It was hot, sunny, still, 30 C and the crack of noon… perhaps less than ideal conditions for walleye fishing. This is what I found myself fishing in last summer, competing in a local fishing tournament on the Kaministiquia River. This famous river is right in the City of Thunder Bay, a tributary of Lake Superior. The Kam River is a rather interesting fishery, offering anglers easy access, with several launches right in town, and a variety of angling opportunities. The river holds walleye, smallmouth bass, northern pike, perch, sturgeon, and gets runs of chinooks and steelhead in spring and fall.
This tournament was an artificial bait only tournament, so we were running a few different crankbaits, which conveniently are my regular baits on this river; trolling crankbaits is a simple and effective way to cover water, and it produces fish. Fishing walleye with crankbaits can be a great tactic in river systems like this or your go-to walleye lakes. They are simple, and produce fish, and with many options available there is a size and style for any application. They also offer anglers some simplicity, and remove the need to deal with live bait. There are many times when getting or maintaining bait can be difficult, or just to make life simpler for an easy trip. They are often overlooked, but can be as effective as live bait, and at times maybe even more.
Throughout the morning, we picked up some fish here and there, but no great numbers, landing nothing over 16 inches. We started off in some deeper water (12-18’) and were trolling jointed deep Husky Jerks, in an area with plenty of structure where these baits have proven seriously effective. We got some fish right away, leading to an optimistic start, but this enthusiasm soon dwindled, as the fishing slowed for us soon after it started. After my initial big fish spot failed to produce, we headed upstream to another hot spot, and started trolling the shallower running Storm Smash Shads.
We were fishing another interesting piece of river, with varying bottom contours, offering fish refuge from the current. Trolling over this spot, we managed to pick up several fish, but again nothing that had us planning our winners’ speech. We watched a couple other teams boat some dandy looking walleye, and began to question our odds of success for the day. Feeling the pressure, we left and again headed further upstream. We headed to one of my last go to spots on the river, a rather unassuming stretch of river, where we troll along a muddy bank in about 5’ to 8’ of water. We set out the Smash Shads, and started trolling. At this point, it was noon, with zero wind, bluebird skies, and scorching hot sun, and my optimism was slightly dampened, but we kept at it, figuring we would give this place a shot.
Trolling, Trolling, Trolling
The eroding clay bank, beaten by the current, was creating a substantial mud deposit in the river, with a defined mud line about 30 feet from shore. The river is rather dark to begin with, but this stretch looked like chocolate milk. We started trolling just on the edge of this mud line, and started to make our first pass upstream. We hadn’t covered 100 feet, when my partner’s rod doubled over in the rod holder, with what was clearly not another 15 inch fish. As he battled this fish in the current, my anxiety levels skyrocketed, as it became apparent that this fish weighed more than our total for the day combined. As it got closer, there may have been some shrieking and yelling in the boat, and several anxious moments until I slipped the net under a chunky 28.5” walleye. After some rather exuberant celebrations, we took our measurements and photos for the catch record release tournament (following the AIM walleye series method), and sent this big girl back to the river.
The Big Ones
With our spirits boosted, we started the same troll again, with similar results. Over the next 3 passes we landed 3 more walleye, all between 21” and 23”, seriously bolstering our tournament bag. At this point, we had 4 fish over 20 inches to score (out of 6 total), and an hour to go. I lined the boat up to make another pass, and almost instantly got hit, and felt my heart skip as I felt the weight of this fish. It felt like I had hooked a submerged log, slowly shaking in the current. I carefully battled this beast, trying to contain my nerves, my eyes bulging as it made a pass by the boat, as I looked at likely the biggest walleye I’ve caught in this system, and breathed a sigh of relief as this 29” beast flopped in the net. At this point, I was almost in shock, not believing what an epic afternoon this had become. This river is known to produce some quality fish, having caught a handful of 25”+ fish in it over the years, but I’ve never had a day like this, catching this number of quality fish, and in such a short time, and every one of these big fish hit the Smash Shad.
The only downside with fishing crankbaits, is the sting when you lose one. When banging bottom with these baits, it’s inevitable some will be left in logs and rocks, and although it hurts more than losing a bulk jig, it happens far less frequently. These baits aren’t necessarily cheap, but when you consider the dozens of minnows replaced by one crankbait, the cost seems far more reasonable. For a simple and effective means of targeting walleye, baits like these are hard to beat, and are a worthwhile addition to your walleye arsenal.
Storm Smash Shad
This is one of my favourite walleye cranks, it’ small, simple, looks great in the water and is a very versatile bait. With 3 sizes it will cover depths from about 4’ to 10’, and with a wide variety of colours, they’re a great bait for any condition.
Rapala deep jointed Husky Jerk
For deeper water, I like using the large deep Husky Jerk. The suspending bait is great for fishing the uneven bottom, using a sweep/pause motion while trolling, allowing the bait to temporarily sit suspended above bottom, tempting any following fish.
Original Floating Rapala
The tried and true original Rap is still hard to beat. For fishing shallow water walleye, this is a simple bait to troll, and produces fish. Ideal for fishing 5-6’ of water, it’s great for trolling when exploring and covering water.
Rapala Minnow Rap
This is another interesting Rapala, and is hybrid between the original floater and a Shap Rap. With a unique design and action, it’s a great bait for trolling for walleye, covering mid range depths.