Many Techniques used to Catch March’s Erie Walleyes


March’s weather is unpredictable and can affect where, when or if walleye fishing is able to occur. As of press time in mid-January, it has been too mild to produce ice on Lake Erie or elsewhere, but the forecasted temperatures looked promising.

Fishing for walleyes in the western end of Lake Erie and tributary rivers in March can be done successfully while using the widest range of techniques, depending upon the conditions.

These techniques include ice fishing, hopping jig & minnows, trolling or pulling rigs & tails. Although I prefer ice fishing the best, during some years I have to go without any days on the hard water.

Ice fishing

When there is ice on Lake Erie in March, some of the largest walleyes of the year can be landed as the weights of the females increase to their seasonal maximum immediately prior to spawning. This occurs from mid-March up until early May some years, depending upon the water temperature at their chosen spawning location.

During many winters, the only fishable ice is in-between the islands, including South Bass, where Put-in-Bay is located, to Middle Bass, Rattlesnake and Green Islands.

Swedish Pimple spoons are the most widely used lures, with anglers able to endorse just about every one of their available colors. Last year, our favorite was Gold/Red prism tape and Nickel/Chartreuse, but the previous ice season the Nickel/Lavender prism tape lure could not be beat.

Jigging Rapala’s in Glow (Fire) Tiger, Chrome/Blue or Orange/Gold are also local favorites used for their calling power and effectiveness when fish are aggressively feeding. Sizes that are used for both of these lures range from number 5 to number 7, depending upon the strength of the current, and tipped with whole emerald shiners.

Keep on trolling

In the absence of ice, trollers catch walleyes during every open-water period, including March by slowly pulling subtle-action stickbaits through roaming schools of fish near the reef and island staging areas. Examples include Reef Runner Deep Diving Lures, Smithwick Perfect 10 Rogue, Bandit Walleye Deep and Down Deep Rapala Husky Jerks in factory-issued and custom-painted proprietary colors alike.

Open water ‘ice fishing’

Instead of trolling during March, some anglers have success using ice-fishing lures, rods and flasher-style fish finders while using a boat in areas where the walleyes are normally found when ice is present, such as the west side of Kelleys Island, in the South Passage off of Catawba or near Green and/or Rattlesnake Islands.

The river runs

Meanwhile, as soon as the ice is flushed from the Sandusky and Maumee Rivers, anxious fishermen don their waders or launch small boats, seeking walleyes which have ascended these large tributary streams. In harsh winters, this may not happen until late March, but in mild years there are already fish in the river in February.

Here, Carolina rigs, using a floating jig tipped with a brightly-colored rubber twister tail are responsible for thousands of these migrating walleyes being landed, largely replacing the lead-head jigs universally used in years past.

Popular colors used to trigger the fish into biting most often include orange, chartreuse, green, hot pink purple, red and white.

While the run that normally occurs a week or two earlier in the Sandusky River walleyes has diminished to catches in the low thousands annually, the removal of the Ballville Dam in downtown Fremont has fisheries managers anticipating a rebound in the population. Ripe fish will be able to gain access to 22 miles of additional, potentially suitable spawning sites further upstream from where the dam formerly stood and blocked their migration.

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The Maumee River provides tens of thousands of fish each spring to successful anglers as fish enter the river from Lake Erie, bolstered with others coming down from Lake Huron via the St. Clair and Detroit Rivers.

For those who complain about the impact of fish being taken at spawning time, it must be noted that the majority of those which are legally caught and kept are males. The numbers of fish taken in a whole season from the rivers are likely fewer than those caught on a couple of busy summer weekends in the lake.

Anglers fishing these river runs support many local businesses in Fremont and Maumee/Perrysburg by purchasing fishing supplies, meals, fuel and in the case of out-of-towners, lodging in pursuit of these annual concentrations of fish.

Meanwhile, bait stores re-open near popular Lake Erie boat launch sites, as fishermen stop in to purchase lures, minnows to tip their jigs with, add to their arsenal of crankbaits or grab some snacks for their time on the water.

Reef top jigging

Jig fishermen on the lake look for male (jack) walleyes which stake out the reef tops to intercept the females which come to drop their eggs in the evening or during low-light periods. The jacks are very territorial and impulsively snap at baits.

Hair jigs hopped back to boats off the top of the reefs; dragged across the sandy bottom near Locust Point in the shadow of Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Plant; or cast onto dredge spoils outside the Maumee Bay shipping channel have high odds of being bit. These fish are so aggressive that they are often seen following other hooked fish all of the way to the boat. More than one angler has netted multiple un-hooked fish along with the one connected to his line.

Even though the males are smaller than the females lurking in deeper water outside the reef complex, they are much more willing biters.

Trophy trolling continues

The trolling specialists target female walleyes by determining what depth they are swimming in within the water column and putting one of the crankbaits mentioned above in front of them. They are often near the surface as they bask in muddy water warmed up faster than clear water in the spring sunshine.

Before they drop their eggs, some of the remaining 2003-hatched fish are likely heavier than the state record of 16.19 pounds, set in 1999. After spawning, few fish will break the 11-pound mark again until the females fatten up on gizzard shad in the fall.

March is fun

Although I like ice fishing best, many of my pals cite jig fishing on the humps as their favorite way to catch walleyes due to their aggressiveness then, while others love trolling for the trophy “gators” that concentrate in the reef and islands area.

For those without access to a boat, or when the lake is too rough, the rivers provide the only game in town—except when they are flooding.

Despite having lots of potential ways to catch walleyes in March, Mother Nature has the power to veto any of the techniques, but normally not for too long.