Walleye season is well underway in New York State and many anglers are itching to get their shot at the most popular game fish in Western New York. I have come across many anglers who primarily fish the inland waters of the southern tier for walleye, but have never ventured out on the unpredictable waters of Lake Erie and they are truly missing out! For many, Lake Erie is intimidating, unpredictable, and it takes a lot of gear to land these prized fish. For the most part, these statements are true; however, there is a window on Lake Erie when walleye are more accessible to the Western New York angler and that window is right now during the spawning season. The spawning season offers an amazing opportunity to hook into some trophy size fish because of the hefty females that make their way to the shallows.
What you need.
During this time of year, walleyes can be found as shallow as 2′-3′ of water. This means that when the lake is calm enough, you don’t need that 18+’ foot vessel equipped with downriggers and trolling rods to land some trophy eyes- all you need is a boat that floats and can get you to your spot along with your everyday fishing rod and reel. A trolling motor can be helpful, but an anchor can also do the job.
Where to begin.
Walleye tend to spawn in shallow gravel shoals, reefs, rock piles, tributaries, and man-made structures like break walls and shipwrecks. There are plenty of areas in Lake Erie that offer these situations and they are easily accessible from almost any boat launch along the Eastern Basin. Take a look at some lake maps to help guide you in the right direction or use your sonar to locate these areas. As stated above, during the spawn, walleye can be found in as shallow as 2′ of water so focus your efforts in 2′-10′ and move deeper as you need to. Use your sonar to locate schools of fish. When you find them, there will be no question about it as they will be stacked in tight schools or you will even be able to see them as you look off the side of the boat.
When to go.
To give themselves the best chance at catching spawning walleye, most anglers target them in low-light periods during the night, dawn, and dusk. A large portion of anglers won’t even launch the boat until 9 or 10PM, but don’t let this shy you away from trying. A friend of mine who works for the NYS DEC informed me, 2 days ago, that he was tagging walleye in the middle of the day off of a gravel bed in 2′ of water near a creek mouth. We all know that the time of day can be a major factor in catch rates, but being on the water at any time gives you a better chance of catching walleyes than sitting on the couch.
May 1st is when the walleye season opened in New York, and there is no telling when the fish will flood the shores of the lake or how long they will be there for, but paying close attention to the temperature of the water can give you a rough estimate of when the bite will be on. Walleyes typically like to spawn when the water temperature is around 50-57 degrees. Some fish might come to the shallows and spawn once for a night and be done for the year, while other females will return to the same spot every night for several nights before heading back to the deeper waters.
If you have a quiet trolling motor, trolling is the preferred option for catching spring walleye on Lake Erie. While planer boards and other methods will allow you to troll more lines at once, holding on to a spinning rod off the side of the boat will also do the trick. Long-lining sticks and worm harnesses can get you hooked into some trophy sized fish. Experiment with your trolling speed, but a good rule of thumb is to stay between 1.5-2.5mph to start. If you do not have the ability to troll, casting and retrieving stick and jerk baits can also be productive. Another great tactic is to drift jigs tipped with crawlers, minnows, or leeches while bouncing them along the bottom.
Lake Erie can be a very unpredictable so please follow all safety regulations while you are on the water and be sure to pay close attention to the weather forecast prior to and during your fishing outings. Do your research on wind speed, waves, and how different wind directions can affect Lake Erie. Since most walleye fishing during the spawn takes place at night, make sure you have sufficient lighting on your boat to ensure everyone’s safety. We also recommend fishing with a partner as much as possible. If the weather is questionable, do not force the issue, there will be other days to catch some fish.
Written by Chris Postle of Postletown Woods and Water.