-crawler combos across rock reefs and points-classic Canadian walleye structures. But the weak link has always been the lack of availability of livebait at fly-in destinations. Today, no problem. A wide array of soft-plastic substitutes fit the bill.
Scented soft plastics appeal to the walleyes' sight, scent and taste, and a thumping, flashing, wobbling blade alerts and draws 'em in for the final attack. With bouncers and spinners, nothing beats a 6-inch soft crawler in a natural color pattern, such as Berkley's Power Crawler. Other companies offer similar 6-inch straight-tailed worms, although Power Crawlers are specifically scent- and taste-impregnated for walleyes and seem to be particularly effective.
Dress 'em on a classic 30-inch spinner snell with a #3 to #4 blade, typically with an orange or chartreuse blade pattern to match the stained water common to many Canadian lakes and river systems. Add a 1/2-, 1-, or 1 1/2-ounce bouncer to match the depth, typically ranging anywhere from 5 or 6 feet down to 15 or 20. You can get by with your spinning (jigging) rod with 8-pound line, although you're really better off with a 6 1/2-foot medium-casting rod spooled with about 10- or 12-pound test. So if you have room in your rod tube, pack another rod; it'll come in handy for crankbaiting walleyes, too.
If walleyes aren't stacked at river mouths, proceed out to the first few adjacent middepth structures, like long shoreline points, the ends of islands, saddles between islands or between an island and shore, or shallow midlake reefs projecting up near the surface; somewhere walleyes logically disperse to if they leave the river mouth for better feeding conditions in summer. Then let your rig out on enough line to barely scratch bottom and begin trolling just fast enough to spin the blade, skipping across rocks without snagging. You'll be amazed how much territory you can cover in quick fashion.
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The Great Escape (cont.)
Recent years have witnessed a growing use of crankbaits at Canadian camps, despite the fact that you're generally required to bend the barbs down on all your hooks to facilitate catch-and-release. No problem. Sacrifice a few treble hooks for the trip and replace them with barbed versions once you get home.
Crankbaits offer the dual versatility of casting and trolling, working anything from small, shallow, specific areas at slow speeds, to trolling deeper stretches at a more rapid pace.
Fact is, most any crankbaits you've packed for pike will already catch walleyes but, by and large, they're going to be a tad on the big side, with heavy hooks. So to the fray, add a few 3- to 4 1/2-inch walleye crankbaits you'd likely use back home. These typically fall under the minnow-imitator and shad bait categories, in both shallow-running and deep-diving versions. Long, thin lures perhaps best imitate the minnows or ciscoes walleyes are most likely to be eating, while plastic-bodied deep-diving shad baits offer the most versatility and durability for both casting and trolling. If space is at a premium, opt for the shads. Remember, natural whitish forage patterns for clear water and cisco forage, while brighter firetiger or clown patterns make baits more visible in stained water.
Any inlet, shallow rock point, reef top, etc., is an obvious location for walleyes, and in the more southerly lakes in Ontario and Quebec, smallmouth bass. Where the water's stained or dingy, or in lowlight conditions, cast and retrieve cranks with a steady, predictable motion, banging the occasional rock and scraping bottom from time to time. If the water's clear and the sun bright, the finesse of neutral buoyancy minnows like Husky Jerks comes into play. Cast, twitch, twitch, pause-linger-bam! Size 10 or 12 Husky Jerks are excellent for walleyes, while the larger 14s are deadly effective for pike.
The largely untapped element comes into play when trolling deep-diving crankbaits along the perimeters of points, large shallow humps, even rock walls plummeting to deep water along shore. Anglers (and guides) are just catching on to their potential and ease of use; simply run the lure and line out behind the boat, rev up the engine to achieve a modest lure wobble, and scoot along for mixed catches of walleyes and pike down to 20 or 25 feet deep. Consider adding a light wire leader where pike are plentiful-which is generally just about everywhere Canadian walleyes swim-since even hammer handles will eventually nip off your crankbaits, and you can't run down to the nearest store to replace them.
I must admit that, when I go on a far-north Canadian fly-in trip, the allure of walleyes is mostly generated by the thought of fast, easy fishing and hundred-fish days, rather than investing precious time in trying new approaches. So I, like most folks, tend to keep things straightforward and simple. If I wanna play with weird experimental stuff, I usually do it on pike, which has paid off big-time in recent years. This also suggests that similar experimentations might work on walleyes, too.
In the clear lake-trout lakes of southern Canada, a growing number of anglers are catching big walleyes in the evenings by trolling crankbaits over open water, near the surface. Not 2-pound bug-eaters, but 8s to 10s to even 12s-big brutes which have switched to suspended cisco forage -- not in all lakes, but in enough to suggest that longline trolling cranks over open water for suspended fish might pay off big, providing you can tear yourself away from the easy jig bite at the river mouth or waterfall or rapids. Tossing a pair of planer boards into the duffle bag wouldn't be unreasonable, either. It might draw a few strange looks from your camp operator, whose general response is, "You don't need that kind of stuff to catch fish here." But it's worth a shot.