Pickerel Fishing Techniques

10 February 2011 For The Angler

Catching walleye or pickerel requires the right rod and reel combo, knowledge of where to find the walleye, using the best walleye baits and applying specific techniques. It is also important to pay attention to the fishing conditions on the lake, river or basin.

Walleye Equipment

Catching pickerel in the spring and summer involves using different strategies. The best chance of success comes when we use the proper gear, lures and live baits.

What is the best walleye fishing gear for beginners?

Walleye Rod and Reel
Use a six foot medium-action rod with a very sensitive tip and a spinning reel with 8 pound line.

Walleye Lures
Jig heads with rubber tails, diving stick-baits, small spoons and spinner baits are all effective at different times.

Using Live Bait For Walleyes
Minnows, night crawlers, and leeches fished with a jig, spinner bait or bottom bouncer are the most popular live bait choices for catching pickerel.

Walleye Location

Where do you find walleye or pickerel?
Learning how to catch pickerel involves looking for weeds, identifying key underwater structure and using the weather conditions to help find the location of the fish.

During the day walleyes often sit in holes along the bottom of the lake or river. Sometimes the fish are found suspended on a rock shelf, submerged island or off a point when feeding on minnows.

Islands and reefs are good locations for finding pickerel especially when there is a bit of wind. Starting at the shallow part of the island, work your way out until you find the depth range of 15 feet to 25 feet. Normally, the bait fish such as minnows will be in the shallower water because they are avoiding the perch and small pike which will be ambushing them from the range of 8 feet of water down to 15 feet. The walleyes are usually found in the next depth zone.

Rough water and cloudy days will bring pickerel closer to shore to feed on bait fish. The edges of weed beds are also good spots to find feeding walleyes, especially in the late spring and early summer.

After the sun sets, pickerel will move into shallower water to hunt for schools of minnows. They can often be caught at this time by casting lures off of a dock or the shoreline that has a quick drop off.

Walleyes in Weeds
While most anglers look for pickerel sitting on the rocky bottom of the lake or river, walleye are also regularly found in and around weed beds. This goes against the common belief that pickerel like deeper water, especially on sunny days, but it is reasonable to find walleyes in the weeds because that’s where a lot of their food lives.

The reason we know the pickerel are in the weeds during the day is that we often catch them when fishing for pike or bass. Unlike the walleyes that are sitting in large schools at the bottom of the river, the weed walleyes tend to be found alone or in small groups, which is why they tend to get caught by accident. It is always a nice surprise.

Weed bed walleyes can be found in water as deep as twenty feet or as shallow as five feet. As long as there is enough cover for them, the pickerel will work their way through the weed bed to feed on the smaller fish that live there.

Walleye Water Temperature
The best water temperature for walleye, according to the Ontario MNR, is about 23 degrees Celsius (73 degrees Fahrenheit).

Techniques and Rigs for Catching Walleye or Pickerel

How do you catch a walleye?

Off The Dock Or Shoreline
From the shore or the dock, cast for pickerel at night or early in the morning as the fish come into shallow water to feed on minnows and crayfish. Jigs with rubber tails, spinner baits, and small spoons are all effective at different times.

Trolling And Drifting For Walleyes
Trolling or drifting in the current using live bait near the bottom is a good way to cover a lot of water when looking for the fish.  Using a bottom-bouncer rig is a popular technique for presenting the bait just off the bottom.

In slow currents on on a day with a slight breeze you can often just use a simple jig-head baited with a worm or a leech and slowly “jig” the bait along the bottom as you drift. There is no perfect technique for this method. The key is to present the lure at the bottom and to keep in moving or hopping along.

Periodically lift the bait a few feet and let it sink back to the bottom. The fish will usually bite as the bait is sinking. The bite is often quite soft so you need to concentrate carefully on the line to determine if you have a bite. When you feel the fish take the bait, wait for a count of two before you set the hook.

Some anglers argue that you should set the hook right away, but sometimes the fish only grabs the tail of the bait or lure at first before actually eating it.

The bottom bouncer kit can be bought at any tackle store. It resembles a coat-hanger wire bent into the shape of the number 7.  A weight is attached to the vertical and the leader and hook trail off the horizontal. The main line is attached at the point where the wire is bent.

Long-lining for walleye is a term used to describe a trolling method that uses a diving stick-bait or crank-bait to reach the bottom.  This method requires letting out a lot of line and is prone to snags, but can be very successful when you want to cover a large area in a short period of time. When you catch a fish, make a number of repeat passes over the same location as the walleyes tend to cluster in groups.

Slip-Bobber Rigs can be very effective for catching spring walleyes. Post spawn spring walleye and pickerel are located closer to shore and are often found feeding in areas with lots of submerged obstacles. The slip-bobber rig allows you to fish difficult water where lures will get snagged on sunken trees or rocks. Use minnows, leeches, or worms.

Catching Pickerel In Weeds
Lures are very effective for walleyes located in the weed bed. Use a small jig head with a rubber tail and look for pockets where the weeds are a bit thinner. Work the lure in a very slow retrieve, while popping it once in a while to make it dance along, rising and falling a few feet with each upward motion of the rod twitch. As with the jigging technique for drifting in a boat, the walleye will often take the bait as it is falling, so you really need to focus on the feel of the line when you are fishing this way.

How to Tell When a Walleye Takes the Bait

How do you know when a pickerel bites the worm or leech?
Catching walleyes when using live bait rigs requires some practice to develop the “feel” for when a fish takes the bait. A walleye often take the bait very gently. The fish will pull or tug on the line softly and the sensation is similar to what you feel when you get a slight snag on a weed. The pickerel bite is very different from the tap-tap-tap that you feel when catching a perch.
Experienced walleye anglers can tell when a perch is biting their bait rather than a walleye. Eventually you get to the point where you feel like you can almost hear it happen.

Video Tutorial – Quick way to fillet a walleye

Before heading to a new body of water, be sure to get the latest catch and keep rules pertaining to the walleye in that specific area.  Regulations on fish sizes and daily limits per angler can differ greatly from one area to the next depending on the health of the local walleye population.  The penalties for getting caught with fish that are illegal in size or number are often severe.

Go to the Beginner Fishing Equipment page to see the rest of the gear you need to catch a walleye.

Go to the Fun Gifts for Walleye Anglers page to see great presents for your favourite pickerel fishing fanatic.