Get to Lake Erie NOW! 'Swing' into the hot walleye bite

·6 min read
With the Cleveland skyline in the background, Bob Yurich, of Doylestown, shows off a some of the walleye he caught on a recent trip to Lake Erie. The walleye bite is hot on the big pond, with limit catches nearly every time out.
With the Cleveland skyline in the background, Bob Yurich, of Doylestown, shows off a some of the walleye he caught on a recent trip to Lake Erie. The walleye bite is hot on the big pond, with limit catches nearly every time out.

Whether you are fishing on a charter boat or taking your own boat up to Lake Erie, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll come home with your limit of walleye right now as the bite on Lake Erie has been epic this year.

While the size may not equal some of the hauls of the past, plenty of good eater-size walleye are there for the taking right now.

And while fishing techniques, equipment and electronics have changed dramatically over the years, tried and true tactics developed 40, 50 and 60 years ago are still catching walleyes today.

Trolling will net you a limit of fish, but there’s nothing quite like casting out and feeling the bite yourself, and for that, weight-forward spinners (such as the classic Erie Dearie), or worm harnesses, tipped with half a nightcrawler, are just a deadly today as they were in the 1970s and '80s.

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Whether you’re fishing the Western, Central or Eastern basin, the lake is teaming with walleye, and hungry ones at that. There was a lull in the Western basin a couple of weeks ago when the Mayfly hatch occurred (fish were still catchable, but they weren’t as hungry as usual), but since then the fishing has picked up.

There are a few tricks, though, that will improve your catch rate.

Knowing the ins and outs of 'fishing the swing' will up chances of a catch

If you head out on a charter that will allow you to drift and cast for your walleyes, knowing the intricacies of “fishing the swing” will improve your chances of catching a walleye first and foremost.

Art Holden
Art Holden

In a nutshell, “fishing the swing” takes advantage of the direction in which your boat is drifting. Depending on where you are standing on the boat, the idea is to have your bait swing around at a certain point on the retrieve. The change in direction is a key component to getting walleye to bite.

Reuben Bowman, owner of Buggy Maker Charters, which only drifts and casts on its trips, says knowing the ins and outs of the swing is important.

“It does make a difference,” said Bowman, of Orrville. “In my opinion, presentation is more important than color. There are days that I’ll change all the (worm harnesses) to a certain color, but when that lure gets to the end of the swing and it starts speeding up, that’s when you get a lot of the bites because the walleye thinks it’s getting away from them.”

Myself, I find it helpful to be able to cast my presentation as far as I can, which typically is a good 150 feet, especially if I’m throwing a 5/8-ounce or heavier Erie Dearie or a similar weight worm harness. I run the trolling motor on the front of my boat, so typically I cast at 10 o’clock or 2 o’clock depending on which side of the boat I’m fishing.

While I’m counting down to get the lure at the depth the fish are suspended at, the boat floats parallel to where the bait landed, and when I start reeling, my lure “swings” around. That’s not always when you detect a strike, but quite often it is.

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Everyone is filling up their coolers with good, eater-size walleye on Lake Erie this summer.
Everyone is filling up their coolers with good, eater-size walleye on Lake Erie this summer.

Then when the lure has straightened out, I like to pause the retrieve every so often, and better yet, drop back the lure, another key to getting a following walleye to strike. Walleye will often follow the bait and nip at the nightcrawler, and if you are feeling that, it is especially good to stop and drop the presentation back in the fish’s face, and often it’ll take the bait then.

The farther the cast the longer in the strike zone

Fishing braided line is helpful to feel the bites, as well as better for setting the hook as there is no stretch in the line. I lost a worm harness on one of my last trips to Lake Erie and picked up another rod that was spooled with monofilament line, but quickly found out setting the hook with 150-feet of mono out wasn’t as easy as it was with braid because of the line stretching.

I want to emphasis the farther you can throw out your lure, the more time it will be in the strike zone when you reel it back to the boat. A short cast and a countdown that gets your bait to 30 feet will pass through the suspended fish vertically on the retrieve, and not stay in the zone horizontally as a long cast would.

“That makes a big difference,” said Bowman. “You can’t just flop it out there.”

While weight-forward spinners are just as deadly today as they were 40 and 50 years ago, I do think worm harnesses are just a bit better. Bowman always has a variety of colors tied up, but favors orange, pink and peach beads and sometimes uses a gold Colorado blade painted on one side similar colors if the fish are finicky.

There are some drawbacks to harnesses, though, as they tend to tangle sooner or later. There’s a “sweet” spot when it comes to the length (Bowman favors 18 inches) of the harness from the barrel weight, but even the most seasoned walleye fisherman will struggle at times with their worm harness. One trick I learned from charter captain Dennis Lowther (Erie Hopper Charters) is to strop your line just before your bait is going to hit the water, that way the harness straightens out as it lands and is less likely to tangle.

Bowman also suggested that keeping a tight light on your countdown will also improve your catch rate.

Catch was 26 fish in less than four hours; all but three were walleye

On my last trip to Lake Erie, I took my neighbor, Bob Yurick, up to catch walleye, and the two of us limited out on 15-18-inch fish in a little over three hours. Fishing out of Rocky River, we didn’t have to go far to find fish, with Yurick getting a bite on his first cast. He did well with pausing and dropping back his Erie Dearie, while I took advantage of the swing the best I could. It was a calm day, so the swing didn’t work as well as it might on a day with a classic “walleye chop,” but I still managed to put fish in the boat.

We caught 26 fish in just under four hours of fishing, with all but three of them walleye (one yellow perch and two white perch). No sheepshead or catfish this time. After getting our limit, we fun fished for a while and released the walleye that we caught.

So, check the weather, and check the wave report, or check out a charter boat, and get to Lake Erie to take advantage of its bounty of fish.

Outdoor correspondent Art Holden can be reached at letsplabal@yahoo.com.

This article originally appeared on The Daily Record: Walleye are biting big right now in Lake Erie; get your limit