Warm and Windy Days:
Just looking at a printed report of last week’s weather would lead you to believe that it was just another normal summer week on Lac Seul. On the water, it felt very different. A series of really big wind days churned up areas of the main lake basin. You could find cloudy, clay colored water miles away from shore and surface temps that had been into the 70s dropped into the low 60s. It didn’t feel like a huge change, but we did see a significant response from the fish. Groups of walleyes scattered throughout the lake and water column. And the big pike disappeared.
We found walleyes shallow and deep, but there were also many suspended fish this week. The biggest change for me was the number of walleyes targeted on screen that were in a negative feeding mood that you just could not get to bite. Surprisingly, big plastic at speed was just as effective as complete dead sticking with light jigs and minnows. Overall volume dropped dramatically this week with guide sheets averaging 26 walleyes over 18 in. per boat per day.
The big walleye numbers were still good with 44 over 27 in., including 7 – 28s and 6 – 29s. All of the big ones were caught in water deeper than 20 ft. in or near the main lake basin.
There was some effort chasing pike this past week, but the results were zero pike over 37 in. We didn’t even catch them as incidentals while walleye fishing.
On balance and in reference to previous year’s fishing reports for this week, I would summarize that this week’s results were more normal. Compared to previous weeks in 2018, I would conclude that we were spoiled with some outstanding fishing results in June and early July.
It is officially summer on Lac Seul:
The weeds are up and topped out. It was a warm and sunny week with a few thunderstorms, some high winds, and a couple of extreme 180 degree wind switches. And the Walleye bite is on.
It was another great week of walleye fishing in the south central basin. Volume was high with guide sheets averaging 42 walleyes over 18 in. per boat per day. The top end size continued to be excellent with the guide crew catching and releasing 51 walleyes over 27 in., including 11 – 28s, 3 – 29s, and 3 – 30s. The percentage of 30 inch fish is up considerably this season.
Wind shifts are normal this time of year and they typically turn gradually from 10 mph South to 4 mph SW and then slide into 15 mph West the next afternoon. This week was harsh. We had 2 wind shifts that were 20 – 30 mph sustained one day, immediately shifting to stronger winds the opposite direction the next day. There were even subtle micro shifts on days before and after. The result is that the lake surface temps dropped from 74 to 65 and that means that there was a good mixing of the top 10 ft.
The walleye trends:
This week is usually the beginning of one of our windows of big pike production. When the cabbage weeds top out, the show is usually on. In practice, it was hit and miss this week. Much of the lack of production can be blamed on the wind shifts. There wasn’t much effort in play and we will see what happens next week. The totals: 4 over 38, including one 39. Nothing to write home about.
There wasn’t much time spent on pike last week, but there will be this week.
I always ask my first year guides for a “take away” from the round table meeting. I already knew the answer this week and I was waiting to hear it. Moving at speed with big Plastics is the fastest way to learn the key depth and presentation.
Shifting Gears: Bass to Walleye
The rules of the photo board allow departing guests to pull the pictures of their fish when they leave and most do. Before the board was decimated last week it was almost all bass. Tonight, it was almost all nice walleye photos before the groups checked out.
The common theme for “what was learned at round table tonight?” this week was that we were often catching walleyes from dramatically different areas, depths, and with extreme presentations at the same time. We caught walleyes dead sticking minnows on main lake sand in 20 – 30 ft. We caught walleyes in front of the weeds in 9 ft. of water with big Gulp. And we found good volume on mid depth sand flats with light jigs pulled at speed to cover water and contact suspended walleyes. You really had to be on your toes this week to stay on fish. There was a lot more “4 fish from 10 spots” than “30 from 1 spot this week”.
It is still a 50/50 split between Gulp and Minnows for volume, but the size goes to the Plastic. For the week, we caught and released 55 walleyes over 27 in., including, 11 – 28s, 4 – 29s, and 2 – 30s. Most of the really big fish fell for the 6.5 in. Nemesis. A few ate the minnows. But the key was to figuring out each day’s depth and bite preference. When the fish are a bit more scattered, the guides tend to rely more on plastics and speed to solve the puzzle of the day.
Walleye volume was good again this week. Guide sheets averaged 40 walleyes over18 in. per boat per day.
We did get some much-needed rain this past week, but the lake is still down just a little under 2 ft. The lake level does not really affect the walleyes this time of year, but the quality and depth of the weed beds are a major factor for big pike. Some traditional summer spots are great, but others are not holding the size of fish we expect. There was not a great deal of effort spent chasing pike this past week and the results were limited. For the week we caught and released 5 over 37 in.
Last week we did have several groups that chased smallmouth bass and did very well. This week, the groups were much more focused on walleyes. Between the effort and the weather, bass numbers fell off sharply. For the week we caught and released 11 over 19 in. There are still a few out there to be caught, but there may not be the anglers around to hunt for them. The mayfly hatch is the environmental indicator that we watch for to let us know that the bass bite is in decline. The hatch has already occurred in some of the warm water bays and is just beginning on the main lake. As noted in previous year’s reports, the mayfly hatch has virtually zero affect on our walleye production.
A Week With No Wind
Almost the entire week was sunny, hot and flat calm. Lake surface temperatures soared into the mid 70s and there were even reports of areas in the low 80s. The Texans laughed at the criteria for a heat advisory in Northwest Ontario, but we did have 3 days that qualified this past week.
Extreme weather always impacts the fishing. This week it put the Smallmouth bass bite into overdrive. It also sent tons of walleyes into shallow water, but the big ones were not represented in the same numbers that you would normally expect. Volume was high, but the top end took a hit. The weeds are ahead of schedule, even on the main lake, but it still takes time for the big pike to settle in.
Historically, this week has been the peak of the smallmouth bass bite for the year at The Wheel. And the flat water and bright sunshine sent all of our top Bass regions into high gear. For the week we caught and released 80 bass over 19 in., including 5 – 20s. Top waters, tubes, jigs w/tails, and cranks all had their time and place. At one point, the photo board in the main lodge was 75% Bass.
Two factors affected the walleye results for the week. Number one; many anglers were bass fishing. Number two, there was a separation in the walleye population when they moved shallow. We caught tons of walleyes in the slot – 25 or 26 in. size, but with the flat calm conditions, it felt like the big girls just didn’t come to the party. For the week, we caught and released 35 walleyes over 27 in., including 6 – 28s, 6 – 29s, and 1 – 30. Volume was good with guide sheets averaging 40 walleyes over 18 in. per boat per day.
There is the possibility that our group pattern and approach to walleye fishing is the reason that the results are amplified, but I am still confident that the “extremes” approach is still the most productive answer for most days. We are still consistently experimenting with finesse, slow long lining 1/8’s with minnows or jumping straight up to 3/8 oz. jigs and 6.5 in. Gulp Nemesis pulled at speed (1.2 – 1.4 mph). When one result is clearly better than the other, we try to duplicate the pattern in areas with similar conditions. Most walleyes were caught between 6 – 12 ft. of water this week. The majority of walleyes 27 – 30 in. were caught in 12 – 20.
With the heat wave and lake levels just a little over 1 ft. lower than normal, the weeds are growing just a bit ahead of schedule. The cabbage weed beds topping out on the surface on the main lake is one of the environmental indicators that we watch for to key in on a big pike bite. The typical time frame is July 4. We aren’t there yet, but it is close. We had minimal effort spent chasing pike this week, but we still caught 10 over 37 in., including 5 – 38s, 2 – 40s, and 1 – 41.
The Bass fishing was so good this week that even the hard-core walleye hunters broke ranks and spent some time on the chunk rock shorelines.
It is always the weather, so I might as well talk about that first. It feels like late spring / early summer on Lac Seul right now. The weather has been beautiful and the fishing has been great. I actually looked back and read the previous week’s reports and the take away for me was that the early season weather was volatile and that this week was much more normal. We did have some windy days early, some rain in the middle, and some calmer days at the end, but nothing felt extreme.
Especially towards the end of the week, main lake sand cups in the 10 – 15 ft zone really took off for walleyes. Even if the wind was light, you had to have it blowing into a dead end zone. Without the wind, there was very little action. Add a perfect wind to a Grade C- spot with a quick break into 10 ft. and a guide might put 30 walleyes on his sheet (and often did).
As a crew, we were pretty much 50/50 this week on Gulp @ speed vs. 1/8 oz. jigs and minnows. Earlier in the week, the Gulp helped to pick off aggressive walleyes on wind blown shorelines. Later in the week, we used Gulp to contact scattered walleyes on flats. At the same time, other guides found walleyes deeper on breaks that had been exposed to wind the previous day and were able to catch neutral to negative fish deeper. The trick was to run a dozen experiments with your group every day and evaluate the results and adjust as you go. The guests like it. It makes the day fun. And it works. The 4 in. Gulp served a purpose, but the 6.5 in. Gulp was a proof. If you found a group of walleyes that would hit the big baits, then you knew you could move at speed and work to target big fish.
And it was a great week for big walleyes – 74 over 27 in., including 9 – 28s, 5 – 29s, and 1 – 30. Volume was really good with guide sheets averaging 45 walleyes over 18 in. per boat per day. We caught and released a ton of nice walleyes this week.
The Bass are just starting to come in shallow on a regular basis. Some boats did well this week. Some areas that have been excellent in the past were tough. The lake is about 1ft. lower than normal and some of our classic bass spots are choked with weeds. The bass are still there, but it is just tough to catch them. For the week, we caught and released 15 over 19 in.
Transition pike are often tough. The weeds are up in the back bays and about half way up on the main lake. The big pike can be anywhere and that is where they were. For the week, we caught 7 over 37 in. including 1 – 42.
The theme at check out was the same for every group this week; great trip, can’t wait to come back…. My response was the reminder, that even on the best fisheries, the weather during your short stay can make fishing tough or make it great. I do my best to report the fishing as it is and manage expectations for those groups that return year after year.
No one, ever goes back to a lodge hoping that they will catch ½ as many fish that were almost as big as last year. The groups that have been up for 10 – 20 years know the drill. They don’t doubt the fishery or the guides, they just know that it is fishing and that sometimes the fish are snapping and sometimes they aren’t. Those are the easiest groups to guide and this time of year the schedule is packed full of them.
Instant Summer turns back into Regular spring: And then we experience a massive cold front
How big of a cold front was it? Main lake temps that were in the 60s and up to 70 plummeted to 48 degrees. For those of you that have fished through one of these weather events before, the results are 100% predictable. The blender affect sends fish everywhere and anywhere all at the same time.
During the front, the fishing was excellent, but after the front passed and the winds died and the lake turned flat calm and cool, finding biting fish became much more of a challenge. The average depth was the biggest change that we had to solve for. Last week, most walleyes were caught between 5 – 10 ft. By the middle of this week, most walleyes were being caught between 12 and 20 ft deep. Guides reported catching walleyes as deep as 30 ft. Post frontal walleyes that go deep are almost never active this time of year. The good news is that they are deep enough that you can find them and mark them with electronics. The bad news is that you have to slow way down to consistently catch them. It is warming up again and we are just starting to see some pollen returning to the surface of the lake. As an environmental indicator, you can do no better than chasing pollen on the water to find shallow water walleyes.
Despite the Blender mix, over all walleye fishing was very good. For the week, we caught and released 61 walleyes over 27 in., including 9 – 28s, 5 – 29s, 1 – 30, and 2 – 31s. Guide sheets averaged between 35 – 40 walleyes over 18 in. per boat per day.
Most walleyes were caught with 1/8ths and 1/4s oz jigs with minnows. There were a few experiments pulling Gulp at speed. The 4 in. Nemesis had steady results, but there were a few windows where the 6.5 in. Nemesis were key to catching big walleyes.
We were still able to solve the walleye puzzle, but the post spawn / transition / lake blender combination was difficult to crack for big pike. There were a few nice pike targeted, but they were few and far between. The majority of the bigger pike this week were incidental catch while walleye fishing with 4 – 37s, 1 – 39, and 1 – 40. An exception was a 45 in. monster targeted and caught by Jim Layton at the end of the week.
And if the Pike were a challenge, then it felt like the Smallmouth bass packed up and moved to another lake. A few guides spent some time checking the shallows with almost no success. There were hardly any boated accidentally. For the week, there were just 3 – 19s caught. Their time will come soon.
Statistically, the sample set is very small, but it does feel like we are seeing more really big walleyes at the beginning of this season. Time will tell, but it has been a great start of the year for trophy walleyes.
Instant Summer turns back into Regular spring:
The start of the 2018 fishing season at the Wheel, was driven by a blazing spring heat wave that lasted for over 2 weeks. We began the week on fire ban and with consecutive days over 80 with high humidity. It was hot and there was very little wind. Surface temps soared into the 60s and 70s, even on the main lake. The walleyes are always on the move this time of year, but the difference is that they moved farther faster and sometimes bypassed their usual spring haunts. When water temps are 60 on the main lake, there is no real advantage for numbers of big walleyes to be stacked up in isolated backwater bays. They just keep moving on to areas where we typically find them in mid-June. And we did find them.
With the accelerated season, walleye fishing for both numbers and size were off the chart. For the week, we caught and released 65 walleyes over 27 in., including 13 – 28s, 5 – 29s, and 3 – 30s. Volume was also very good, with the average guide sheet reporting more than 40 walleyes over 18 in. per day.
On Thursday and Friday, regular Northwest Ontario spring returned. Air temps and water temps plummeted. We went from fishing in shorts and T-shirts to seven layers with long johns. On Wed. I was sweating through shorelunch and on Thursday you could see your breath when we talked through lunch.
Despite the dramatic change, walleye fishing remained quite good because of how much the water had warmed in the past few weeks. The rain that came with the cold front also thankfully ended the fire ban.
Most walleyes were caught in 6 – 10 ft. with 1/8 oz. jigs and minnows. We did have some success backtrolling quickly at 1.2 to 1.5 mph with 1/4s and 4 in. gulp nemesis. The big 6.5s were not as productive. There were a few bites where walleyes were caught from as deep as 20 ft. on the main lake.
The pike fishing was much better at the beginning of the week than it was at the end. A few groups capitalized on the big pike moving to the transition areas just outside of the spawning bays and had good success. After the cold front passed, the only big pike being caught were incidental catch by walleye fisherman. For the week, we had 15 over 37 in., including 3 – 40s, 2 – 41s, and 1 – 42.
The smallmouth bass bite went on hold. We did have 9 over 19 in. caught, but most were incidental catch while walleye fishing. Guides did check in to early season bass spots and most were quiet.
The last week of May in 2018 will go down into our record keeping as one of the most productive bites that we have seen for big walleyes in many years. As always, weather is the key. The difference between now and 20 years ago, is that we are not just ready, but that we can’t wait to adjust.
In the month of April, I obsessively follow the Dryden 14 day forecast, webcams, daily Modis satellite imagery, Lake of the Woods ice patrol, and the Minnesota DNR website that reports ice out for lakes in Minnesota. Over the years, I have been able to predict the ice out within a fairly narrow range of days. On April 20, my predicted ice out was for May 25.
I arrived at the lodge on May 1. It turned to Spring on May 2 and 3. Since then, it has been summer. I counted 2 mornings with frost, and 7 days above 80. The ice went out incredibly fast and the entire lake was ice free by May 15. It felt like summer for the entire week of walleye opener.
In the main lake basin, the spawn for both pike and main lake walleyes happened at the same time. If I had to guess, I would tell you that both are just about complete at the time of this report. We have already seen a few walleyes on transition spots and post spawn pike on primary and secondary points outside the shallow spawning zones. It happened fast.
I had a few groups get nervous and balk on opening week, but we opened on the 19th and with the warm weather, the fishing was good. For the week, we caught and released 32 walleyes over 27 in., including 7 – 28s, 1 – 29, and 2 – 31s. Overall volume was good considering that many groups spent more than half their time chasing pike.
We experienced several days of light to calm wind combined with blazing hot afternoon sunshine. Those conditions consistently pushed the walleyes into extremely shallow water. Pitching jigs and tails or casting Husky jerks shallow was often more productive than dragging jigs with live bait deeper.
Pike fishing was good, but the warm up was so rapid that fish moved in and out of the back water quickly. For the week, we caught and released 28 over 37 in., including 3 – 39s, 4 – 40s, 2 – 41s, and a 43.
We haven’t really begun to target Smallmouth Bass yet, but it seems that there are more and more around every year. To date, we have released 3 over 19 in., including 1 – 20.5.
Lake levels are just a bit below normal for this time of year and the warm dry weather has put us on an early Fire Ban.
I have watched almost 30 ice outs in Northwest Ontario. This spring and ice out have been one of the most extreme outliers that I have seen. It does make fish location and the bite less predictable, but the guiding knowledge we have accumulated over the years is a powerful counter balance. For me, finding them is still half the fun.
The fishing season has ended for us here at Silver Water Wheel Lodge. We had very few boats on the water last week, but came back up to our usual numbers for this final week and I’ve combined the two weeks into a final fishing report for our 2017 season.
As we’ve come to expect here in the fall, our past couple weeks had a lot of weather extremes and fishing extremes too. We chased walleye out in summer deep water rock, mid-depth sand structures, and back into truly shallow water. The changing patterns meant more of each day spent searching and that is reflected in some days with low volume on our guide sheets, but once boats found fish the size was there. We had a total of 44 guided days focused on Walleye fishing, with 24 walleye over 27 inches, including eight 28’s, one 29, and two giant 30 inchers.
Piking took work these past weeks. Changing weather day to day meant the big pike were moving and we were most successful by methodically checking lots of varied structure each day. When boats found big fish they often came in groups with some medium sized fish as well. Each day took searching to find a spot holding fish and then working that spot methodically to get the big one. For these past two weeks we had 18 guided days spent pike fishing and caught and released 20 pike over 37 inches, with 5 over 39 inches and 4 over 40 inches.
The 2017 fishing season has come to a close here at Silver Water Wheel Lodge. At the season’s end our staff always looks back over the summer and from our guides’ perspective there were some noticeable trends throughout our fishing season.
Through our spring and transition seasons the walleye kept us moving, a lot of our very best and most exciting days for both volume and size came using plastics at speed. There were still days where slower, deeper, and subtler were the presentations that led to success, and as usual the trick was figuring out which way to go each day. It seemed to take longer than usual this year, but eventually the walleye did settle in to their summer locations. Once they did we found they regularly liked things subtle, but there were still a few truly memorable days when big fish were produced with speed. As we got to fall and some extreme weather swings, the majority of our big walleye started coming from the subtler presentations with only the occasional speed bite. Success with walleye on Lac Seul has always meant being ready to switch things up, but looking back our success with trophy walleye this year followed these very noticeable trends.
We missed out on one of our favourite pike bites this season. A combination of ice out timing and early season weather meant the ‘ice out’ big pike bite fell on a week where we did not have many anglers in camp that wanted to chase gators. Mid – summer piking was steady, and the fall bite came and went with our erratic weather.
For a fishing guide, these changes that Lac Seul throws at us every day, every week, and every year are what makes each new season a different challenge. That challenge is what keeps me coming back to see what answers – what new tactics, presentations, or locations will produce great fish over the course of the season. I think that’s what makes fishing Lac Seul interesting and fun for anglers and guides every day, every month, and every year.
Hope to see you all at ‘The Wheel’ in 2018!
One thing that happens every September here is some fall weather arrives. A system moved through early this week bringing some rainy days, then some big wind days, and temperatures began dropping at night. Cooler nights meant lower lake surface temps, and big winds mixed the surface water down. The result for us this week was similar water temps at a wide range of depths and walleye being found at a wide range of depths too.
Another thing that happens every September is our guide staff shrinks. Some head back to college, some are hunting, but the end result is we operate with fewer boats on the water and fewer guided days each week. This week we had just 37 guided days, less than half the average for most weeks. Our average daily guide sheet had 30 walleye over 18 inches and the crew found 20 walleye over 27 inches, with five over 28 and one 29 incher.
All through the week main lake sand structures were the place to be for pure catching. These structures might have been a challenge to fish on the big wind days but when boats got there they definitely produced fish. Over 80% of all our ‘sheet fish’ this week were caught on sand and the week’s best daily sheet had 84 fish over 18” caught on summer sand. Many of our guides reported walleye at scattered depths on these sand structures – a result of changing lake surface temps. But as the week progressed and winds moderated we could see a clear separation between volume and size. Numbers came from standard summer depths on the sand breaks but the bigger fish were found deep. Rock and sand both produced big walleye towards the end of the week for the boats that committed to fishing deep, but sometimes at the expense of missing out on volume just a few feet shallower.
As with the walleye, the end of the week was much different from the beginning for the boats chasing pike. Early on the pike were still deep and being caught or seen by boats walleye fishing. Once the weather calmed down we saw the big pike begin to show up in some of our favourite fall locations. . For the week we boated 5 pike over 37 inches with the biggest a really thick 41 incher. Our summer weed patches are beginning to die out and the weather is forecast to be stable, so we’re expecting more big pike to show up in fall locations in the upcoming week
A guide’s takeaway: We all love it on those great days when you can catch lots of fish and big ones too, but this week conditions really forced each boat to make a choice. You could target just catching fish or you could target a trophy. There were very few spots that produced both at the same time this week.