Best Tips for Catching Big Walleye on Lake Ontario

Angler shows off his big walleye catch on the st. Lawrence river.

Catching Big Walleye on Lake Ontario and the Surrounding Region

Spring and fall offer the best time of the year to focus your fishing pursuits on catching big walleye on Lake Ontario.  Still, St. Lawrence River anglers take big walleye throughout the summer, and those anglers rely on three basic techniques for making their catches.  Those techniques are trolling minnow plugs, drifting crawler harnesses, and casting jigs.  Certainly, the most successful anglers have fine-tuned their walleye-catching methodology to something of an art, but here is a look at the basics of each technique.

Trolling Minnow Plugs

Trolling minnow plugs offers the advantages of covering a lot of water and of familiarizing oneself with an area in relatively short time.  Once fish are located, anglers continue to rework the area until the action slows.  Whereas wind conditions can hamper other techniques, trolling remains a viable option for big walleye no matter what the wind direction or velocity.

The Perfect Trolling Lure Placement for Walleye

Since big walleye hold on or near bottom, the key is to get the lure within a few feet of bottom.  Today’s assortment of diving plugs and in-line weights makes it easy to reach 35-foot depths and beyond.  The angler’s task is to do his or her homework to determine which lures and which weights reach which depths and ultimately get the fish. 

Ensuring good Lure Action

A second trolling key is to make sure there is good lure action.  An easy way to check lure action is to visually inspect the lure while running it at boat side at trolling speed.  Once the line has been let out, the angler can monitor lure action by feeling the vibration in the rod or by watching the rod tip.

Knowing where to Troll for Walleye

For the best results, anglers should troll along structural edges rather than in open water.  Also, trolling up current or cross current will usually out produce downstream trolling.  Since walleyes move shallower in low-light conditions, anglers should do likewise.  Today’s market offers an array of walleye plugs, but the fish seem to prefer long, slender lures over short, stubby ones.

Drifting Walleye Crawler Harnesses

angler in a boat catching walleye on Lake Ontario

Like trolling, drifting walleye crawler harnesses allows an angler to cover a lot of water in a short period of time, and since summer walleye are spread throughout a water system, covering water is important in locating fish. By using heavier-weighted bottom bouncers or three-way-swivel rigs, anglers can work deep water, a favorite daytime haunt of summer walleyes.  

Finding the Right Drifting Speed

A key to being successful while catching big walleye on Lake Ontario by drifting is speed.  If the drift is too slow, blades will not turn, and the rig will settle on bottom.  For St. Lawrence River anglers, this means only one thing: gobies will gobble up the bait.  When the drift speed is too fast, the rig often lifts too far off bottom to entice strikes.  Under ideal conditions, the current and/or wind will move the boat at proper speed, but more often than not, the angler will have to use a motor or drift sock to achieve a proper drift speed.

Picking the right Walleye Crawler Harness

Selecting walleye crawler harnesses can be as easy as buying a few at the local store or as complicated as making one’s own as the angler experiments with preferred line strength, lead length, blade style, blade color, blade reflective quality, number of beads, bead color, hook size, hook color, number of hooks, etc.  Experience is the best way to learn which harnesses are most effective in any given water so my advice is to spend a lot of time on the water or to ask a seasoned angler for some hints.  For starters, gold is the go-to color for spinner blades on the St. Lawrence River. 

Casting Walleye Jigs

Casting bucktail-hair jigs or plastic-tipped jigs doesn’t allow an angler to cover as much water as trolling plugs or drifting harnesses does so the technique is better utilized when walleye are somewhat concentrated in a given area.  Although casting walleye jigs will take fish during the summer months, the technique takes more fish in early and late season when walleyes are concentrated in post-spawn or pre-winter schools not far from spawning grounds.

Walleye Jigs Provide Versatility

Jigs offer the flexibility of fishing a variety of depths, and they can be worked slowly or aggressively to match the fish’s mood.  Casting walleye jigs works best in areas with no current or mild current.  When fishing in strong current or strong wind, the angler must use a heavier jig as well as the motor or drift sock to control the boat speed.  

Understanding the Jig’s Fall and Tick

This basic fishing technique calls for casting the walleye jig and letting it fall to bottom.  Then the angler uses a lift-drop technique as he or she works the lure near bottom and back to the boat.  Ninety percent of the strikes typically occur on the jig’s fall, and the angler will feel only a “tick” as the walleye inhales the dropping jig.  If the “tick” goes undetected, the angler will feel the weight of the fish when lifting the jig, provided the walleye hasn’t ejected the jig.

Visualizing the Jigging Presentations

Skillful jiggers visualize what the jig is doing at line’s end.  These anglers also have a feel for what the jig is doing, and they watch their line to detect any slack that indicates the jig has hit bottom or a walleye has inhaled it.  Two time-proven means of increasing hook-ups are to tip the jig with a piece of crawler and to add a stinger hook.  Regarding jig and trailer colors, all black and black/purple are St. Lawrence River favorites.

Walleye Basics – Knowing Where to Look

Big walleye are most active in low-light and changing-light conditions because the makeup of their eyes allows them to see more effectively than other species at such times.  As a result, good fishing times for catching walleye on Lake Ontario and the surrounding region are cloudy days, windy days, sunrise, sunset, morning hours, and evening hours. During these conditions, big walleye move to structures to feed.  An angling adage says, “Find the structure, and you’ll find the walleye.”  Prime walleye-holding structures include points, shoal edges, weed lines, channels, break walls, and island and mainland drop-offs.  

Putting in the Time

Time on the water is another key to catching big walleye on Lake Ontario, also known as summer marble eyes.  Because walleye periodically change their locations, an angler who spends time on the water finds it easier to stay in touch with fish locations and patterns.  When possible, try to go fishing consecutive days.  Unless there is a drastic change in the weather, success on one day should lead to similar if not better success on the following day or days.

Original Article By Mike Seymour

About the Author

Captain Mike Seymour is a licensed Coast Guard and NYS guide who has guided extensively on the St. Lawrence River, Black Lake, and in western Alaska.  He is a former president of the New York State Outdoor Writers’ Association and is an active writer for several publications.  In addition to fishing the St. Lawrence River, he is actively fishing Lake Ontario, the Adirondacks, and other waters of the state.  Contact him at

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