SANDUSKY, Ohio – Pro-am walleye fishing returns to action as the Cabela’s National Walleye Tour commences its fourth season on the western basin of Lake Erie, one of the premier fisheries in the country. The televised tournament, held April 21-22, is the first of four events and features the best walleye anglers in the world as they compete for a first-place prize package valued at over $60,000. Slugfests are the norm at massive Lake Erie and this year the fishing is expected to be even better than normal.
Reigning NWT Angler of the Year Mark Courts says a variety of presentations will work on Erie and expects a shootout.
“The walleyes are biting right now and they are big, really big,” said Mark Courts, the reigning Lucas Oil Angler of the Year. “All the rivers are going through their traditional runs and there are reports of postspawn fish already. It’s going to be a phenomenal tournament and a phenomenal year; everyone is excited about the schedule. We’ve had an early spring and everybody is jacked up about walleye fishing.”
“Expect huge, huge fish,” added Ranger-Evinrude pro Joe Whitten, who lives in nearby Toledo. “Right now the bite for big fish is unbelievable. We’re two or three weeks ahead of schedule with the weather. In a month, everything should pretty much be postspawn.”
An early spring will translate into a different walleye bite. Instead of drilling holes in the ice, anglers were fishing by boat in mid-March.
“It’s no secret that Erie has been crankbait dominated the last few years,” added Courts, the Ranger-Evinrude-Hydrowave pro. “With the early spring, you’re going to see more versatility, a lot of different techniques and tactics. That could mean more crawler harnesses, but the latest craze in walleye fishing is glide jigs. There’s a real possibility that it could be won jigging. It’s going to be different, but it’s going to be good. The fish will be done spawning and ready to put the feed bag on.”
Whitten believes traditional trolling will still be the primary technique, but how an angler trolls can vary significantly.
“If you jig the reefs, you may handle 50 or 60 males,” he said. “You can catch fish, but they’re not going to be the fish you need. This is Erie; you need to cover water. Right now, it’s strictly crankbaits and Bandits and Perfect 10s are hot. But a month from now I’d say it will be 50-50 between crankbaits and crawlers. The water temperature right now is 39 degrees and at 45 degrees, people start switching to crawlers.”
Look for traditional areas, such as Kelleys Island, Pelee Island and the Bass islands to be popular once the spawn is complete. Most of the trolling fish are currently being caught high (15 feet and above) in the water column.
“Once they lay their eggs and everything gets stable, it could be from the bottom of the water to the top; they really spread out.”
Whitten explained that most of the big fish are coming from the strong 2003 year class. The good news is that the recent year class appears to have the potential to rival 2003.
Ranger / Evinrude Pro Joe Whitten predicts over 90 pounds will be needed to win the upcoming NWT event on Lake Erie.
“The fishing is great and the future is bright. Right now you can set up literally anywhere in the western basin and catch fish. The key to the tournament is going to be understanding the weather conditions and adjusting to what can be fished.”
For a two-day event, Courts believes 90 pounds will be needed to win and it could take up to 80 to earn a check.
“Lake Erie is a body of water we always look forward to going to,” he said. “It’s one of the premier fisheries in the country, if not the premier fishery. It comes up on the schedule and everybody smiles ear to ear.”
Whitten agreed and even pushed his winning-weight estimate higher.
“For two days, you’ll need 92 to 94 pounds to win it,” Whitten predicted. “Unless the lake turns to mud, getting a five-fish limit shouldn’t be an issue.”
While Erie is unquestioned as a prolific fishery, it’s also susceptible to Mother Nature’s whims. When the wind blows, the water gets rough and mobility is severely limited.
“That’s the one thing about Erie,” concluded Courts. “It can be a perfect storm or it can be a perfect nightmare. You never know what the weather will bring.”