2009 Walleye Fishing Was Superb

I’ve been fishing Eagle Lake walleyes for the past 25 years and the catching is much better now than it used to be. Although I can’t document it, I believe that I have caught more and bigger walleyes in the past five years than in the previous 20 combined–way more. There are several reasons for this. I have learned to fish where the fish are located (in the greater Vermilion Bay area). I’m using effective fish-catching systems (usually crawlers on spinner harnesses with bottom-bouncers). And I’m fishing deeper water. These factors are mostly about knowledge and skill, which in my case have gotten a lot better. But, the most significant variables that have boosted my success are time on the water and the improvement of Eagle as a walleye fishery.
I have been fortunate to have some very good fishing partners that have helped me pursue Eagle’s walleyes. Pictured here is my friend, Andy Lewis. He is a very good multi-species angler and the best walleye guy I know. He fishes hard and effectively, and we have learned a lot from each other. This year we caught hordes of walleyes within sight of VBL, as has been the case for several years now. We are getting fish of all sizes, too–from piddlers up to 26 inches this summer. We think this is a good “quality indicator” of the walleye fishery on Eagle. Hopefully, 2010 will be the year we crack the code for catching some of Eagle’s monster walleyes–fish in the 28-32 inch class. Fish of this size have eluded us thus far.
Incidentally, Gord and I wrote a short primer that offers a few methods for catching walleyes on Eagle Lake. You might find something of value in it if you’re new to the sport or want to consider doing something different. The document can be found on the VBL web site.
I’m going to finish-up this post with a few words about walleye conservation. In 2008 the Minnesota DNR published, Hooking Mortality of Walleye Caught from the Deep Waters of Rainy Lake. I obtained the report and spoke to its author. In essence, data were collected to evaluate the relationship between the rate of mortality and depth of capture, fish length, water temperature, and experimental handling time. The study was based on walleye caught by anglers and then held in deep holding cages, allowing the fish to reestablish themselves at the depth of capture. After five days the cages were lifted and survival was recorded. A total of 284walleye were captured and used in the analysis; 88 died as a result of hooking mortality (31%).
Capture depth had the largest effect on mortality, though handling time also had a significant effect. Increases in either variable were associated with higher mortality rates. The DNR model predicts that when angling in deep water the mortality rate varies from 8% in 30 feet of water to 35% in 50 feet of water.
The study was conducted over a two-year period, July-September. This is when I do most of my walleye fishing on Eagle and the vast majority of my fish are caught in deep water. I have observed a very small level of mortality with most fish appearing to be okay upon release. I watch them swim right back to the bottom on my sonar unit. But a few fish are nearly dead upon netting due to the change in atmospheric pressure. These fish are like balloons being inflated–air bubbles are leaking and their eyes bulge outward. They are dead in less than a minute and revival is impossible. I caught well over 100 walleyes last summer and had three fish die in this manner. Two were under 18 inches and became eaters, but one was in the slot and had to be released dead.

The discussion I had with the study’s author helped me think through my strategy for fishing walleyes in deep water. Here’s how I will go about it.

  • target fish located in the “less deep” water (30 feet is better than 45 feet) fish progressively deeper only if necessary
  • set the hook quickly to minimize removal time from deeply hooked fish
  • get the fish back in the water fast (taking time for photos is likely to be harmful)
  • anticipate some mortality and use these fish for eating in camp or for taking home

Fishing causes fish mortality, whether intentional or not. I hope you will consider what you can do to keep it to a minimum, no matter what species you fish.

14 thoughts on “2009 Walleye Fishing Was Superb

  1. Professor I agree with you on your points of catching wallys on Eagle and in my opinion I think that the slot size and no nighttime fishing on Eagle is helping improve the fishery all around on Eagle.
    I remember when I first started fishing Eagle back in the 70's and the wally fishing was good and when we first started visiting VBL some 10 years ago or so the wally fishing was ok but has gotten better each year with the qaulity of fish growing.
    I can only see this fishery becoming one of the best in the near future as long as the rules are kept in place for it.
    Great post by the way

  2. Hi Professor,
    I met you three years ago when I came to Eagle for the 35th year. I had only fishes Muskies for all of those years. Gord introduced me to walleyes at that time. Others had attempted to get me to try it for years and all of them had concluded that I had a better chance of being a brain surgeon that a walleye fisherman. My own dad gave up on me and my wife gave my walleye rods away to children she didn't even know just to spare me continued humiliation. Then came bottom bouncing. I shined and eventually RULED!! I love it. Now I look forward to splitting my time between Muskie and walleye. Gord says at 66 years young I am still trainable.
    I appreciate your opinion on bad things that can happen at 50 plus feet. I had one casualty at 50 or so last year so I believe it. It's easy… casting into tree branches is to shallow. Fishing in more than 50 is to deep. There is a lot of water in between.
    Be well. Thanks for the "jump start" you gave me into Walleye World"

    My best, Bill

  3. Great post Professor! I have had the privilege of fishing with the professor on many outings. We have had fun getting skunked and we have had a blast catching fish hand over fist. My best recollection was a double with two walleyes over 30" on Big Bay du Noc. We hope to repeat that some day on Eagle.

    I want to point out another factor influencing the fishery on Eagle and most bodies of water. Catch and release fishing. Joe and others have raised some important issues regarding the mortality rate of deep water fish. Despite what people want to believe, there is a mortality rate that goes with any catch and release fishing. However, even the worst mortality rate noted by Joe (35% at 50 feet)is close to three times better than the anglers that used to keep everything they caught (100% mortality for those of you that are challenged by math). One last note. While it's never pleasant to be forced to release a slot fish that you know is going to die, I have never seen one of these fish float for more than a few minutes before being scooped up by an eagle. Eagles have to eat too. The future of fishing is bright because of better fishery management and more conservation minded anglers. One exception to this rule. Nothing pleases Gord like bringing back a burlap bag full of big perch. Consult with the Perchmaster…he knows where and when to find them.

    Tight lines for everyone in 2010!


  4. Nothing pleases Gord like bringing back a burlap bag full of big perch. Consult with the Perchmaster…he knows where and when to find them.

    Yea Gord loves that more than anything when he hears today is perch fishing day….
    Think he hope for motor troubles that day so we don't make it or the beavers built a hut so high that we can't get over it.
    I will never forget the first trip perch fishing and we had to go over beaver huts think 3 of them that year was well worth it but the ride back was one I will never forget….
    Thanks to guide Gord Eiler Sorry if I killed the spelling of his name…

  5. Perchmaster,

    People can laugh all they want to, but I followed your tips a few years ago with Steve Kohlstedt and we caught a mess of nice bull perch. It was a nice way to break up the trip. One of the things I really like about Eagle Lake is the diversity of fishing opportunities. This is just one more opportunity and nothing tastes better than perch! I'm hoping to make a spring and fall trip this year but my daughter's graduation may get in the way of the spring trip….we'll see.


  6. I would agree that the walleye fishing on Eagle has really come on in the last decade. I would also say from what I saw (& heard) this summer that the muskie fishing has gone the same way.

    Fishing "responsibly" is likely the key to fishing walleye in deeper water. The points that the professor makes are good ones. I think the 30% mortality the study points out are likely not out of line. I have noticed more stress on fish caught via the bottom bouncer technique vs a more verticle jig & minnow presentation. Perhaps time is the key between the two……generally it is a quicker release with the jig (less line out?). Something to consider. I think the quick release is essential….perhaps flattened barbs, less hooks, no photo etc.. The crawler harness may need modification, or, perhaps more use of artificial baits / spoons with the bottom bouncer. I throw these ideas out for consideration. I would also add a point to the professors list. This would be to become familiar with the signs of stress on the fish you are catching and act accordingly. These signs include the obvious bulging eyes and protruding stomachs…..but also more subtle signs of internal bleeding and rupture…reddish gill and "neck" areas. I've cleaned many fish that have come out of deep water that had internal bleeding. Fatal, perhaps, but definately not the best state for the fish.

    Fish responsibly, and keep improving our release techniques. The fishing quality will continue its upwards spiral if we do so.

  7. Andy
    The way the weather has been the last couple of years early June would have been better for those Eagle Lake JUMBO perch.
    The weed growth the last couple of years in May has been slow due to cold weather so if you can hit it in June I amsure you can bring back a limit of JUMBOS for Gord to clean for hours.
    If you need the info on where to get the Chena bait just let Gord know or you can e-mail me and I will get you the info.

  8. I hate to mention this but even I was impressed with some giant "perch" that were brought in this summer…from Lake "X". I've been meaning to mention this to Perchmaster as an alternative to where he normally perch fishes. This is a lake nearby that he is familiar with….plenty of weed edges and water that should be warmer than others. The perch were sooooo thick that laying on the fish house table they were "mega jumbos" (Perchmaster is now drooling)….I will reveal the secret to him this spring and he can check it out and report back…..

  9. Perchmaster,

    If it's not lake "x", I think I know a spot that would be very good for perch. When are you going this spring? Perhaps Gord could arrange a one day perch fishing tournament with the winner taking possession of a jeweled tierra? We fished with pieces of crawler before, but I have purchased Chenna bait on the web as well. Gord gets a good bell laugh, but it was literally like fishing bone fish. You would pick out the biggest perch, cast too it, and bingo. The only problem is that it was windy when Steve and Shawn and I fished and the ripples got in the way at times. We also started fishing in the wrong end of the bay, but once we found them, it was constant action.


  10. Does that mean I have to purchase special "flats" boats with the raised platform for the dude who has to pole the boat?

    There is the business opportunity of a specialized "sight fishing for bull perch" clothing line. Very exclusive!

  11. Not sure but Lake "X" would be one of 2 lakes and the one I remember catching nice perch in but have not been back to that lake. Gord might have an idea there if it is a cold spring again and hitting lake "X" for the day might very well be an option.
    Thanks for the reminder Gord kind of forgot about that lake if it is the one I am thinking of?

  12. Fishing for "BULLPERCH" in calm waters is a PLUS as you can then see them and are much easier to target.
    I won't forget the day we had to 4 wheel into one lake and 100 perch in 55 minutes and it was calm and some good weeds and you could just pull one after another….

  13. Gord…The MN DNR study points to depth of catch and time out of the water as the two main variables that influence walleye mortality. A jig offers an advantage only if it is quickly removed so that the fish can be released fast. But your comment has me thinking that I should document my results with a three-hook spinner harness fished barbless, as well as a spinner with a single hook baited with a gulp minnow. Both rigs on bottom-bouncers, though.

    Hopefully, my sugar mama missus will be able to support this kind of work in the name of science.

  14. Hi NewMexicam…I remember meeting you and recall being astounded that you traveled so very far from home to get to VBL. You made a fine choice, though. I was very sorry to read of the vicious abuse heaped upon you by family members. I hope they have to eat a big bowl of crow every day as a reminder that once a person receives the right opportunity, they will catch lots of walleyes. My hats off to you for proving how very wrong they were.

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Thank you very much for making my get a way week so enjoyable. Dan and I had a great time. You and Susanne should be commended on how clean and well maintained your cabins and lodge are. I will recommend you to anyone that is looking to go to Canada fishing and I look forward to the time I can come back.

Jody Hansen

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