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Woods, water & worse/Jim Junttila

Think shallow for cold-water walleye

May 7, 2010
By Jim Junttila

"Mothers Day is pretty slim pickins' around here," said WW&W wildlife correspondent Paris Hiltunen, "Being neither married nor a mother, I'm free for the weekend," she lobbied for a date. "Take me out for walleye to tide me over til next Saturday and I'll do anything you want."

She was right, and knows how to seal the deal. May 15 is Opening Day of walleye season in the U.P., and most freezers have been walleye-free for a while, including mine. Finding a walleye fry would be a challenge, but she's worth it.

Some call the walleye (Stizostedion vitreum) a walleyed pike, but it's not a pike at all. It is the largest member of the perch family: Michigan record 17 pounds, three ounces, world record 25 pounds. 'Eyes are right up there with the most sought-after game fish in the Great Lakes watershed. Yooper walleye are toppa the line.

Is it the challenge of the catch? Those over-sized pearlescent eyes, that gorgeous golden-brown coloring from our coffee-colored water, or those delicious golden-brown filets in the frying pan?

I'm going with all of the above. It's what makes the U.P. such a hot fishing destination and Yooper walleye so popular; Diverse venues, beautiful, clean, uncrowded waters, happy-go-lucky Yooper hospitality, and good eating.

The U.P. has a wealth of walleye waters from the St. Mary's River at the Soo to the Menominee River and Bays de Noc down south, to Lake Medora and Lake Fanny Hooe up near the tippa the Keweenaw, with Lac la Belle, Gratiot, Rice, Portage and Torch lakes in between. Throw in Manistique Lake at Curtis, the Ontonagon River, and Lake Gogebic, straddling the Ontonagon-Gogebic County line, and we're talking some of the finest walleye fishing in the state.

I've always had good luck stopping at backroads places where they lure you inside with their Labatt's, Leinie's and Old Mil banners saying "Welcome Fishermen." If you're lucky, you can pick up ice or find a guide for the price of a beer. Or look for those ubiquitous Walt's Crawler signs, as yellow as the marsh marigolds, daffodils and Scottish broom in full bloom these days.

With water temps still in the 40s, walleye are lazy, lethargic and light feeders in cold early season lakes. Slow down your presentation; troll 1 to 1.5 miles per hour. Go too fast and you can troll the orange off your planer boards and never get a nibble.

Think slow and shallow. I pitch it into the warmer shoreline shallows and slow my usual jerk-pause retrieve down to a twitch-pause-swim retrieve, whether I'm fishing a live minnow, Gulp minnow, or a plain old half-crawler on a No. 6 hook.

Like dialing in just the right trolling speed, providing the right stimuli to trigger feeding is easier said than done.

"Wherever there's rip-rap there's something fishy going on," said WW&W senior fishing correspondent Ed Wetalainen. "Emergent weedbeds, bottom contours like humps, bumps, lumps, holes, shoals, drop-offs and reefs attract forage fish and walleye, he added, "so do docks, pilings and other structure."

"Don't get so focused on walleye that you don't think about smallmouth, northern and splake that can be hanging in the same water."

Post-spawn walleye often feed near the surface and in warmer shallows. I like spinnering 'em, slow-trolling with a bladed crawler harness behind planer boards. If they don't hit the harness, try small crankbaits, something that starts with an R: Rapala, Reef Runner or locally-made RJ Lures, hand crafted by fisherman, designer and lure maker, Ron Wiitanen right here in Houghton. He's making a name for himself on the pro walleye circuits, and helping local anglers get bit with that tantalizingly tight little wiggle and natural swimming action that has the same effect on fish as Paris Hiltunen has on fishermen.

Every lure is hand cut, air-brushed in great colors and clear-coated, each one a thing of beauty, functional as well as decorative, a fish-catching piece of art. Troll their website,, or call 370-0945 and schedule a visit to his showroom, just in time for Mother's Day. Ron also makes hand-painted crawler harness spinner blades, what every mother wants.

In other outdoor news, the Spring Raptor Rendezvous is underway at Brockway Mountain, and the fifth Annual Keweenaw Migratory Bird Festival in Copper Harbor runs throughout May, Frog, toad & turtle season opens May 29.

Jim can be reached 24/7/365 at



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