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Tactics for early Erie walleyes

By DICK MARTIN • Mar 24, 2018 at 8:00 AM

It's a simple fact that most game fish bite all 12 months of every year. I've caught largemouth bass in every month, bluegills, crappie, yellow perch, walleye, trout and more, and the only problem traditionally is deciding where they'll be and what they'll strike in a given month. Which isn't as hard as you might think, especially for Lake Erie walleyes.

Just keep one thing in mind. These March and early April walleye are getting ready to spawn, and they're feeding eagerly to build up egg and milt sacs for the big event. Many thousands will stage in loose schools, some to head west toward the Maumee river or to major and minor reefs or even near shoreline structure and spoil banks. Other pods will enter Sandusky Bay and move slowly toward the Sandusky River and other reefs and smaller spawning structures.

So, the two best places to fish, at least initially are in the Western Basin and particularly anywhere from one to three miles off Catawba Island and in waters not far from Marblehead. You'll need to hunt them. One late March a couple of friends and I went looking off Catawba and spent a couple of hours moving along slowly watching our fish locator before we found some. But once we did, we filled our limit on nice fish in less than an hour.

Wherever you fish, since the water is still frigid, you'll use ice fishing tactics. I like to drift and jig ice gear or maybe anchor and do the same. Swedish Pimple ice spoons are a personal favorite, always with an emerald shiner on each hook. They're lowered to bottom, lifted up a few inches and jigged gently. Bites can be anything from just a bit of resistance to a firm tug, so strike at any difference. And if bites don't come, and you know there are fish below, switch colors until something works. Good choices are silver (especially in murky water), chartreuse, white and yellow. Try jigging Rapalas too, fuzzy grubs, and other offerings.

As the season progresses, and fish begin to arrive at their favorite spawning reefs and areas, your tactics will change a little. Water temperatures should have reached 45 - 50 degrees by then, and one good technique is to troll off the reefs in about 30 feet of water using such long, slim crankbaits as Smithwick Rogues, Reef Runner Deep Divers, and Ripsticks in fire-tiger, black/silver, and blue/silver. Some huge walleye have been taken by this method, but I personally rarely keep such fish. They're almost invariably pre-spawn females who should be left to release their eggs, and not very good eating, anyway.

If trolling doesn't work, cast half to one ounce jigs near the reefs, jigs baited with a minnow and always with a stinger hook. Let them down to bottom, then bounce the offerings back slowly. Best colors in jigs seem to be purple, green, or pink. If seeking walleye isn't feasible due to weather or other factors, an alternative is to try your luck at East or West Harbor. East Harbor particularly has some excellent pan fishing for anything from bluegill and crappie to huge pumpkinseed sunfish and yellow perch.

You'll need to move around a bit to find concentrations and concentrate on dead weed beds whenever possible since these draw foraging fish, but you can make a good catch in either place using small jigs, ice spoons, or flies baited with waxworms or maggots.Again, it's tough fishing and you'd best have warm clothing, gloves, and plenty of hot coffee. But rewards can be worth it.

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Hooks & bullets

• The Sportsmen's Alliance, an organization dedicated to protecting fishermen, hunters and trappers rights, is holding its 40th Annual 52 Gun Raffle and is offering guns such as an engraved Henry Golden Boy to a Browning Maxus Hunter 12 gauge. Tickets are $50 each and each one is good for all 52 drawings. Just 1,000 tickets are available with proceeds going to help the Alliance help you. For more information or tickets call 614-888-4868.

• Any adult, group or conservation club that has a sincere interest in taking children fishing should consider becoming a certified Passport to Fishing instructor. A course is being offered from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. April 5 at the Division of Wildlife District Two office in Findlay — a one-day instructor training program that qualifies individuals to become certified fishing instructors. The office is located at 952 Lima Ave. in Findlay and participants are encouraged to bring a packed lunch and dress for the weather. To pre-register for the free course call Andrea Altman at 519-429-8321-

• Readers are reminded that Ohio hunters and fishermen now need a new license to pursue their sport. They can be bought at any one of the hundreds of participating agents, at wildohio.gov or on many mobile devices. Deer and fall turkey permits won't be available until June after the Ohio Wildlife Council votes on their seasons and dates.

• The U.S. Coast Guard is scheduled to change the color of the Sandusky Strait channel range lights from red to white late spring or early summer 2018. The change originated as a request by commercial shipping and Great Lakes Pilots due to the red range lights aligning with the Bay Point Shoal lighted buoy "2", also red, creating confusion. Once the change has taken place, a broadcast notice to mariners will commence via VHF-FM channels 16 and 22. The change will be listed on the District 9 Great Lakes weekly local notice to mariners, located at the U.S. Coast Guard Navigation Center (NAVCEN) website. The range lights can be found in the Great Lakes Light List Volume VII on page 47 as "Sandusky Strait Channel Range Front Light" (light list number 4625) and "Sandusky Strait Channel Range Real Light" (LLNR 4630). The light list can also be located on the NAVCEN website.


Dick Martin is a free-lance writer from Shelby. Reach him at [email protected] You can also visit his blog at outdoorswithmartin.com.

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