Not Just a Spring Fling — Wilderness North

Celebrating 30 Years of Wilderness North  –          

Not Just a Spring Fling

By Wilderness North guest Chris Clemmons

As our group starts to plan for another season’s Canadian fly-in fishing trip, it got me thinking about all the great adventures we’ve experienced with Wilderness North over the past 18 years and if any of those trips stood out as being the best of the best. However, as I thought about it a while, I really couldn’t come up with just one or two because they’ve all offered great fishing and fantastic experiences in their own unique way. We’ve taken our trips in May, June, July, August and September but, other than the differences in weather, bugs, and making minor adjustments to our fishing strategies, they have all been equally fulfilling vacations.

Thinking about our awesome adventures within the different seasons is what led me to writing this article, so that it might help others determine a month that’s appealing to their own personal tastes. My goal in this article is to help give some perspective about the differences between the five months that Wilderness North operates and how each month is special in its own way. I also hope this article can help someone who’s considering a fly-in, or maybe just interested in a change, plan their next vacation and have better fishing success no matter when they go. Let’s take a look at what each month has to offer.

May

Even though this month can be the coldest and least predictable weather-wise, the fishing has always had the reputation for being the best. Is that because May truly is the best fishing or is it because that’s when most anglers take their fly-in trips, so the stories and number reflect that? One thing we can’t deny is that May is arguably the best month to target shallow trophy pike in the Albany and Ogoki watershed areas. Post-spawn trophy pike seeking warmth relate to the shallow muck bottom bays during May and they are usually easy to catch. Some of the season’s best catches for numbers and size take place the opening month. Johnson Silver Minnows, Zara Spooks, Flukes, Slug-go’s, Mepps spinners and a variety of swimbaits will produce trophy catches at this time of year. Walleye fishing is also good but the larger females can be a bit finicky because they are usually recovering from their recent spawn activity. Look for active male walleyes around areas of flow (creeks & rivers). A few larger female walleyes will be relating to the same areas but generally near sand in 15 to 20 FOW. Toward evening they might move up shallow (3–5 FOW) for a quick meal. Basic jigs and twisters cast or vertically jigged will produce well for most anglers in May, while tipping your jig with a minnow will entice the larger negative females.

June

This is a great time to visit Wilderness North because the weather is warming up and so is the fishing! The pike will still be hanging around the same bays they inhabited a few weeks earlier, but with the warmer water temps they’ll be positioned toward the openings of those bays and generally deeper. However, on sunny days after a major cold front, those pike will sometimes return to the shallow portion of the bay looking for food. They use the warmth of the sun and the dark bottom to boost their metabolisms. They will also move shallow, for brief periods during low light hours, looking for walleye, shiners and suckers to snack on. For these shallow cruising fish, try casting top-water plugs over the tops of the newly forming weeds or a Johnson Silver Minnow through those weeds. For the deeper pike, positioned near the bay’s opening, try casting or trolling a 3/4oz Daredevil, large Mepps spinner, or a J11 Rapala near the rocks. The walleye will also be transitioning in June but they will be fully recovered from their spawn, very hungry and easy to catch. The first place to target will be in the moving water areas that they inhabited in May. If they’re not there in satisfactory numbers, try fishing a nearby bay in 3 to 10 FOW. If you still haven’t found good numbers or quality fish, or the bay bite suddenly dies, proceed to the closet area that necks down between the basin you’re in and the main lake basin. Think of a neckdown as a funnel or an hourglass-shaped narrowing between two areas of shore. These areas will concentrate walleyes as they transition from the flow to the bays and eventually toward their summer homes. Many times, these fish will live around these neckdown areas all summer. To search for these fish, backtroll a Slow Death Rig with a half a nightcrawler in 10 to 15 FOW. Scour the neckdown area on both sides until you find a nice concentration of fish, then stop and jig for them. Also, when you find a concentration of fish, look for the nearest rock outcropping, then come back to that rock in the evening and fish near it. Why? Because the shiner spawn takes place in June, along with many bug hatches, and rock outcroppings absorb the daytime sunlight and stay slightly warmer than the adjacent depths at dusk. The warmth from the rocks will attract shiners and bugs in the evening and the walleyes will follow them in. This rock pattern can be a goldmine for catching evening walleye in June but you need to focus on rocks that are near the productive daytime areas you find.

July

Many anglers are hesitant to visit Canada in July but, frankly, it’s one of the best times to fish and enjoy the boreal forest. The weather is stable and the lakes are at their warmest making it ideal for both fishing and swimming. Plus, bug numbers are starting to subside in July. This is probably the best month to take the family on a fishing vacation, but don’t let the word vacation fool you. The fishing is phenomenal in July so the vacation part may become secondary once you get on the water. Some resident fish will still be relating to moving water, so in those spots it will be easy to find smaller walleyes for dinner. But if you’re more serious about the catching than the vacationing, just think about fishing a little deeper than you would on your trips in May or June. If you do this, you can expect more than your fair share of action, including larger fish and trophies. For example, large pike will be relating to the islands, rocks and weeds adjacent to the main lake basin. Your best approach during the day will be to troll right up against the shaper braking rock outcropping and the edges of deeper weed lines. Think of it this way. Longline troll in water that is 25 to 35 feet deep, but when you see a rock outcropping troll in close to it. Once the boat has passed the outcropping, turn your boat in so your lure cuts in and ticks the rocks. Trophy pike may live deep during the summer but they often move shallow to feed. Some of our largest pike have come in July in less than 5 FOW, including a 48 inch. Also, if you’re marking large arches on your graph in 25 to 35 FOW, try jigging for them with a 1/2oz jig with soft plastic tail, Daredevil or Little Cleo style spoons. Also, If the wind is blowing a bit, the larger pike and walleyes will move up shallow against wind-swept islands in 3 to 10 FOW. Pitch jigs and soft plastics for the walleyes and 3/4oz spoons for the pike. Neckdown areas that we talked about earlier, along with weeds, will also be a prime area to fish. Main lake weed-beds are key areas to fish in July. Walleye love baitfish and baitfish love the shelter of weeds. If you can find a weed-bed, or even just patches of weeds in 5 to 10 FOW near the main lake, you’ll find good numbers of walleye. Pitch 1/16th to 1/8th ounce jigs tipped with a soft plastic tail or just a ½ inch piece of crawler into the weed pockets and along the outside edges. Also, try using a Slip-bobber and leech along the weed edges. This stealthy technique can produce some very large walleyes and is also very family-friendly and a fun way to fish. “Bobber Down!”

August

This is my personal favorite month to fish Wilderness North Lakes. The bugs have virtually vanished, the weather is great and the fishing is some of the best I’ve experienced. In early August, the pike and walleye will be in many of the same places they hang out in July. Just think deeper and you’ll have fantastic fishing. However, let me inject a disclaimer. If you’re not finding fish deeper, please be sure to check shallow. On one trip with my dad and brothers, we were at camp during a major heatwave. Air temperatures had been in the 80’s and 90’s for a week prior to our arrival, so our instinct was to fish deep. However, after a half day of not finding fish, we decided to check close to shore. Sure enough, for whatever reason, that’s where the fish were hiding and that’s where they stayed the entire week! The moral of the story is, if something’s not working try something different. Fish don’t read fishing articles. Moving on, as August progresses towards September, the trophy pike will start to become more intense and feed for
longer periods. I’m not sure if many people realize it, but some of the largest pike of the season are caught during the latter half of August. With cooler nights, these fish start to sense that cold weather is coming and it triggers their instinct to start feeding heavily to survive. At a point in August, the Pike become so active they drive the walleyes out of the weeds, forcing them deep to join schools of other deep dwelling walleyes. That’s one of the reasons I love walleye fishing in August! Put me over a large pod of fish in 20 to 30 FOW with a jigging rap or jigging spoon and it’s like heaven. There is nothing like sitting over a deep-water spot on a beautiful calm day and jigging up a 25+ inch walleye. Finding the hot spots in August is similar to doing so in June and July. Just look for neckdown areas between two sections of the main lake basin, or a deep section between two islands, or a deep rocky point and have a blast!! For jigging Raps and spoons, I like to use 1/2oz sizes rigged on a 6-1/2ft medium-power fast-action rod rigged with 8-10lb mono (or sometimes braid). I prefer mono in most jigging spoon situations because the stretch it provides allows the fish to inhale the spoon easier and also absorbs some of the fight from larger fish so the hooks don’t pull out as easily.

September

This month is similar to all of the months combined. It can be cool and wet like May or it can be in the 70’s and pleasant. The bugs are virtually gone and so are most of the fishermen. If you’re looking for tranquility coupled with great trophy-fishing opportunities and spectacular fall colors, September is for you. The cool nights in September also bring excellent sleeping weather and a good opportunity to enjoy a comfy fire in the wood-burning stove after a long day of great fishing. Pike will still be carrying their feedbags and can be found cruising the shallows and weeds near the main lake basin during lowlight periods. On sunny days look for the big girls to be suspended over 25 to 40 FOW, following schools of Cisco’s, small walleyes and shiners. Use your electronics to find these suspended pike and troll large jointed crankbaits, Daredevils, and 5-1/4 inch Williams Whitefish spoons over the top of them. Add a rubber-core sinker or two, a few feet ahead of your lure, if you need to get down a little deeper. On cloudy days and evenings, try casting or trolling near the same areas that you found them when it was sunny but fish much shallower in 2 to 10 FOW. And if you can find a fallen tree laying in the water, this can be a particularly hot spot. Try casting a 1/2oz white, yellow or chartreuse spinnerbait around the submerged tree limbs and hold on. They will crush it! For walleyes in September we generally fish in 12 to 25 FOW. We like to backtroll slow death rigs tipped with a half a crawler, on both sides of neckdown areas, and extend our trolling passes further out toward each basin along each shore. If you find that the fish seem to be concentrated in a particular area, that is prime time to jig for them. We like to use ¼oz to 3/8oz jigs tipped with a large minnow or small sucker and stinger hook (no plastic). We also like to use the same size jigs tipped with a white 6-inch Sluggo with an inch cut off the top. String the Slug-go on your jig hook like you would a twister tail or other soft plastic. Just make sure the tail is straight. Overall, the presentation doesn’t look like much to us, but to a hungry walleye it looks like a Cisco or tasty shiner. Jigging Raps and ½ jigging spoons have also recently become one of my favorite ways to catch deep water walleye in September. If you want to experience a truly unique, fun and exciting way to put walleye in the boat during the summer and fall, try a jigging spoon. (Just ask my brother, Brad, who became converted, when he landed a 25-inch walleye his first time jigging with a spoon last fall.) Also, late in the evening, the saddle tops in the neckdowns and between islands can be a prime area to fish in fall. Fish will migrate from the deeper water to feed on top of these saddles in low light. Anchoring and using slip bobbers with minnows has produced most of our Master Angler walleyes in these areas.

If, for some reason, your opening-week trip doesn’t come together, or you’d prefer warmer weather for a more family-friendly trip, or you’re simply ready to try something different, don’t hesitate to book your fly-in adventure during one of the other four months. Each month offers its own unique advantages and if you’re willing to search and follow the fish as they make their transitions through the seasons, you’ll also discover the fishing to be equally rewarding.

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