May 10, 2015

Ice Out Walleyes On Gogebic!

By: Tim Long  

The reason I called this article “Ice Out Walleyes on Gogebic,” is because the last two years we had ice on the lake right up until the opener. In 2013, the ice went out on opening day and in 2014 the ice went out on May 13th, two days before the opener. Yes, our season opens on May 15th each year. So it opens on a different day each year. This year, (May 15th) opening day of fishing will fall on a Friday. What a great reason to call in sick for a couple of days and have a great long weekend of fishing from the boat on Lake Gogebic after a long winter.

With our crazy weather up here in Northern Michigan, fishing can be very different from year to year, depending on what Mother Nature has on her mind. The last two years the walleyes were in a pre-spawn stage when our season got underway. This meant that the fish were very shallow. We were finding them in 1-5 feet of water and most people were jigging for them using plastics or live bait. Some folks were throwing cranks into the shoreline from boats; others were fishing off their docks with slip bobbers.  And, some were trying to find any kind of weeds they could and then fishing the edges of those weed beds. However, the last couple years, because of the long winters, it was very difficult to find any new weed growth during opening week because the ice just went out. The best bet was to target the rocks on both the east and west shorelines, depending which way the wind was blowing. You could use one of the methods mentioned above.  Or another technique that cannot be overlooked is trolling crankbaits in these shallow areas. All of these methods are found to be effective when done correctly.

When putting my boat in the water for the first time each year, I like to take a little time just for scouting, using the Lowrance that I have mounted on the dash. My HDS 10 is equipped with GPS, sonar, down scan, and side imaging. This is a very valuable tool for the modern day fisherman. I’m going to use this unit to find new weed growth, rocks, and water depth along with water temperature. All this information, combined, will tell me where, when, and what technique I should try first.

My first presentation may be trolling small, shad style baits such as one of my go-to baits, the #4 or #5 Berkley flicker shad. I choose these small baits because they mimic the size forage that walleyes are feeding on this time of year and you can fish these baits very shallow. Trolling these baits with Off Shore In-line planer boards allows me to cover a lot of water in a short period of time. Once I find a productive area (a small point or hump), I may choose to go with a different presentation based on conditions or just continue to make trolling passes. Some of the other presentations may include anchoring up just off a rock hump and pitching jigs, tipped with live bait or plastics, to the high spot on the hump and working it off that spot towards the boat. Another presentation may be to anchor up off the same hump and slip bobber the area all around that particular hump.

One example of my strategy, would be if I pick up a walleye on two consecutive trolling passes from the same point or hump, I may want to switch to a more hands on presentation and eliminate the time wasted in between trolling passes. Either one of the methods mentioned in the previous paragraph are effective for putting walleyes in the boat.

Another one of my favorite ways to fish is being in the bow of the boat, using my bow mount trolling motor, with rod in hand. We call this rigging. There are many different variations of this. I will give you just one example. It can be used with either a spinning reel or a bait caster with a flipping switch. I like to use the bait casters with the flipping switch so I can always maintain contact with bottom by a simple push of a button. I like to use a super braid line, tie on a barrel swivel, and then a fluorocarbon leader. On my main line, above the barrel swivel, I like to use quick snap adjustable sinkers by Wing*it. I like these because I can change the weight without having to retie the whole rig. Then, on the end of the fluorocarbon leader, I like to use the appropriate size hook for the size bait that I am using. If I am using a 4” sucker minnow I would go with a number 2 circle hook or octopus hook. Keeping in contact with the bottom while moving in a forward direction, using my bow mount trolling motor.  I am using a lift and drop motion.  With the use of the super braid line and a quality rod, I am able to walk over the rock and brush piles without getting constantly hung up, because of the sensitivity that it gives you.

On Gogebic we have a 15” size limit, a 5 fish daily bag limit, and a three day possession limit. That said, I try to be a teacher of conservation and diligently promote select harvest. We need to protect the resources that we are taking from. Personally, I like to release all the walleyes over 20’’ and keep those 15 to 20 inch males for table fair. Oh, did I mention that the Lake Gogebic walleyes are the best tasting walleye in the world? ...just sayin’!

Other waters that are productive this time of year are the tributary rivers and streams that flow into Lake Superior. So, with that being said, I asked my good friend Jon “Guy” Sibley to co-author this article with me and talk about fishing some of the rivers that feed into Lake Superior. These rivers are home to some monster walleye. Here is what Guy had to say:

Big Lake Big Fish

Fishing Lake Superiors River Walleyes

By Jon Sibley and Joe Sibley

As I set the hook, I need to steady myself in the bow of the boat. The fish on the end of my line is large. I struggle to pull the fish out of the cover. It's wedged in a fallen tree with many branches shooting out from it. This is the when you can lose the fish of a lifetime if care isn't taken when fighting the fish. 

Fallen trees are the preferred cover in this Great Lakes tributary. The fish are using it for ambushing prey and a current break. This fishing trip took place on one of the many tributaries of Lake Superior, and the target fish was the walleye, yes walleye. Trees, branches, yanking the fish out, all the attributes of a bass fishing. Walleyes love cover. Never under estimate what can be living under a tree in the water.

Back to the fight. I can hear the whine of the line and rod under the pressure I'm applying to it. Please don't break, (I whisper to myself referring to the line), and don't pull the hook either. Once you hook up with and start pulling walleye out of their preferred hiding place, you need to do it as fast and precise as possible. If not, the fish with entangle itself in the unforgiving cover and will be lost.

I feel the walleye start to move up toward me. Then I feel it hit one of the submerged branches and stop. I quickly move my rod to get the fish off the branch, and the fish starts to move again. A quick netting job and I get to see the fish for the first time, from the dark muddy river. Another large oversize walleye, just what I was after!

Targeting walleye of the Great Lakes tributaries is a fun and effective way to catch big walleye. The technique that I was using this day, was to sneak up to the cover with my electric motor, drop a jig in front of their nose, wait for them to grab it, and yank them out like Bill Dance.

On this particular day, the bite was more of an attack than a bite. As we dropped our jigs into the cover, the fish would slam our jigs in a way not always characteristic of a typical walleye bite. When this happens, it can be some of the most exciting fishing that can be had. Fish over the 10 lb. mark are not uncommon.

This type of fishing takes some special gear; 10 pound Fire Line, a Bass Pro Walleye Angler rod 6' or 6'6", and weedless jigs tipped with a Berkley Gulp Minnow Watermelon Pearl, 3 inches long.

If the jigging bite is slow, I will drag a Berkley flicker rig or worm harness, behind the boat, slowly up and down the river. This can be a deadly technique for large walleye of the Great Lakes.

The trick to this is limiting the weight of the sinker to the smallest possible. You want to be close to the bottom, but not get snagged up constantly.

Lake Superior has hundreds of miles of fishable shoreline and the walleye fishing seems to improve every year. Once you find a productive area, the fishing can be as good as it gets. The best way to find a good spot is get out and start exploring.