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Walleye Fishing with Jigs on Lake Erie

By Capt. Rick MIllette

The jig-and-minnow fishing action for walleye on western Lake Erie in recent April's has been so hot you might scald yourself if you put your hand in the water. Just ask Lake Erie walleye guide Rick Millette.

Pardon the exaggeration, but it makes the point. Fish are taken just about anywhere from Maumee Bay to the reef complex off Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station between Toledo and Port Clinton, and action should remain excellent into mid-May .

Walleye stage around western basin reefs and move onto them to spawn from late March into April. They also congregate in Maumee Bay, some to spawn and others to run up the Maumee River to spawn. The periods before and after spawning can be times of feeding frenzy, and some of the largest walleye of the year are taken.

The Full Moon

"The full moon is also something walleye anglers might want to consider when fishing Lake Erie," said Chris Vandergoot, a biologist with the state’s Lake Erie Fisheries Research Station at Sandusky.

Limits of four fish per person can take as little as 30 minutes, and anglers spend the rest of their trip catching and releasing Lake Erie walleye, which is legal. As for "sorting," that is, trading a fish in possession for a bigger fish you just caught, it’s OK. Just be sure the fish you release from the livewell is alive and well, or you could face a ticket for wanton waste.

Heavy Jigs

For the most part the rig of choice has been a heavy jig - 5/8- to 3/4-ounce - with a hair tail jig and dressed with a minnow, preferably an emerald shiner. Rick Ferguson, at Al Szuch Live Bait in Jerusalem Township, said the best colors at midweek were jigs with blue, blue/chartreuse, blue/white or purple hair. Some anglers were even taking fish just on the jigs, with no minnow, or with jigs and plastic wiggling tails. A few anglers also are using any of the various blade baits, which can be jigged or "snapped."

Note that blade baits, equipped with treble hooks, or the popular "stinger" treble hooks that frequently are piggybacked onto jigs, are illegal in Maumee and Sandusky bays until May 1, as they are on the Maumee and Sandusky rivers.

Many familiar sites in Maumee Bay - from around Turtle Island and the Toledo Harbor Light to shallow water off Little Cedar Point, Toledo Water Intake and the chart site marked "Gravel Pit" - may produce fish in the Toledo area, as may most of the inshore reefs off Davis-Besse, including Toussaint, Turtle, Crib and Locust Point.

"Anywhere up close," said Capt. Rick Millette of Erie Quest Charters, a charter guide from Curtice, who fishes out of Meinke Marina West, on the Cooley Canal. Jig and minnow fishing in early spring was a quietly kept secret for years among knowledgeable old-timers, but it has become very popular in the last 10 to 15 years, said Millette.

"Our guys use the real heavy jigs so they can thump the bottom," he added, explaining that Wisconsin and Minnesota jig-fishermen use lightweight jigs, as small as a 64th or 32nd of an ounce. "A quarter ounce is heavy to them."

It is only during the post-spawn period, say in early May as the lake waters warm somewhat, that walleye seem to switch preferences to weight-forward spinners and night crawlers. Or maybe that is an angler preference.

Trolling For Walleyes

Too, some anglers who prefer to troll can take walleye almost from ice-out by towing plastic crankbaits tuned to the depths where the walleye are hanging out. Some trollers also will pull bottom-bouncers and worm harnesses at very slow speeds. While jigging minnows off Davis-Besse Tuesday, Millette offered some jig-and-minnow angling pointers. "It’s the angle game. The angle of fishing line to the water is the thing with jig and minnow."

In other words, sometimes it is not a matter of vertical jigging - wind-drift pushes the boat along too quickly to keep a line vertical. \"Some days they want a high lift, some days a gentle lift," said Millette. "I’d say 70 to 80 percent of the time vertical is better, or at least as vertical as you can get." So experiment a little if the fish are not hopping on the jig. Pay out more line to change the angle with the water if a more vertical, or perpendicular, presentation is not working.

"Another thing," said Capt. Rick Millette, Erie Quest Charters, "at this time of year in these shallow reefs is boat pressure." His personal tolerance is for no more than six or seven boats on a reef. More and "it’s time to reef-hop."

This is Capt. Rick’s favorite time of year to catch walleye. "It’s realistic to say you can catch 100 fish a day (for a six-person charter) this time of year."

Jigs on Lake Erie Makes Excellent Fishing

Lake Erie April jig fishing for walleye is an anglers dream come true! Think of it, the potential to handle a lot of walleye in a trip is excellent in April or May, maybe the best of the year. You legally can sort to keep, say, three four-pound walleye, and those will provide as much "meat" - if you must measure your success by pounds of fillets taken home - as a limit of six two-pound walleye taken in June or July, when you may not be able to enjoy catching and handling as many fish in a day.

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