How to Catch Summer Walleyes on Lake Erie

Walleye fishing on Lake Erie during the summer can sometimes be a “no-brainer.” Where about all you have to do is engage the engine, drop a few lures into the water and break out the landing net. Most of the time, though, fishing success stems from prior planning and attention to detail.

Tournament angler and brand ambassador Zak Jobes understands more than most what it takes to put walleyes in the livewell on a consistent basis, and he offers some tips to help you do the same.

  • Be willing to move. Spring and early-summer see a general walleye migration from west to east as fish move from traditional spawning areas to their warm-season haunts. “Fishermen should be ready to move with them,” said Jobes, “which can mean putting the boat on your trailer and launching at the next harbor to the east, or the one after that.” The key thing to remember, he added, is the walleyes will typically be found on the same type of structure, or at the same depth, in the new spot. “If you were catching fish along the 20-foot contour at East Lake, start at the same depth when you get to Fairport Harbor.”
  • Watch the thermocline. During the summer large bodies of water will form a layer of warm, oxygenated water over a cool, oxygen-poor layer. The thermocline, where the two layers meet, is visible on sonar and where walleyes tend to hold when the upper layer becomes too warm. It offers enough dissolved oxygen to survive, as well as a more comfortable water temperature. “It usually forms at 20-to-30 feet early in the summer and can be 40 or more feet deep by mid-summer,” said Jobes. “You’ll see it on the sonar screen. Keep your baits running just above the thermocline, or just into it. Walleyes will come up to attack a lure, but they won’t swim down.”
  • Control running depths. Jobes uses size 1 Dipsy Diver diving planers to take his Smithwick Perfect 10 Rouge and Bandit Walleye Shallow stickbaits to precise depths, and more importantly, to pull them out away from the trolling path so the boat doesn’t spook the fish. “Use a black Dipsy,” he said. “I’ve tested black side-by-side against many other colors and it out-produced them every time.” Snap Weights, lead sinkers equipped with strong pinch-pads to secure them to the line, are another option, but instead of attaching it at the recommended 30-to-50 feet in front of the lure, Jobes sets it at 20, and sometimes even 10, feet. “The shorter lead makes the Bandit Walleye Deep stickbait run with a real tight wiggle,” he said, “which seems to trigger more bites from bigger fish.”
  • Fish the smelt bite. Smelt are a predominate forage species in Lake Erie, and deserve special attention wherever you find them. “To a walleye, smelt is like filet mignon,” Jobes explained, “so when you see a ball of smelt on sonar, you’ll often mark walleyes, too.” Purple, white and especially pink are the best colors to use here. If you’re trolling Perfect 10s, Jobes recommends the Floyd, C-Town and Pink Lemonade patterns; for a Walleye Deep, go with Purple Shad, Popsicle, Pearl Glo or Pink Silver Sparkle Glo. Run lures just outside or below the baitball to mimic a smelt that’s injured or confused. A baitfish swimming on its own is vulnerable and is sure to trigger an attack.

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