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J.T. Charters’ secrets of catching walleye

July 1, 2009
By Brian Miller
As the sun crested over the horizon, I was taking an eight mile ride onto Lake Erie. We were going after Lake Erie walleye’s with Captain John on J.T. Sport Fishing Charters. Moments after we set down for a drift, Captain John started baiting hooks and setting bottom bouncers. It didn’t take long for the fish to bite. Quickly Captain yelled back, “Fish on one! Someone grab that rod…bring him in slow, I’ll get the net.” Minutes later someone else yelled “Fish On!” And that’s how the day went. Captain John from J.T. Charters simply put us on fish and kept it going for eight hours.

I have spent a lot of time on Lake Erie chasing walleye’s but fishing with Captain John was a learning experience. There are times when you’re blessed with the experience to watch someone really good do what they are good at. And Captain John was one of those blessed fisherman. Now, I am lucky enough to share with you what I learned from fishing with Captain John. Come along while I uncover six secrets of Lake Erie walleye fishing.

Work the Angles: Working the angles sounds simple but it is very important. Cast at a 90 degree angle, parallel with the boat, and allow your drift to swing the bait directly behind the boat. Those who worked the angles out-fished the other fisherman 2 to 1. Using the angle causes your bait to change direction and speed causing a strike. As the line swings back behind the boat the bait initially slows down and then on the end of the swing it speeds up. This is where you get the majority of your strike. Also a slight change in direction is often enough to cause a reaction strike from a hungry walleye.

Slow Retrieve: When the bite slows down often a very slow retrieve is required to land walleye. Captain John said over and over again, “If you think you’re reeling too slow then go slower.” Walleye are hitting right before your lure gets to the bottom or right when it’s coming off the bottom. Dragging your bait on the bottom doesn’t work; dragging crawler harnesses is just drowning worms. You need to work the bait very slowly and preferably at angles.

Walleye From Above: Walleye come up to hit your lure but do not go down. When you’re marking fish on the sonar, work lures at or above their eyes. A walleye would rather raise several feet to hit a lure over dropping one foot. Instead of putting bottom bouncers on the bottom bring them up 2-3 cranks so your crawler harness is suspended just above the walleye.

Gold Crawler Harnesses: When I looked over the crawler harnesses that were rigged on all the rods I noticed they were all gold. Captain John said, “When gold doesn’t work I switch to gold.” On Lake Erie, a fire tiger or chartreuse crawler harness will out-fish a gold blade only once or twice a year. So over the years Captain John has switched to primarily fishing gold. On this day it was absolutely true. Out of all the charter boats (we set out from Port Clinton, OH), we were the only one to bring in limits, keeping well over 40 walleye. Captain John put us on 130 pounds of fish, one measuring 29.5 inches.

Set the Hook: If you think you have a fish, set the hook. Pick up the rod and reel up, setting the hook. Setting the hook like a bass fisherman will pull the hook out of a walleyes soft mouth. It’s better to set the hook first and ask questions later. Checking baits and setting hook on nothing is better than missing a bite. And on tough fishing days, you need to make every bite count.

Stay Put! If you were catching fish in the morning but the bite turned off, the rest of the trip can be determined on what you decide next. If you know the fish are there then stay put. Just because they clam up doesn’t mean the walleye left, it just means the bite turned off. Instead of running the boat to a new location, drift to adjacent ledges. Fish the deeper water around those reefs with crawler harnesses. In the early morning walleye sit on top of the rocks in shallow water. Then as boat traffic increases and the sun gets higher into the sky, walleye slip into deeper water. Walleye’s are sensitive to bright light and when the sun gets brighter it penetrates deeper into the lake. Stay in the general area just look for the drop-off and deeper reefs. But don’t go far because the walleye haven’t.

The next time I head out walleye fishing I will apply these six deadly tips I learned from Captain John. Experiencing the joy of getting limits on a tough day on the water was great. Anyone can get fish when the bite is on. It’s these tough days on the water which makes a better fisherman. If you want to experience a day on the water with Captain John, visit him at or

Article Photos

This is the picture every charter boat captain seeks after a hard day’s work. This crew, aboard J.T. Sport Fishing Charters of Port Clinton, OH, included writers of Ohio Valley Outdoors magazine. Pictured are: (kneeling, from left) Duane Needs and Brian Miller and (standing, from left) Jim Brys, Steve Sorensen, Larry Claypool and Andy Blanchard. - Ohio Valley Outdoors photo

Fact Box

Set the Hook: If you think you have a fish, set the hook. Pick up the rod and reel up, setting the hook. Setting the hook like a bass fisherman will pull the hook out of a walleyes soft mouth.



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