W A L L E Y E   H U N T E R
Fishing Articles from Phil Rolfe
Witch Bay Camp, Lake of the Woods
By Phil Rolfe
A trophy hunter friend of mine once said, " Catching big fish is not all that difficult, just fish big fish waters, and fish em when they're bitin'. So simple, yet so profound
The Lake of the Woods fits the bill as a legitimate big fish water. Okay, we have got the water, now when is the best time?
Normally I would answer by saying hands down that July is the best time for trophy walleye action, and that August is the second best month. I am not considering late fall in this discussion as many of the lodges are shut down for the season.
I know, I know, what about June? Isn't that the best month to fish walleye in Canada? If you talk to resort owners up north, they would tell you that they wish all months were like June for bookings. But what does bookings have to do with catching fish.
True, June, especially later in the month, can be very good. On certain other waters, especially where there are incoming streams and rivers, June can be dynamite. On the Lake of the Woods, early June, as was the case the last two years, was only mediocre. Water temperatures had not warmed to sufficient levels to kick in the great action the Woods is noted for.
Some of the best early action will take place along the main shorelines and shallow bays adjacent to those main lake shorelines. The shorelines should be worked with bottom bouncers and spinner rigs. For this early presentation, I will be moving slower than the power presentations of summer. My rod of choice here is a TC70LM by St. Croix; this rod has a fast, reactive tip, which is ideal for this finesse presentation. Even though I said I would be moving slower than the hot summer action, bouncing is still much faster for covering water than most all other methods.
I will use smaller blades, starting with the hammered nickels, brass, and golds in number three sizes. The bouncer will be 1 1/2 to 2 ounce Lite Bites, heavier in strong winds. My reel setup will be an Ambassadeur T3000C spooled with ten pound Trilene XT. The T3000C has a flippin switch, which is a necessity for precise bottom control and snag avoidance. This reel because of its smoothness and accurate adjustment capabilities has become my baitcaster choice as well.
As the fish move along the shorelines, they will stop in the shallow bays to munch down on spawning baitfish. The fish will be shallow during this period more than most any other time of the year, so working the shorelines both rocky and weedy is a good bet. Pitching light weight jigs with plastics or live bait is a good presentation, but I also find that throwing smaller crankbaits such as Rapala's Shad Raps in SR05 and SR07 or smaller Husky Jerks is a good bet, as well.
You need rods that will maximize casting distance for these light baits. For the jigs, I use a LS70ML, which is a medium light actioned fast tipped rod spooled with 6 pound Trilene XL. For light crankbaits, I use the St. Croix Pro Glass GC66ML coupled with the T3000C baitcaster. This is the only setup whereas I have been able to cast a number seven Shad Rap let alone a number five. The precision and distance amaze me with this rig.
As conditions continue to warm, the fish will start moving to shoreline flats of islands in the closest proximity to the main shorelines. They will also start to use humps that are near these islands. A bouncer is still my main weapon. Bouncing is my search tool, however, when I find a pod of fish on a point or inside turn, I will stop and vertical jig them. Vertical jigging works the best when the fish are concentrated in a small area.
Cranking or pitching the shallow shorelines and humps is a good bet as well. I like to work this in the afternoons or on cloudy over cast days. The fish are less concerned with bays but will use open water shallows for the remainder of the season. Shallow fish are active fish, and most of the time bigger. The major part of the population will be at around twenty feet; there will be some half way up, and some very shallow. There is always some continually moving up and down.
Please bear in mind that at least two thirds if not more of the trophies came from water less than eight feet. The big numbers come from the twenty-foot range. You decide what you want. How about both? Work shallow and deep, and in between.
This transition process finally evolves into the full-blown summer patterns. The eyes have moved from the shorelines and near shoreline islands to the main lake islands and humps. The best structures hold the best fish. When you catch fish, always ponder, "Why are they here?"
When the ice melts, there is a on going transition process. Now the water temperatures are the most even of the year (with the exception of the hard water period). The patterns are predictable. The females have regrouped after the rigors of spawning and the recovery period. Large groups of fish are traveling together. The bite is good.
I use the same presentations that I started the season with. However, because of the walleye's high metabolism, speed becomes an issue. I now use power bottom bouncing method as well as the finesse style. This is merely moving quicker and using the right equipment to accomplish this. Best accomplished with a stiffer rod, St. Croix 's PC66M which is a medium action, heavier bouncers to maintain the correct line angle and Indiana and Willow Leaf blades as opposed to the slower Colorado's. Bigger blades get the nod especially during periods of steady weather. We could be using as big as a number six or seven Indiana. The fish will tell you.
However, during extreme cold fronts, downsize your blades to the spring sizes or use just a plain snell. Once again, the fish will tell you.
Moreover, bigger cranks produce as well. The forage has grown and the fish want bigger mouthfuls. Also, speed up your retrieve, they will now chase a bait, whereas in the spring they wouldn't move far for a meal.
All right, so when is the best time to go to the Woods, looks like June, July, or August. Of course if you can't make that, then September or October will work. The reality is there is no bad time to fish the Woods.
Steve & Gail Hockett
P.O. Box 238
Canada P9N 3x3
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