Tuning Up for Summer Walleye – Part 2

Find the Forage, Match Your Lure, Catch Fish!

Bob Rustowicz has been a tournament winning angler for many decades- he fishes hard and often, following bait schools near his favorite fishing areas in Eastern Basin Lake Erie. This 11.42 pound walleye is currently leading the 32nd Annual Southtowns Walleye Association Tournament.

When tournament anglers travel to a waterway that they know, it is often a brand new ball game because everything changes week to week.  Sometimes it’s better not to know the waterway, that way you can’t make the same mistakes by fishing the same way you did last time when you caught fish and now, the conditions are changed.  Bad habits can cause bad fishing days, of course, we all know there are no days that are actually bad days to be out fishing!

You may know where the creek beds and the sunken roads are in reservoir lakes, the offshore shoals and reefs in natural lakes – maps can tell you that too, but it’s the other variables that affect forage location.  Where the forage schools are controls where the predator fish are and what they will strike.  As you choose your lures, this is a big key to catching fish.

Plain and simple, walleye like to eat.  As waters warm, they eat often.  Their metabolism rises and they have no choice, so they stay close to forage school locations.  As anglers, it is up to us to understand how the wind direction and water temperature changes affect the forage.  It pays to know as many details as possible about the forage community.  What types of forage live in the waterway?

On Lake Erie, the deep eastern basin off New York and Pennsylvania offers many forage types, but the primary forage are emerald shiners, rainbow smelt, yellow perch and round goby.  The walleye will key on whichever species has the most abundance where the walleye are located.

Walleye favorites in Lake Erie are the emerald shiners and smelt, so angler lures that mimic those forage types – when those forage types are available, are usually taking fish to the boat.

Usually, the smaller walleye key on the emerald shiner minnows, the larger walleye key on the longer and heavier smelt, but when or the other is in low supply, the fish switch in favor of abundance.  When these two forage are hard to find, the walleye move toward shore into shallower waters and key on the yellow perch.  Again, the walleye locations vary with forage density locations.

So while I am not a biologist, I have been fishing out there for nearly seven decades and have learned from the best of the best anglers.  Today, we have so much equipment to help us cheat fair out there, since it now largely a matter of who can afford the best equipment to catch fish with science and technology helping us figure out where the forage is.  We can monitor, water temperature, wind speed, water current, boat speed, oxygen content and Ph to narrow down where we fish any length of time.

To simplify, watch your graph, study the wind and wave weather maps – the resulting current eddy’s control the flow of phytoplankton and photoplankton. The young of the year emerald shiner and smelt nursery schools feed on these the larger forage is never too far from them.  The walleye are nearby.

The wind maps can be found here: http://www.coastwatch.msu.edu/erie/e3.html.

Wind maps and lake current maps are available for all the Great Lakes at this link sector.  These maps help you locate the surface temperature of interest and help you figure out where the forage are located in their highest density.

Rig up your preferred fishing tackle, just allow for adjusting to the baitfish that you locate to catch fish.  As we transition into summer, the temperature cycles have been fluctuating and the wind shifts the lake currents topsy-turvy, often causing short duration turnovers.  When you leave the dock and head out about a mile or so, check the water temp.  If it’s 45, turn around and go fish somewhere else.  Or, head out about 15 miles to get to the other edge of the thermal break.

Match the hatch is the key rule.  Mimic the forage.  New model lures always seem to catch more fish than old stuff for some reason.  Are the fish educated?  Nope.  It’s just that they seem to always slam new baits, new colors, new sizes better than old stuff.  Can the old stuff still work? Sure it can, but sometimes only on those days when the fish are really gorging themselves.  Funny how that works.


So I am always trying new lures. The new effective lures from my end include those that look like smelt.  This one from Live-Target Lures simulates an elongated school of baitfish.  I really like it, especially when it’s working!  It’s ideal when walleye are feeding on small baitfish, has a wide body profile, two hook or three hook design dependent on size, it suspends and is silent.  The EBB90S in pearl/olive (color 801) is a 5/16 ounce suspending lure, 3-1/2 inch long that will dive 3-4feet.  It has two hooks in size 4.  The EBB115S is a 4-1/2 inch model and has three hooks in size 6.


Another of the new lures that has met with recent success is this one from Rapala.  Another of the newbies that has attracted some of the country’s best anglers for many species is the Rapala Shadow Rap (SDR11MBS).  This lure works best when there are also gizzard shad in the forage mix, as sometimes happens here in WNY in spring.  It has flatter sides and offers a swimming minnow action, has a rattle, will suspend and stay there, a very effective lure to cast or troll, especially when fished as a jerk bait.  The moss back shiner color has been my favorite here.  It runs just 2 to 4 feet deep, but works well off the boards with weight or a diving plan or 3-color lead core for the June timeframe.

These lure types are also offered in deeper diving models if you prefer to fish without lead core or weights as the fish head out deeper.

In the Southtowns Walleye Association Tournament on Lake Erie’s eastern basin, the largest fish so far include (June 13th) for first place: 11.42 lbs, second: 10.72, third: 10.51 lbs.  For the junior anglers under 16, first place is 9.52 lbs, second is 7.80 and third is 7.75.    Bob Rustowicz is leading with the big fish.

Tight lines!