High Volume Water Walleye
By Daniel Kiazyk
The 2004 season brought back a lot of memories, but more importantly it made a lot of memories. It had been a while since we’ve seen a year like it but generally ol’ timers will tell you that a high volume water year will mean a good walleye bite on both the Red and Winnipeg Rivers..
How did I see the season begin? To be honest I had an excellent advantage in that a couple of good friends had made some observations about what was going on that allowed me to adjust a lot faster to a different situation than we had seen in a long time on the river
At the end of August the emerald shiners had moved away from the locks and dam at Lockport. Where had they gone and why? Usually when the emerald shiner run doesn’t materialize the greenbacks don’t follow in any kind of numbers. Well, shiners had been easily caught throughout this particular summer but all of a sudden when fall appeared they had disappeared. Actually what we think happened was as the water volume rose this particular fall period the shiners moved out into areas closer to shore and shallower water. Part of this observation was bolstered by “seiners” finding shiners (although not in great numbers) in shallow water further back down the river.
Another very significant bit of info shared with me was that a shore angling friend was doing quite well for walleye from shore. OK, shore anglers do have their days but access to prime structure is limited and so too it follows is their success. The strange fact in the fall of 2004 was that earlier on many shore anglers did quite well (in some instances better than people in boats). The usual story is that it takes time sometimes for angler to adjust away from memories to the situation at hand.
So, it was in light of the prior experience that I would make a start into a walleye fishing context that was very different form what I had seen in the past number of years. The season was not one that started with our boats struggling for walleye. On the contrary we were doing quite well for numbers. The one downside was that fish were of eater size, nothing much larger than 5#ers. Now, as you are aware, part of what I try to provide paying folks is a walleye of a lifetime. So the next challenge was going to be to find larger walleye.
To answer the last question would be a matter of time. Persistence (a commonly misunderstood virtue that is commonly confused with craziness) with the Red River paid off well with increased numbers and more importantly size of fish as the season progressed. The latter observation was nothing new as I have seen over thirty years that the bite will usually start out with smaller fish at the beginning of the season moving on to numbers and variety at its peak with larger fish left lingering near the end of the Run.
The Winnipeg River, however for the most part during the season of 2004, did not produce as many large fish, why?
Well, it was our hypothesis that the increased current had changed fishs’ patterns and the means by which we would be successful getting to them. Our success on the Red River was greater because the fish were limited to a smaller area as opposed to the Winnipeg River below Pine Falls.
On the Red for example, we found walleye on shallow flats where a flat started on its downstream end (and fish were coming up on that flat most of the day). This shallow flat pattern worked almost without exception. There were also some flats that were better than others but that was determined on a daily basis.
The Winnipeg River on the other hand also had an increase in current. In the back of some bays with rock/mud transitions many anglers could find numbers of walleye throughout the fall season. This latter pattern, which is usually spotty on the Winnipeg River other years, was a go to pattern to fill the boat with eaters in 2004. The difficulty was however, in patterning “larger” walleyes throughout the season. Sure enough reports of larger walleyes came in but not the 2, 3 or even four per outing that is possible at Pine Falls. Trolling crankbaits for example in Traverse Bay was not overly productive for larger walleye (as it normally is “the” pattern for contacting the scattered pods that frequent the bay). Did the increase current put them in different places? Undoubtedly. The difficulty was finding where that was on any given day.
If I was to make one observation that followed from this past fall’s action (vis a vis success at either locale for larger walleye) the jig and minnow live /fresh salted was one of the best tactics. Trolling the increased current of the Red produced far fewer walleye then was normally the case. The Winnipeg River too saw fewer walleye come to the boat than was normally the case as a result of trolling (in the bay area that is). All of the latter observations followed as a result of increased current. In the Red’s case I would go so far as to say that increase turbidity meant the fish’s feeding zone was drastically reduced and thus rendering the usually effective crankbait ineffective. I wouldn’t say turbidity was the any different on the Winnipeg river, however I believe the increased current changed the location of baitfish and thus the predators. Putting together a winning pattern on any day meant doing it a bit differently than we normally do it.
Perhaps the best lesson derived from this past year’s higher water was that walleye will move shallower and into very particular locations.. Not unusual for the Red was the diminishing bite which came with the draw down. The Winnipeg river, too, showed a better bite later on in the season something probably related to the removal of commercial nets (a pattern showing itself as an axiom over the past few years). But perhaps the greatest insight derived from this year’s bite was having a couple of other friends who had also had their eyes on the high water trying their very best to understand what was going on below….