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August 17, 2019

Jacob friede/lakeland times

Vilas County fishing guides Mike Errington, left, and Erv Keller gave a free walleye seminar on Sunday night in Boulder Junction.
Jacob friede/lakeland times

Vilas County fishing guides Mike Errington, left, and Erv Keller gave a free walleye seminar on Sunday night in Boulder Junction.
7/13/2019 7:30:00 AM
Walleye wisdom
Local guides give a summer report and offer tips at free seminar
Jacob Friede
Of The Lakeland Times

Vilas County fishing guides Erv Keller and Mike Errington were in Boulder Junction on Sunday night talking about one of the Northwoods' most beloved summer attractions: walleye fishing.

Both a terrific challenge as a game fish and fantastic as table fare, the walleye is one of the most popular and pursued fish in northern Wisconsin. This was evident by the good-sized crowd which came out for the free seminar, organized by the Boulder Junction Chamber of Commerce, to hear how fishing has been going this year and to get some tips on how to put more "eyes" in the boat.

So far, the guides agreed, due to a very cool spring, everything is behind schedule this year.

"One thing I've been noticing lately, the walleyes are finally starting to move shallow where they're supposed to be," said Errington, who has 29 years under his belt as a guide. "It's been a weird year this year. Everything is about two weeks behind, weed growth-wise, and the fish, it took them awhile to figure out what their pattern is."

Right now, the walleye pattern revolves around shallow weeds, and they can be caught there if they're not too full of mayflies, which, both guides agreed, have been tough to compete with.

"It's been like a perpetual hatch for the last three weeks," Errington said.

Nonetheless, on dark water lakes, he said, he's fishing in three to five feet of water, and on clear lakes in 10-12 feet. Errington stresses that, popular to common belief, walleyes can be found in such shallow water because they're following bait fish out of the deep, dark water which loses it's oxygen on hot summer days."

"People don't think shallow when they think walleye. Most people think you have to go deep," Errington said.

Keller, meanwhile, has been finding walleye in 8-15 feet of water in cabbage, coon tail, and elodea weed. The latter he said, is a gold mine.

"If you can find elodea weed that is starting to grow right now, then you're usually going to find some fish," said Keller, who guided in southeastern Wisconsin for 17 years before moving to Vilas County where he's guided for the last 16 years.

To get the fish out of the weeds, the guides are jigging in-line jigs tipped with a bit of nightcrawler. Errington is also sometimes using a small rubber crayfish that looks just like a mayfly. In the thick weeds he's using a 1/16 ounce jig and always recommends blue or purple for color.

Both guides were adamant about using the thin in-line body style of jig as opposed to the traditional ball jig, because it's designed to go up and over weeds rather than get caught up like a round will.

"Nice thing about that is by tying on direct, that line will hit that weed and you ride up over the top so you're not getting hung up all the time," Errington said.

Keller agreed.

"The weedless jig is the way to go whichever one you use," Keller said. "That little arrowhead shape comes through the weeds so easily."

Errington says he's been having success by giving the jig a pop and then fluttering it back down into the weeds to mimic dying bait. Ninety percent of the hits, he said, occur while the jig is dropping, and the hits have been subtle.

"The way these walleye are hitting, I always say it's like a weed with a pulse," Errington said. "They just barely pick it up and it'll feel like your dragging something. You'll get just a little resistance back and then you want to give them a couple seconds to eat it before you set the hook. They're not real aggressive right now."

Keller added that if the fish runs with the bait after taking it, then particular attention should be paid to that location because there are more fish around.

"Walleyes have a tendency to be very protective of their food," he said. "They will pick up and they will try to get it away from the school."

Because walleye are so finicky with their hits, the guides recommended a medium light rod. The fast tip on such a rod will pick up the slight resistance of the bite and the strength of the core of the rod will enable an angler to fight the fish and hold tension on the line.

"If you have a completely light rod that whole pole bends all the way to the handle and it's really tough to keep that slack out of the line and get a good hook set," Errington explained.

He also said a seven to seven-and-a-half-foot pole will help with a good hook set because of the longer sweep, but he stressed that no matter how well the hook is set, to only set it once, and then by all means hold tension on the rod and maintain position. Releasing tension, even momentarily, for a second hook set almost always results in a lost fish.

"Good hook set. Bad hook set. Live with it. Doesn't matter," Errington said. "As long as you keep tension on that rod, even a bad hook set, most of the time you're going to get that fish in.

For reels, Keller said open-faced spinning reels are the way to go because if the fish runs you just have to open the bail and let them run. He recommended 80% of full drag.

"I do not want to hear that reel slip when you set the hook, but I do want to hear it slip if the fish is big enough to make it slip," Keller said. "You want to let the reel do the work but you want the rod to do most of the work."

As far as best time of day for fishing, Errington said walleyes, despite their reputation for only biting in the early morning or in the evening, hit all day. Though walleyes are light sensitive, by day they protect their eyes in the weeds, where they're still looking out for food.

"If you're willing to go after them, they're hitting all day long and really nice fish," Errington said. "It's an overlooked resource out there, and it doesn't matter time of day. It really doesn't."

What does matter with walleye fishing is patience.

Errington recommended that an area of water be thoroughly worked because, right now, walleyes take a little time to coax.

"That's the biggest problem I see, people are moving, moving, moving, moving. Take your time," he said. "They don't hit right away. It takes just a little time and a little bit of patience."

Walleye fishing is tricky, but for those in attendance in Boulder Junction, it became less so thanks to the tips from some very experienced and knowledgeable guides in Keller and Errington. Their advice put a room full on anglers closer to a future with walleye filets on their plate.

Jacob Friede may be reached at or

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