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.
It’s fall weather here on Lac Seul this week and that means conditions are changeable. We’re used to big weather changes day to day. During most fall weeks we’ll see grey days, sunny days, calm days, windy days, and everything in between. What’s a little unusual for us to see is the weather go from grey and calm to sunny and windy in one day. What’s even more unusual is for the weather to have that kind of change almost every day of the week, and sometimes twice or more in a day. That’s what we saw this week and it led to walleye bites as unstable as the weather.
On a more normal week the highlights of most guide’s daily reports would be the hot spot or two where they caught their fish that day. This week the trend for many of our successful boats was to spend their days collecting fish a half dozen or so at a time from multiple spots each day. There were some of those multiple weather change days where it seemed like no spots on the lake produced more than a half a dozen fish for the sheet, but there were always some boats that were able to pick up a pattern early in the day, keep in motion, and visit enough spots to make up the numbers.
The average daily guide sheet this week listed 25 walleye over 18 inches, and as a group we boated 22 walleye over 27 inches, with 8 over 28, and 3 over 29 inches. That’s on the low side for both total volume and big fish compared to an average week here, but with three fish over 29 inches it’s safe to say the top end was still there. For the boats that got a win patience was the key to success this week. Anglers willing to devote their time to known big fish locations, and wait through weather changes and patchy bites even if the catch rate was low, were often the ones to boat a trophy that day. Almost all the big walleye were caught using jigs and minnows fished tight to well defined structure. The big fish weren’t just on “the spot” this week, they were on the “spot on the spot”.
There was almost zero time devoted to pike fishing by our anglers this week, those who did reported good action but very little size. Some big pike were jigged up from deep walleye spots, leading us to guess that the unsettled weather held the big pike deep this week.
A guide’s perspective: I’m a big believer in fishing aggressively, but this week you had to be smart about when to be aggressive. It was definitely not a week to “run and gun” – it was awfully easy to get caught chasing better, easier, faster bites all over the lake when the right answer was to capitalize on the bites you had already found.
It was a “no surprises” week. Lac Seul has a changeable nature and we talk about how unpredictable she can be, but every once in a while things go just as you would predict. We saw our first truly significant cold front of the fall this week – about the time we usually get one. Before the front we had warm weather and light winds and our best bites were deep with light jigs and minnows – just as they should be. While the front and big winds were moving through, the walleye answered to fast presentations at mid depths – just like they should. Post front light wind days they were back to deep water – just like they should be. No surprises there for any experienced walleye angler.
That may make it sound like everything was easy this week, but there were still plenty of challenges for guides and anglers each day. When the fish were deep you had to spend time working to catch them and if you picked the wrong spot to work on you could quickly run out of time that day. Using our electronics to be sure the fish were there and varying our presentations to find one that worked were key. When the walleye were answering to fast moving plastics on those high wind days it took good knowledge of the structure and close attention to keep your boat and baits working the depths and structure you were aiming for. And when the conditions changed from one extreme to another overnight you had to be quick to check the extremes to find the fish the next day. Both guides and anglers had to be on their toes to take advantage of the good bites this week.
The daily guide sheets reflect the changing conditions this week and the number of walleye on the sheet varied quite a bit day to day, but the average was 25 walleye over 18” per guided day. For the week we boated 30 walleyes over 27 inches, with 10 over 28 and 2 over 29 inches. It was about an even split between fish caught deep and fish caught fast.
Only a couple of guided days were spent hunting big pike this week. The guides who did chase pike reported consistent numbers caught but not many big ones were found in the mix. A lot of boats reported big pike seen or caught from deep water while walleye fishing, and such a clear separation of depth and size led some of our die-hard gator hunters to troll deep water for trophies this week. Our totals reflect the limited time devoted to pike this week with just 4 pike over 37 inches, the biggest being a 41.25 incher.
A guide’s takeaway: There’s something to be learned each week… I was one of the boats chasing pike this week and the sudden weather change and cool nights got me thinking fall a bit too early. I was eager to capitalize on big pike in fall locations and they just weren’t ready for fall patterns yet. The lesson for me to remember for next week is not to get ahead of myself, let the fish tell me when they are ready for a new trend.
At Silver Water Wheel Lodge
It was a great week at the Wheel for really big Walleyes. For the week, we caught and released 37 over 27 in., including 5 – 28s, 5 – 29s, 1 – 30, and 1 – 31. Jim Baker caught his 31 in. walleye of a lifetime on a main lake sand break pulling a 6.5 in. Gulp Nemesis on ¾ oz. Jig. Doug Smendik caught his 30.5 in. walleye of a lifetime dead sticking a minnow with a light jig on main lake rock. And from the top down, that is how the week went. Production was split about 50/50 between the two extremes in our presentation arsenal. Every guide boat did both every day, but we all adjusted at different rates depending on daily results.
To paint an accurate picture of the week, it is important to note that there was a wide range of production between days and between regions. There were no walleyes over 27 in. caught today, even though some boats put over 60 walleyes over 18 in. on the sheet. Guide sheets averaged 35 walleyes over 18 in. per day this week, but some days were 20 and some days were 60. Some days produced big fish, but only mixed in with a bunch of littles. Other days we saw great production on sand only to be followed up by multiple boats blanking on the same structure the next day. The best way to describe it is that you had to be on your toes this week.
It has not been a super wet summer up here and we did see some fires and smoke on the lake this past week. Most of those went out with the passing of a front and a good general rain on Wed. There are some trees changing colors to yellow already, although I would say that most of that is due to dry conditions rather than cooler temps. It is just the slightest hint of the approach of fall so far with a few leaves changing, a few weedbeds looking ratty, and some walleyes moving shallower at the end of the week.
We did spend some time chasing pike and the results were modest. For the week, we caught and released 1 – 37, 2 – 38s, and 1 – 41.
The Take Away:
The comment that stood out to me this week was from one of my most senior guides. His guest caught a monster walleye and we had just made a big racket in the dining room awarding him his Master Angler pin.
At the round table meeting, the guide’s comment was – “ I don’t feel like I earned this one.”
I asked him why.
His answer: “It did not fit the normal formula…. Find the fish… find the concentration…. Work deeper, pick up some bigger ones, and then verbally lay the ground work to work deeper, and not catch as many fish, but hope for a big one…..
Instead, my guys were happy with volume, we chose to stay shallow, we sorted through the eaters and the slots in 20 – 25 and then BAM! Monster walleye.
I heard a version of that story from 6 different guides this week.
Canadian summer is far, far different than Iowa summer. Most days this past week, were some version of “I can’t believe how beautiful this day is….” We again had cool misty mornings on the lake with lows in the 50s and stunningly, sunny, bright blue skies with highs in the mid-70s and very light winds. You couldn’t ask for better summer weather…. unless you are a fishing guide.
“Hey, wait a minute Mike, didn’t you say you were hoping for stable weather in last week’s fishing report?” Well yes, I did, but not that type of stable.
The weather did result in a more consistent depth preference for walleyes this past week. The 22 – 35 ft. depth zone produced about 95% of the walleye action. Main lake sand and main lake rock were equally productive, but the issue was feeding activity. At round table, guide after guide reported “marking, not catching.”
With most of the walleye populations in a neutral to negative feeding mood, SWWL guides choose the extreme options. You can either gear down with 1/8 oz. jigs and minnows and dead stick over concentrations of marked eyes. Or you can gear up with ¾ oz jigs and big Gulp Nemesis plastics and cover water, at depth, and at speed to search out the small percentage of active fish that are ready to chase down a big reaction bait. Both of those tactics worked at times, but there was no consistency. One great fast Gulp trolling pass was often followed up by a blank, because we picked off the only active fish in the group. Gearing down and dead sticking with 1/8s worked as well, but with finicky fish you need to capitalize on every bite because you are fighting the clock. And there is the key – results based on time. Make 2 bad choices in a row and you are behind the 8 ball. Have a guest angler that doesn’t like to fish Gulp or isn’t very good at it and you better make some changes fast. There is no way around the fact that this past week was a tricky bite. If a location, depth, and pattern were hot one day, more than likely that combo was dead the next. And the only way to win when that happens is to forget it and move on quickly.
For the week, we caught and released 30 walleyes over 27 in., including 6 – 28s, and 3 – 29s. Walleye guide sheets averaged 30 per boat per day, but there was a much wider range of results compared to previous weeks.
There was a little bit of time focused on chasing pike and that resulted in 9 over 37 in., including 2 over 40 in.
The Take Away: My guiding attack plan this week was to work the extremes by explaining to guests the reason for the need to work both options, but then carefully evaluating the results. One Medium power spinning rod rigged with 20 lb. braid, 10 lb. fluoro, and an 1/8 oz. jig.
The other Medium Heavy rod rigged with 50 lb. braid, 15 lb. fluoro and a ¾ oz. jig ready for a 6.5 in. Gulp Nemesis to be trolled at speed. In our arsenal, you can’t fish lighter/slower and you can’t fish heavier/faster. That was the action plan that produced results this week.
I had an important email conversation with one of my group leaders this past week and it included a discussion about stats. He made the point that numbers are important and should be analyzed critically. I agreed, but countered that sometimes the numbers don’t tell the whole story.
This past week stands out as a great example. The numbers were big. For the week, we caught and released 62 walleyes over 27 in., including 11 – 28s, 7 – 29s, and 1 – 30. Guide sheets averaged 35 walleyes over 18 in. per boat per day.
Those numbers make it sound like fishing was easy and awesome. In reality, it was great at times, challenging at others, and occasionally, flat out bad. I wrote about a depth separation for populations of walleyes in the past few weeks, and that trend has continued, but the speed at which those groups have shifted has been a surprise. There are no real trends to talk about tonight. During the past week, we have had hot bites for big walleyes in 35 ft., 25 ft., and in 15 ft. of water. Main lake sand produced well and then it didn’t. Same goes for Main lake rock. There were times when “eaters” were hard to find and there were days when big fish simply disappeared from a spot.
The reality is that we all fished a great number of spots this past week and used our full spectrum of guiding techniques and tools to catch them. The Great Gulp Nemesis crisis has been averted with the arrival of a shipment of 6.5 inch baits. Not surprisingly, there were just as many big walleyes caught vertically on light jigs and minnows as there were caught with big plastics and ¾ oz. jigs pulled at speed.
As you can guess, Weather was the driver for walleye movements and pattern changes. Flat calm conditions with highs in the 90s broke midweek with the passing of a major cold front. The lake is now misty in the mornings with low temps below 50 after the front and high temps just reaching 70. I don’t expect to find consistent fishing patterns until the weather becomes more stable. Until then, we will continue to fish it all.
There was some occasional effort and time spent casting for big pike and the results were fair. We caught and released 1 – 39, 1 – 40, and 1 – 42 for the week.
The Takeaway: Despite changing weather and walleye locations, groups and guides that were committed to actively hunting for big fish were successful. Many of our seasoned groups knew that they were accepting some risk when they requested to hunt big fish, but that understanding allowed guides the options to take chances and search for developing bites.
We had our version of a Canadian summer this week. It never got to 90, but 88 with no wind and no clouds is still pretty warm. I talked about a separation of walleye populations last week and that trend has continued to be reinforced. The Guide team is fishing it all; sand, rock, deep, shallow, weeds, flats, etc… And there are fish on all of those spots. The trick is to figure out how much time to spend on each option. The experiments continue, the results shift, and we adjust.
By the end of the week, the big ones were still down on main lake rock and sand. We found the occasional 26 or 27 in 12 – 17 ft., but the majority of the really big walleyes were found deeper. For the week, we caught and released 43 walleyes over 27 in., including 9 – 28s, 3 – 29s, and 1 – 31 caught by Lyle Terveen. Volume was good with guide sheets averaging 40 walleyes over 18 in. per boat per day.
Despite the good results, conditions were far from easy. There were several consecutive days of flat calm baking hot sunshine. The most interesting result from the week is that big Gulp pulled at speed with big jigs was just as effective as the absolute opposite presentation of tiny 1/8 oz. jigs dead sticked over deep water arcs. Every spot was different and the truth is that there were very different results from each guided boat. Those differences were not correlated to experience. There were many senior guide sheets, including my own that were a little light compared to some of the first-year guides who spent more time on traditionally productive spots.
Guides did a little bit of pike fishing this week and the results were OK. For the week, we caught and released 8 over 37 in., including 3 – 38s and 1 – 40.
Deep water sand was the key to the big walleye bite this past week. The hard part for me is that I want to be straight forward and honest and inform. The SWWL guides really do some cool experiments and come up with some really great intel. I like to share that here, because walleye hunters look to us for information. What makes my life hard is when multiple readers of that information search for Black boats on Lac Seul and pull up within 10 ft. and then troll closer. I move on. It is Lac Seul and there are 10,000 spots.
My mandate to the guide crew is to take the high road. When you get crowded, move on. I will admit that it does hurt to watch and see some of those anglers harvesting over slot fish for consumption. It just does not make sense to me. If you care that much about chasing big walleyes, then why would you not want to take care of the big girls for the future?
It isn’t fair. It isn’t cool. But we are still on Lac Seul. We are the fortunate few who get to guide on some of the best walleye water in Northwest Ontario. With our data base of known high quality spots, we don’t have enough time in the day to fish them all anyway. We never run out of spots, but some days we run out of time.