Early Summer Walleyes in Ontario Shield Lakes

I think the prettiest fish in the world is a walleye pulled from an Ontario shield lake. They seem to have a rich, caramel color unmatched by any other region in North America. Maybe it’s because of the dark water in many of Ontario’s thousands of Canadian shield lakes. Or maybe it’s simply an extension of the colorful personality you find in Ontario’s places, people and attitude.

At least once every early summer, you’ll find me prowling for walleyes in Ontario. If you haven’t done the same, I highly recommend that you do. And when you’re lucky enough to experience it, here’s a proven approach to filling your live well and memories with golden walleyes!

Shallow Thinking
In early summer, the walleyes have just finished spawning. So you’ll find them near their spawning grounds, which are ideally hard-bottom bays with lots of gravel and some current. The current can be from inflowing rivers and creeks, or from wind/wave action off points and within pinch-points.

Babe Winkelman


Study a good lake map, ask questions at the lodge you’re visiting, and spend some time searching for potential hot-spot bays. A solid game plan pays dividends.

An ideal shallow bay will be between 4- and 8 feet deep with a feeder creek and a hard sandy bottom. If rubble and some weeds are mixed in, even better! I’ll often begin fishing with a “search bait” presentation to cover a lot of water and find active fish. Trolling with a 1/2-ounce bottom bouncer and a 5-foot snell with a spinner rig and night crawler is a great search bait strategy.

Active Fish Found
After you zero in on a reef, flat, saddle or point that’s holding active fish, you can switch tactics to improve your catch rate. At this point, I’ll grab a medium-action jigging rod with a 1/16- or 1/8-ounce jig and 6- to 10-pound-test monofilament line. Tip the jig with a leech, minnow or half a crawler. From my experience, the best colors in Ontario shield lakes are orange, pink, chartreuse, and gold. I think the brighter colors always perform better in that stained water.

Experiment with plastic-bodied jigs, hair jigs and “naked” jigs too, and find out what the fish are responding to. I really like to use jigs with an attached fluttering blade. In addition to providing some extra flash and vibration, the blade slows down the rate that the jig falls. Active fish like to hit that jig on the drop, so if you slow it down it’ll stay in the strike zone longer.

If the fish aren’t hitting your jig when you pitch it and let it fall, try dragging it instead. Start with a very slow, steady drag with gentle jigging. But don’t be afraid to throw in some snap-jigging, too. Sometimes that aggressive “snap” incites a reflex bite from a walleye that you wouldn’t get with a gentle “pop.”

Clustered Fish & Bobbers
I recall a particular Ontario trip when we always seemed to get bit at a particular spot on a big, featureless flat. For whatever reason, the walleyes were really bunched up in that small area. So to key in on them and eliminate the commotion of trolling over them, we backed off and slowly lowered an anchor. Then we brought out the slip-bobber rods and presented small feather jigs with leeches beneath the floats. Man did we hammer ’em!

And there’s not much that matches the excitement of watching a bobber go down and knowing it’s a big ‘eye doing it. Using floats is also a great idea if the bottom is really rugged and causing a lot of hang-ups and broken lines. So give slip-bobbering a try if the fish and conditions dictate it.

Bonus Fish!
While fishing early summer walleyes, Ontario will surprise you with some fringe benefits — namely an abundance of “accidental” fish you’ll catch including large and smallmouth bass, pike, muskies, and big crappies. It’s not uncommon to catch three different species on three consecutive casts. I don’t know about you, but I love it when that happens!

I hope you can make the trip soon. Take a bunch of pictures while you’re there and feel free to email me some photos at babe@winkelman.com — so I can see how you did!

Good Fishing!

Babe Winkelman

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One Response to “Early Summer Walleyes in Ontario Shield Lakes”

  1. John Martis

    Near north drive to lodge recommends for walleye,pike,and smallmouth from PGH.PA.?