Bill Hilts Jr.
The change that moves the opening day of the walleye season to May 1st makes the decision-making process a little more difficult if you are both a turkey hunter and a walleye fisherman. May Day would normally begin with the hunt for bearded gobblers. If things had remained as they were in years past, walleye season would have opened on May 7 of this year. Everything changed on April 1.
Of course, other activities can take up valuable outdoor leisure time in May. Perch fishing on Lake Erie is in full swing; the salmon and trout action on Lake Ontario is getting better every day (with the Great Lake Ontario Counties Trout and Salmon Derby starting May 6); trout fishing in the lower Niagara River is still going strong from boat and shore; and inland lakes such as Chautauqua and many Finger Lakes are lighting up as waters continue to warm. What should an athlete (or a woman) do?
If sleep (or work) isn’t an important consideration, you can get up early to hunt turkey, come home to sleep at noon, then head out for some night walleye fishing when the action is best. in May. You may be able to succeed, in a perfect outside world. If you tag the turkeys early, you’ll have more time to spend as much time outdoors as possible hunting different species of fish.
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My first night walleye fishing experience on Lake Erie was last year, thanks to Bob Rustowicz of Cheektowaga and Todd Wojciechowski of Lancaster. We had tried several times to connect for a trip in 2020, but Cvoid-19 and the weather got in our way.
His call came as promised in May 2021 and we planned to fish the Point Breeze area of Lake Erie. I had fished walleye at night on other bodies of water, but never on Lake Erie. Rustowicz said the planets were aligning and the night was shaping up to be perfect.
“We never fish after midnight, but chances are we’ll be done way before that,” Rustowicz said. “It should be the first tonight.”
When we met ‘Woj’ he was working on the big engine of his 18ft Tracker. I wondered if that was a good sign. Maybe one of the planets has lost its alignment.
Rustowicz had borrowed the boat earlier in the week and the engine had run very well. In fact, he used it to troll as slowly as possible due to another issue. When he arrived at his fishing destination, he could not find the remote control for the bow-mounted trolling motor. He called “Woj”.
“Where’s the trolling motor remote control?”
There was silence on the other end of the line for a few seconds.
“On the dashboard of my truck,” Woj said. “Maybe I should leave it in the boat.”
Rustowicz was already on the lake that night and they managed to catch fish despite the motor handicap.
Rustowicz was unconcerned on our evening adventure. “Todd can fix anything!” And he did. Within 10 minutes we were on our way to Lake Erie as the sun slowly set.
As Wojciechowski backed the boat into the lake, the sun was setting dramatically below the horizon. As we headed to Evans Bar to try to catch walleyes the sun was gone – leaving a beautiful “purple haze”. Another omen? Of course, they forgot the music.
Lake Erie is without a doubt the walleye capital of the world. It is estimated that there are nearly 76 million eyes aged 2 years and older in this Great Lake.
“We’ll be fishing in rocky areas, focusing on 6 to 12 feet of water,” Rustowicz said. “You can catch walleye from Smokes Creek (near Buffalo) to the Pennsylvania line, but we chose this spot because there will be less pressure on the boats.”
Clear skies and a calm lake brought out a few boats, but the amazing thing was that four kayakers were fishing alongside us, enjoying the calm. And they also caught fish.
“Walleyes like to hide behind large rocks when on feeding and ambush bait,” Wojciechowski said. “We will be using stickbaits like Husky Jerks, Chatter Raps, Rapalas and Smithwick Elite 8 Rogues.”
Anything shallow diving lure should work.
Knowing how far away the lure is is important in order to keep a consistent presentation. Wojciechowski uses the new Okuma Convector Low Profile Line Counter reels which have a high speed of 6.3 to 1. The rods are the 7½ foot Okuma Kokanee poles which provide a great feel. Rod and reel were in our hands as we motored back and forth across the bar.
“We try to keep the speed between 1.5 and 2.2 miles per hour,” Rustowicz said. “The lures are back from 60 to 100 feet, depending on what the lower terrain calls for. If you hit rock bottom, pick up your rod or bring in some line. When you hit bottom, check your lure for weeds and make sure it’s clean.
It can be a bit difficult to weed out a lure with three treble hooks…in the dark. However, we all wore headlamps to make sure the sharp lures didn’t catch more than one fish.
It was around one o’clock when Wojciechowski noticed something was wrong with the trolling motor.
“My trolling motor is losing power,” he said. “I think one of the batteries is dead. They were new batteries!
As he illuminated the battery compartment, he could see that one of the wires was not attached. The battery didn’t last long. We quickly had to fire up the big motor and ride as slow as possible with this power source. We were able to get speed as low as 2.3 mph one way, which wasn’t bad. However, the fish were finicky. We had four or five hits with no fish to show for our effort.
Finally, a few hours later, we touch our first fish. Rustowicz broke the ice, followed by Wojciechowski with a couple. The hot lure was the Smithwick Elite 8 Rogue in blue. It was nearly midnight. Yes, it was getting late and we were talking about packing. Most of the other boats in the area had already left.
Woj handed me the Smithwick lure and almost immediately I had a hit. Success and dinner for the table. We decided to make another pass. I hit another one, this one a bigger fish. It was clearly the biggest of the evening, and it was a fitting end to a valuable first experience on Lake Erie.
Bob and Todd apologized. “Sorry, the fishing was interrupted. We’ll have to take you out again when the fishing is better. We caught five fish. The evening was far from a loss.
There was a downside. I didn’t get home until 2 am. I haven’t seen those hands on the clock in that position for a long time. I am now an early to bed, early to rise guy. In fact, I was up at 2:30 for a turkey hunt a few days later. I guess everything is relative, a small price to pay to enjoy the great outdoors.
Walleye and turkey season is open again.