By Mike Carey
Here in the Pacific Northwest walleye are a popular species to target. Appreciated for their fine table fare, in recent years walleye populations have held steady despite increasing angler enthusiasm. With that in mind, NWFR’s Rob Holman and I were excited to be contacted by Keith Eshbaugh of Dutch Fork Custom Lures to come visit him in Erie, Pennsylvania and learn another technique to catch walleye. In addition to making some incredible hand painted walleye harnesses he also is a guide on Lake Erie.
For those of you not aware, Lake Erie, one of the four Great Lakes, has been called the Walleye Capitol of the United States. Before you take offense at the Columbia River and Potholes reservoir being left off this list, consider this – Pennsylvania Fish and Wildlife estimates Lake Erie holds 47 million walleye. The lake is on such an upward trend that they encourage keeping all walleye caught, including the over-size ones. In years past Lake Erie had a commercial walleye fishery which was bought out by the department, allowing this fishery to be solely recreational. “We have too many fish”, commented Keith, “it’s a good problem to have, but we need to take fish out of the system to keep the size up.” Keith told us Lake Erie walleye are ranging 18-22” on average and there are fish consistently caught over 30”. For sheer numbers and average size it’s easy to see why Lake Erie is in the running for Walleye Capitol bragging rights. With a daily limit of six fish and no upper size limit, Lake Erie should be on your radar screen for your chance at some high quality glass eyes and good numbers of them.
Hopping on a red eye flight out of Sea Tac we arrived in the town of Erie at 9:30 in the morning. Picture this – Keith arrived at the airport with his boat in tow, gear and bait ready to go. Within an hour of landing we were pulling out of the Walnut Creek boat basin heading a few miles off shore to set up our trolling gear.
For this trip Keith was showing us walleye trolling Lake Erie style. Fishing out of his Fishing out of Ranger 620, powered by Mercury 225 hp outboard, we were allowed three rods per angler. Many of the larger charter boats will run multiple rods per angler, for our day of fishing six rods total were plenty. We were fishing in 25 to 50 feet of water, and while bottom bouncers were in the mix, Keith also showed us a new (to us) technique, trolling for suspended walleye.
Keith’s custom painted walleye blades are unique in that they are all painted by him in his shop. No mass-produced over-seas stuff here. If the lure isn't right he doesn't ship it. Because the blades are plastic they spin at slower speeds, down to .4 mph. The final bonus of his blades is they are made of clear plastic which allows the fish to see the bead colors better. When you see one up close, and observe it spinning in the water you'll know right away that this is a great innovation and unique to the walleye industry. Needless to say, these blades will also be the ticket for lakers, salmon, and steelhead. Oh, and for you kokanee anglers, Keith makes a kokanee-sized blade that I have since fished with and had very good success on kokanee.
Back to suspended walleye techniques. While we did fish the traditional bottom bouncers and were catching fish, we also had planer boards and long lining rods running the blades and nightcrawlers at depths 10-15 feet off the bottom. I watched with interest as throughout the day flags would get pulled down and long-line rods would get violently jerked back. Looking at the fish-finder we did indeed see suspended fish that were (obviously) walleye. It got me to thinking about our walleye fishing in the Pacific Northwest and how I might apply this technique to lakes like Moses, the Potholes,and even the Columbia. In fact, as I'm writing this I recall a suspended walleye we caught last year on Billy Clapp in 60 feet deep water.
I think trolling a suspended line for walleye would be a viable option, especially in those bodies of water that allow two pole endorsements. I suspect if we anglers in the Northwest give it a try we'll see our catch numbers increase as well. The trick is to use just enough weight to drop your presentation mid-way in the water column. So if your using a two ounce bottom bouncer, try using one ounce on a planer board set-up. Run it 30-40 feet off the side of the boat and while you're holding your rod waiting for the bottom bouncer bite, keep an eye on that planer board flag to go down!
The three days of fishing were outstanding with generous limits of fish being caught. In addition, because this walleye fishery is so healthy there is no maximum size limit. We returned home with a bounty of walleye for ourselves, friends, and family. Flying the fish home just required buying a smaller cooler. There are bait shops that will freeze your catch after you pack it up. Our fish arrived in Seattle still frozen.
The Lake Erie region has much to offer those that decide to travel here from the Pacific Northwest to visit. After three days of fishing, my wife JoAnn joined me and we traveled from Erie to Niagara Falls, then back to Cleveland a few days later to return home.
Niagara Falls is everything we’d thought it would be and then some. The falls are breath-taking. We of course took the boat tour that goes beneath the falls, getting us up close and personal with this awesome creation of Mother Earth. After exploring the falls we drove across into Canada for more exploring on the Canadian side of the falls.
We spent time exploring and touring Amish country around Jamestown, visiting shops and learning about the culture of the Amish. Their hand-crafted items were amazing and the food was incredible - and cheap! The hospitality of the Amish people was a breath of fresh air. Every person we drove by waved at us. Very quaint and very touching.
Finally, back to Cleveland and a stop at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, a must see in this part of the country if you’re into music. But a word to the wise - plan on making a day of it. Our three hours to tour before our flight was not nearly enough time. We will definitely want to return!
Keith has made a special deal available to our NWFR members to get you to try his amazing blades. NWFR users and fans get 15% off online orders with code NWFR15, Guided trips are just $450 for up to 3 anglers. Give Keith a call at 724-884-3977 and visit his web site, Dutch Fork Custom Lures to order your blades online.