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Take your fishes temperature

Updated: Jan 3, 2023

How many articles have been written about walleye fishing… thousands maybe? Well, here is a NEW twist of information that can help you on your next outing.

Early last year during the first week of June our crew headed out to film a river walleye show. It was post-spawn and the fish were eager to bite. River walleye are extremely aggressive due to their high energy output by having to constantly fight the current. The old timers saying holds true; a 1-pound river walleye fights like a 3 pound lake walleye. Typical river fishing strategy is trolling the turns, or finding a deep pool and jigging. What we happened upon next, changed all that!

This typical Northern Ontario River system had a main channel with depths down to 35 feet, and was joined by countless backwaters full of weeds and timber. The water was extremely tea stained and provided a medium current flow. Our preferred setup for fishing these conditions were highly fluorescent spinner rigs tipped with live jumbo leeches. The current allowed for one large split shot placed 24 inches up the line; to help prevent snags on submerged lumber, yet heavy enough to entice a bite. The main river channel was still cool (around 47 F), yet the shallow backwater flats were warm (around 58 F). After hooking into the first few fish and practicing CPR - Catch / Photograph / Release, a pattern became evident. While holding the fish in my hand, I noticed how warm they felt to the touch. Being cold blooded, they adapt to the surrounding water temperature; yet these fish were warm - in a cold part of the main river. The logical observation was, they had to have just come from a warmer location. But why would these fish be in the backwaters with an average depth of less than four feet? I had to figure this out, so I lifted the motor up a few notches and slowly headed into the weedy flats. At first glance this looked like northern pike territory or even smallmouth bass habitat.

I threw my bait rig far inside the weeds and made a slow retrieve. WHAM the drag screamed and I landed a nice 4-lb walleye. The fish felt hot to the touch and I reasoned it had been feeding up here for some time. Numerous more fish were caught and handled to feel their temperature. For the next 45 minutes they remained warm to the touch and so was the action. A few more were caught and the bite subsequently ended. I then reversed my technique and went out to the deep river channel in front of the weed flats, and tied on a fireball jig tipped with a jumbo leech. I jigged slowly and continued to catch oversized walleye, some still warm and others with cold body temperatures. I spent the next few days taking notes on this behavior and came to several conclusions. Firstly, the stained water allowed the light sensitive walleye to move into the shallows where the abundant variety of bait fish, leeches, tadpoles and frogs were holding in the weeds for cover. Secondly, although the water temperatures were consistently warm for the walleye, they could move in and out because of the nearby cold deep river channel. Thirdly, this feeding migration was held twice a day, once mid morning and again in the late afternoon. Any time in-between, the fish were found hugging the 30-foot river bed along the banks and could be enticed by slow jigging.

I prefer a spinner rig on a worm harness in a fire tiger pattern because it resembles young perch. In the stained water the bright yellow/orange/green can be seen from further distances. If the water were clear, I would use natural color like hammered brass, copper, silver and black to mimic the spring hatch of minnows. Spring is the definitely minnow time when it comes to bait and vary your minnow size until you find the best size. Sometimes bigger is better, but I have also seen very small minnows outproduce when used very early in the season because the natural forage is also just recently incubated in these backwater nurseries.

This was another great learning experience and gave me valuable information to tuck away in my tackle box of tactics. Always be open to learn natures little secrets that can help you pattern your intended species.

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