techniques when targeting walleye in rivers and lakes
Algoma Country in northern Ontario is blessed to have hundreds upon hundreds…nay multiple thousands of lakes accessible by plane, train and automobile. The wonderful thing about almost every single one of these lakes is they have a multitude of species one can target on the fly including one of our favourites (to catch and eat) the Walleye!
Catching walleye on the fly is thought by many anglers to be, how can I put this delicately…boring! Sitting around waiting for a bite, not much to it. Right?
There must be a reason it’s one of North America’s favourite fish to target. In Algoma Country, they are plentiful, voracious eaters and get quite large! Perfect for fly anglers. So, what’s the issue?
It’s all in the way you fish for them. Walleye on the fly can be as exciting and entertaining as most any other species. Bear with me here.
One of the great things about walleye, is they are schooling fish. They like to be amongst other walleye, which makes them a great target for fly anglers. If you find one, chances are you will find a pile of them. But, you have to up your chances of catching that first fish and timing is everything.
Walleye are generally a deeper water species, often much too deep to target with your regular sinking lines and weighted flies. Counting down your fly to 20 or 30 feet takes time, and admittedly can be tedious (boring). So why fish for them when they are at their deepest? It’s been my experience, in lakes, the best time to target walleye is in the evening and early morning. This is the time when the sun is low, and not intrusive on the fish’s sensitive eyes and this is the time when walleye will come shallower to feed. We’ve experienced early/mid-summer walleye in depths as shallow as 6 feet when the light is low and they have their minds on food.
In the rivers of Algoma, things are quite different. Walleye in moving water are, in our experience catchable all season long. Why is this? Well, it’s believed the turbidity of moving water breaks up the light that irritates walleye. They are not as sensitive to light that simply doesn’t reach them. Also, the moving water provides a veil of protection from predators and birds of prey. A camouflage if you will. Fishing Walleye in rivers is arguably our favourite way to target them because they are seemingly more likely to eat reactively than in still water.
Here are a couple of techniques to try when targeting walleye in both rivers and lakes.
Bring Full Sinking Line
In lakes, it’s the angler that needs to put movement on the fly and with walleye generally deeper, there are some tips that can assist you in getting your presentation to the fish. Firstly, and most important, bring along a full sinking line. A full sinking line will allow your fly to reach the walleye zone in a timely manner so you maximize your time fishing instead of counting your fly to the bottom. Full sinking lines take a bit of practice to cast, but once you’re comfortable they can really get your flies out there.
For leader material, consider fluorocarbon. Fluoro sinks by nature faster than nylon helping to get your fly to the strike zone quickly. We like to use a short 4-foot piece of fluorocarbon for our flies because the fly is more in contact with the sink rate of the fly line and doesn’t flutter about in the water column. Also, fluorocarbon is mostly invisible in the water which plays well for big-eyed deep-dwelling walleye and it’s extremely abrasion-resistant. An 8 lb test should suffice for most of your walleye fishing.
Match the Hatch
Flies should definitely “match the hatch”. You can’t go wrong with mimicking what walleye eat in nature such as small baitfish, insects and of course leeches. So woolly buggers, bunny leeches, zuddlers and Clousers are deadly for walleye. Natural colours seem to work quite well so think brown, tan, olive and of course black. Now, here is a trick to entice bites from walleye. Many times, they will suspend a foot or 2 above the bottom of the lake. If you’re fishing a sinking line with a short fluorocarbon leader, there is always a chance your fly will get below the fish. Add a dollop of floatant to your fly. This will allow the line and leader to bring your fly to the bottom, but the floatant will suspend your fly a foot or so above, right in the strike zone of the fish added benefit of this trick is it helps prevent hookups on rocks and sticks.
Now, river fishing for walleye is a very different monster. You generally don’t have to move your flies at all. Just let the current do the work. Walleye will relate to many of the same river features that trout do so consider targeting deep pools, drop-offs into pools, seams and hydro cushions. These fish will be very opportunistically oriented meaning they will be more likely to eat reactively than to be hunting in moving water. Swinging flies is a great technique to target moving water walleye and again, using flies that emulate what they would eat naturally, ups your chances of catching fish. You can fish a floating line with weighted flies or add a sink tip or intermediate sinking line to your arsenal. Depending on the depth and speed of the water. Leader material could also match that of the lake fishing using an 8- to 10-pound test line of 4 to 5 feet in length.
No matter what style of fishing you choose to target Algoma Country walleye, be it still waters of the region or many of the rivers and creeks in the area, there is one thing for certain. There are walleye EVERYWHERE. They are extremely fly-friendly and a pile of fun to catch on a fly rod. So, the next time you are looking for something out of the box in Algoma Country, give walleye on a fly rod a chance…we think you’ll be glad you did.
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