I could come up with an excuse to pretty much go and target any fish I can think of, I’m not prejudiced and if it bites on hook and line I want to catch it. My wife often laughs at my justifications: “We’re going to need some for tomorrow’s catfish trip,” or “It’s been five days since I’ve fished,” to “This is the first nice day in weeks,” or “Remember that 18 inch goldeye you caught that night? I still have to beat it!” All valid reasons to go fishing, right?
Some refer to goldeye as “mini tarpon” as they are notorious for breaching the water and thrashing when hooked, I think of them as the piranha of the prairies, with their impressive second row of teeth on their tongues and the roof of their mouths they are able to firmly grip anything edible that comes their way. In fact goldeye are more closely related to the arapaima or arawannas as far as fish of the Americas go, but that’s a whole other story. Once located, they can typically provide non-stop action for the angler, coming to shore with ease on medium tackle while putting up more of a fight on a lighter set up. Limits can often be filled quite quickly be it by choice or due to deep hooking but with a bit of care and technique catch and release can be practiced easily, keeping slots open for non-releasable fish.
There is usually a good goldeye bite to be found on one river or another throughout their native range. The Red and Saskatchewan Rivers can provide good numbers and sizes but don’t limit yourself to just those two rivers as there are countless others with good populations. With no two bodies of water identical, getting out and putting the time in can lead to many patterns discovered and techniques honed. From mud flats to deep holes, fast current to slack water, goldeye are out there and once you find an area with a good bite you can often go back year after year around the same time and repeat your success. They are usually gorging on one form or another of aquatic insects and readily snatching baitfish, so you are not limited to just one tactic in their pursuit.
On slower moving sections and especially smaller rivers I won’t hesitate to toss a small Mepps spinner or the smallest of Len Thompson spoons. The flash and vibration from these lures can trigger an aggressive strike when worked near or through active goldeye. Making sure the small treble hooks stay sharp is key, especially after months of little to no use in a tackle tray or a day of hammering fish. If scent boosts your confidence like it often does mine, try adding a chunk of bait (crawlers, minnow heads or fish eyes), trout paste or a fake corn product, this will often seal the deal. Early morning and late evening can find fly fishermen having tremendous success on many different styles of flies as goldeye aren’t very picky.
When situation allows for it, a baited hook tipped with a minnow head or tail under a slip float is a great way to get on some goldeye. I will start with two to three feet of line beneath the bobber adding a small splitshot a foot above the hook for weight and try deeper by one foot increments until the successful depth is located. Once the bobber goes under I will reel in the slack line and set the hook and the fight is on. Goldeye are mid-level to surface feeders and schooling creatures so once the bite dies down instead of waiting for another school to come by I will head off in one direction or the other to try and stay on them when shore spots allow. Current seams and slack water pockets will normally yield a few biters with this technique and if the current is too strong for bobber and spin fishing I will set up one of many options of bottom rigs.
The dreaded pickerel rig, frowned upon by many and used almost exclusively by an equal number of anglers. For those who aren’t familiar with the term, it is essentially a bulky drop shot rig with two hooks. It is quite often cast out and left leaning on a bank stick as the angler waits for a bite and in doing so these rigs can lead to deeply hooked fish quite easily. A few simple steps can be taken to minimize this like using appropriate hook style (octopus or baitholder) and hook size (#4-#8 for goldeye). Holding the rod and feathering the line will allow for quicker bite detection than just visual, leading to quicker hook sets and rarely a deep hooking. Another option is a simple three-way set up and it can be as productive if not more so than the pickerel rig and when you tie it yourself you know the quality. Using a lighter line than your main line for the weight at the bottom of these rigs will allow it to break away if snagged while still keeping the rig or fish on. Other options for weights can be made at home with a bit of reliable terminal tackle and a few items like river stones or sand and pantyhose.
Bottom fishing often leads to multiple species and sometimes you never know what will hit the offering below so having a reliable rod and reel along with good quality terminal tackle is a must. You might be targeting goldeye but that doesn’t mean that something bigger won’t come along and slam the bait, it comes with the territory and can add a level of excitement to the days events. I am out at the waters edge more than I’d care to admit and whether you need a reason to go fishing or not, there are more than a handful to try for goldeye this summer.
I’m a sucker for smoked fish and find that home smoked batches of fish have always surpassed store-bought products. There is a certain kind of pleasure obtained when you have caught, cleaned, brined and smoked your own fish that lots of folks miss out on. A famous delicacy once served in the finest of restaurants throughout North America, it was known as Winnipeg Goldeye. Smoking fish is a fairly easy process and can be a great way to spend an afternoon with friends and family. I freeze the fish I know I am going to smoke after cleaning and usually wait at least a few weeks to smoke them. The freezing kills any potential parasites (which I am not too worried about) and also though I am not positive contributes to a firmer less mushy flesh by removing excess moisture. When I know I will have an afternoon to spend near the smoker, I will take the fish out to thaw a day or two in advance and then put them in a brine solution for 12 -24 hours. I then take them out and pat dry a couple hours in advance of smoking allowing the flesh to take on more of a smoky flavour. I like to use oak for smoking goldeye and will sometimes add some cherry or apple wood (originally they used willow) and try to keep my smoker around 180 – 200 Fahrenheit for 90 – 120 minutes. The warm smoked flesh is phenomenal and usually one or two are eaten before they cool.