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Drifting for Lake Erie Walleye

Updated on August 18, 2019
HhaosThorngage profile image

My favorite summer pastime, you'll often find me on a headboat "working the swing" if at all possible.

One lucky headboat angler showing off his recent catch, a large female, July 2019
One lucky headboat angler showing off his recent catch, a large female, July 2019 | Source

Where and When

When fishing for Lake Erie walleye, especially when drifting, one must be prepared to catch a lot of bycatch, that is, non target species as though these techniques are tailored to catch you more walleye, they are so effective that other species will willingly take them. Should the walleye stop and sheephead(freshwater drum) or white perch take over the bite, its probably time to move and find where the school went.

During the spring and early summer, a lot of the walleye being caught will be relatively shallow for this massive lake holding over structure in depths less than 30 feet, and sometimes as little as 3 or less. On the western end of the lake, around Ohio's Port Clinton, Niagara reef and around the mouth of the Maumee River are very popular and productive spots, as the spawning walleye have packed on weight and are very receptive to jigs. Move of the larger fish this time of year will not be local fish, but rather large migratory walleye that travel the massive lake looking for baitfish to stuff their gullets.

During the summer months, mainly June and July, walleye fishing is the most productive from any one point east to west as the large migratory baitfish have moved on from the reefs and followed their forage of choice out into the depths of the lake. With catches high from Port Clinton east to Presque Isle and beyond, its hard not to find the fish should you know where to look. Lake Erie walleye this time of year will be found in depths ranging from as little as 20 to as deep as 50 feet of water, sometimes holding up in a schooling pattern with little to no cover. Spinner rigs and weight forward spinners tend to be favored here, and many have come to tie their own.

A young man hoisting his prized catch, spring is the perfect time to take children as the schools are dense and even a novice can land a few fish quite easily.
A young man hoisting his prized catch, spring is the perfect time to take children as the schools are dense and even a novice can land a few fish quite easily.
A nice summer walleye taken on one of Lake Erie's many walleye headboats on a midsummer drift trip.
A nice summer walleye taken on one of Lake Erie's many walleye headboats on a midsummer drift trip.

During the later summer and early fall, most switch over to trolling and stickbaits, but diehard drift fishermen can still catch their fair share. A good rule of thumb is that after 20-30 minutes of no bites when you've marked fish, to move on to another school and keep pounding the fish and changing colors until you find on that works for you.

What You'll Need

When preparing for you walleye drift trip, whether on your own craft, or one of the many successful headboats, there are some basic items you should bring to increase you chances of landing this fine table fair.

Best Weight Forward Spinner Around!

Carlson Erie Dearie Original Gold Fishing Lure, 3.8-Ounce
Carlson Erie Dearie Original Gold Fishing Lure, 3.8-Ounce

With a legacy reaching back to the 1970s its no wonder so many anglers have one of these in their tackle box. Colors you should grab include: gold, chartreuse, purple, siver, green, and any combination listed above like shiner or firetiger. I suggest the 3/4oz and 1oz models. Responsible for more drifting catches that any other spinner, this all star is what put Lake Erie on the map as the walleye capital of the world. Tipped with either a whole or half juicy nightcrawler, just cast out, count down, and retrieve just fast enough to feel the blade spinning. Remember a good rule of thumb is that 1 ounce sinks at a rate of about 1 foot per second. Being it will rise as you retrieve I always count a little longer than the marked depth. If the fish are holding at 25 feet I'd count to 30 before starting my retrieve. On rougher days, dragging the lure works well as the lift fall of the boat imparts the action needed to get a bite and allows you to stay in the strike zone even longer!

 
  • Worms, fact of the matter is, that the good ol' nightcrawler is one of the best baits to use this time of year. Tipping your offering greatly increases your catch rate and outshines every other option by magnitudes.
  • Medium action rod with a reel spooled with line in the 8-12lb range, up to 20 if using braid. The backbone of these rods will help you land more or the larger specimens while still being sensitive enough to feel the lightest of hits.
  • Cooler for your catch. The secret to good fish starts WAY before the food even hits the table. Immediately icing down your fish will help keep it fresh and the flavor from being too gamey.

An example of fish thrown into a cooler carelessly, on top of the ice. These fish may not cool down fast enough and if its a longer trip, may start to go bad before they're even cleaned.
An example of fish thrown into a cooler carelessly, on top of the ice. These fish may not cool down fast enough and if its a longer trip, may start to go bad before they're even cleaned.
Submerging your catch in ice water is best, as it keeps the whole fish cool and makes it easier to fit more of your catch into your cooler.
Submerging your catch in ice water is best, as it keeps the whole fish cool and makes it easier to fit more of your catch into your cooler.

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