Some people may only catch one 10-pound walleye in their life. By any standards, a specimen that size is worthy of the wall. Then there’s Lake Erie guide Ross Robertson, who has more teen walleye to his credit than most Great Lakes anglers could ever hope for. Early this April, Robertson and host Joe Cermele rolled the dice right after ice-out and managed to hit a good weather day in Port Clinton, OH, during this iffy time of year. Put bluntly, the result was one of the most insane trophy walleye days the two could have possibly imagined. Ten-pounders were a dime a dozen.
The Deal: When the ice breaks up on Lake Erie, it doesn’t take long for the walleyes to go into spawning mode. The smaller males move onto the reefs, providing stellar jigging action when the water warms up a bit. The massive, egg-laden females, however, slide onto muddy flats by the hundreds. If you’re dialed into the depths, water clarities, lures, and trolling speeds that get it done this time of year, it’s possible to walk about with more trophy ‘eyes than you can shake a stick at. Of course, just because they are plentiful doesn’t make them easy to catch.
When To Go: Robertson will tell you that if you want to catch these monsters in early spring or during the fall, the best time to go is usually at the drop of hat, because it’s no easy feat dealing with the unpredictable weather these times of year. You can put any date you want on the calendar, but if the wind roils Erie into 8-footers, you’re not going. If wind changes the water clarity too drastically too fast, you’re not catching. Everything about success in this game boils down to being able to get out with only a day’s notice. So if you’re pulling the boat to Port Clinton or hiring a guide, make sure you give yourself at least three days in town…and hope you get out and slay during one of them.
What To Bring: First and foremost, don’t forget to bring fully-charged trolling motor batteries. You’re going to need them. Early in the spring, Robertson hardly ever turns on his gas kicker motor because it can’t move the boat slow enough and makes too much noise. Seven to 10-foot trolling rods and reels with depth counters are standard, and Robertson prefers mono over braid because the stretch is more forgiving when you have a lot of line out. As for crankbaits, he leans heavily on deep-diving Rapala Husky Jerks and Reef Runners. Many of his baits are custom painted, but silver-and-blue, pink, purple, and fire tiger are all top producers.
How To Fish: In the early spring, at least in terms of trolling, you cannot possibly go slow enough. Robertson relies solely on his trolling motor, and dials it in to less than one mile per hour. The slow speed is required because the big females are often sluggish in the cold water. With that in mind, don’t expect hard slams; bites are incredibly light. Robertson staggers planer boards off the sides of the boat and runs his crankbaits anywhere from 40 feet behind the boards to 150 feet behind the boards depending on where the fish are holding and how aggressive they are. Look for fish after ice-out over mud bottoms in 25 to 35 feet of water. If you can find water that’s murky without being too dirty for the fish to see your lures, that’s typically the money zone.
Where to Stay: There are plenty of cabins for rent and small resorts around Port Clinton, but if you’re into saving money and don’t mind a chain motel, the Sleep Inn is tough to beat. It puts you right near the launch and the center of town. For more lodging options, visit Portclinton.org.