Re-target Abandoned Great Lakes River Mouth Walleyes

Remember before the walleye season started on most inland waters last month when the options were anything but plentiful? The only possibility was fishing the Great Lakes where the waters around the river mouths. I’m here to tell you that those places were your only choice then are still great areas now. Most inland waterways are open, and folks are forgoing the Great Lakes in lieu of targeting other waters, which means you have these large lakes to yourselves.

There’s no time like the present to hit the couple of miles around the rivers, the reefs and adjacent depths where walleyes once congregated for procreation last month. And, when covering water is at a premium and baitfish are in abundance, which is the rule and not the exception, trolling is the ticket to stand out from the crowd of smelt, alewives and gizzard shad. This is where the big walleyes live, suspended over open water, feeding both day and night. For numbers, there’s always the opportunity to hit the reefs with jigs where you’ll mop up on smaller males that stick around after the spawn.

Sun up
In my early years, fishing with my grandfather and father around the Muskegon Lake river mouth in Michigan, we caught monster walleyes trolling near the beach and around the pier heads late spring through early summer. That pattern still holds true, but since then I’ve found even greater numbers within a two-mile radius of the river mouth.

During the day I start looking for bait with my electronics and troll for suspended fish that may be down 10 to 25 feet. Most of the time I’ll see the bait, but unless the walleyes are highly concentrated, it’s seldom I’ll see fish. Still, I put my lines out so my crankbaits are running atop the schools of bait, especially since predators such as walleyes tend to look up and not down when pursuing prey. When I spot a blob of bait on my Lowrance HDS-12 Gen3 unit, I’ll punch in a waypoint for future use. As I’m trolling, I’ll often identify four or five key schools of bait and then troll between them. Sometimes only one or two of the schools are holding walleyes; you have to cover water to find out.

Speed control and the proper lures is key to connecting. I troll with my four-stroke kicker, which will push my big Lund at a slow crawl. My favorite speed during the daytime is about 1.5 mph. I get solid action out of Rapala’s Down Deep Husky Jerks, as well their new Scatter Rap Deep Husky Jerks. If I can’t get the suspended fish going or if I mark some big arcs near the bottom, I’ll then switch over to my Abu Garcia line-counter reel filled with 18-poud-test Sufix 832 Advanced leadcore to get my crankbaits within a foot or two of the bottom. I still have to watch my electronics and pay close attention to the depth. The beauty of leadcore is that if the bottom rises I can simply speed up and the line lifts (due to its thin diameter) above the hump or ledge. Once past it, I’ll then count to 30 and then slow down and the leadcore will sink back into the walleye’s range.

Where to look
On Erie, for example, principles stay the same with bait and speed control, but I’ll often troll the edges of reefs where the big females suspend. Here is where fish scoot out when the boat goes over them, and planer boards are incredibly important to spread lines to the side. The walleyes simply move right into the path of the lures.

For running small crankbaits, I use Church Tackle’s smaller TX-6 inline planer boards, which are about the size of a deck of playing cards. I’ll then boost up to the more sizable TX-12’s with deeper, harder-diving crankbaits. In serious wind, The Walleye Board, with its accompanying ballast, rides the waves easily. For the crankbaits running directly behind the boat, I’ll use the newer TX-005 or TX-007 Stern Planers. I always spool my trolling reels with 12-pound-test Berkley Trilene XT for the main line and use a 10-pound leader, the same when I’m using the leadcore.

Small fish can save the day
While the pinnacles of the reefs aren’t the places to be for bigger fish, they’re ideal for hordes of males that congregate here, waiting for late-spawning hens to move in. Again, keep an eye on electronics, and when fish are seen, get a jig down. Almost anything goes if it’s a lead head coupled with a Gulp Minnow, but I side with Northland Fire-Balls or Whistler jigs with propellers for added flash and hum.

Night moves
At night, the waters come alive with even more monster ‘eyes feeding under the cover of darkness. The same trolling techniques are the way to go. Move from one baitfish pod to another, but it’s important to make some adjustments because the fish do so. After dark, walleyes tend to move higher in the water column, up into the top 10 feet. Now is the time to switch from the gas kicker to a powerful bow-mounted trolling motor that has quality batteries and can ease along at 1 mph.

To work up higher toward the surface, I switch to Number 13 Original Rapalas on Abu reels filled with 20-pound-test Berkley FireLine. Three number split shots a few feet above it will get you down to 10 to 13 feet with 120 feet of line out. Remove a split shot or let out less line to move higher.

I seldom use planer boards at night, but if you must, keep small boards close to the boat and just beyond your other rods to prevent congestion and bottlenecks with others trolling. Another reason to go without boards is the ability to pump a Rapala forward and drop it back, which is a trigger. Slowly ease the rod forward about 18 inches and drop it back on a tight line. I do this about 20 to 30 times a minute. Keep it gentle, otherwise you’ll pull the lure away from too many walleyes that miss when the bait has too much erratic action.

May is indeed a month of feast without the famine on the Great Lakes. Now is the time to make your move while others are on other waterways.