I recently returned from the Northwest Bay on Rainy Lake in Ontario where we were walleye fishing. Boy were we excited going into that trip because anglers were hammering big walleyes under stable autumn conditions… multiple 30-inchers in one day was not uncommon.
But then something terrible happened the day we arrived. A primary cold front hit followed by two secondary weather systems during the next two days. So, we had three days that ranged from cold and calm with clear skies to colder and cloudy with rain and intense wind…not exactly ideal conditions.
Nothing makes a fish more tight-lipped than a severe cold front. With walleyes, they’ll ease down off their feeding reefs and humps and settle down in deeper water to sulk. It’s not too different from the way us humans respond to cruddy weather. But when Mother Nature gives you lemons on a fishing trip, you learn very quickly how to make lemonade.
So how did we salvage this fishing adventure and end up catching loads of beautiful walleyes? We began by cruising the breaklines of main lake points and islands while watching the sonar. My Humminbird has the side-imaging feature, so in addition to finding fish under the boat, it scopes them out on both sides of the boat, too. It’s a huge plus when you’re in search mode.
Finding cold-front walleyes on your sonar is challenging. As I said, they really hug the bottom vs. being slightly suspended. You have to look very closely at your graph to identify the “hooks” that nearly blend into your bottom signal. After we found some fish, we threw a buoy marker and reached for the jig box. Jigs are some of the best cold-front walleye baits ever because you can fish them slowly and in so many different ways to match the mood of the fish.
There are as many different jig styles as there are fishermen. On this particular trip, we started with hair jigs and never switched. Why hair jigs? The main reason is that hair jigs have a large profile. In the fall, walleyes feed heavily and prefer larger baitfish when beefing up for the winter months. So when you put a minnow on a hair jig, the poofy hair really accentuates the profile and perceived size of the bait. Another reason hair works well (and I’m only speculating) is I think walleyes like the feel of hair when they take the bait. Sometimes they just seem to hold onto the bait longer than they would a naked jig or one dressed with soft plastic.
From experience, I’ve learned that cold-front walleyes are not very compelled to chase fast-moving baits. So on this trip, we fished our jigs very slowly. Effective boat control is critical on this type of slow jig presentation. We used the bow-mount trolling motor to crawl along at a snail’s pace directly above the fish. On braided line (10-pound test with a 3-pound diameter), we worked the jigs as vertically as possible. What’s the reason for braided line? Because walleyes in a neutral to negative mood can bite so softly, you need that thin, sensitive braid to detect the light bites in deep water.
Of the many ways you can work a jig (dragging, jerking, quivering, hopping, etc.), we found that the best presentation was to slowly lift the minnow-tipped hair jig about two inches off the bottom, then gently set it back down. Most of our strikes occurred when the jig made contact with the hard bottom. You, literally, had to set that jig right in front of the fish’s nose to get him to take it.
Tedious? Yes. Requiring total focus? Totally. Worth the effort? Absolutely! Even though we had to work hard for each and every fish, we caught a pile of them up to 28 inches long. That’s about 8 pounds, and you never get tired of those. We had a blast doing it and learned a lot in the process. That’s the great thing about fishing- you never stop learning. Then, you can turn around and pass that information on to other anglers- like I’m doing here.
In that spirit of education, here’s my parting wisdom: When fishing cold-front walleyes, or any species of fish for that matter, spend time searching for fish near their feeding areas; use baits (like jigs) that you can fish slowly; experiment with subtle presentations; and never give up.