River Walleye in Espanola
Along with most people in Northeastern Ontario, the May Long Weekend is easily one of my favourite holidays. Every spring, my anticipation for that holiday weekend and the upcoming fishing season grows. With walleye season officially beginning, I’m just as excited for this season as I have been in the past.
Leading up to the long weekend, late evenings are spent looking at lake maps to decide from the endless possibilities. My dilemma is resolved with a phone call to my good friend David—we decide on the Spanish River to fish for some trophy river walleye in Espanola.
The alarm sounds at 4 a.m. and we wake with great anticipation of what daybreak will bring. Before we know it, we’re at the launch preparing for our day. Before long, we’re on the water.
It doesn’t take long for the action to start—by the time we let the current take us down the first bend of the river, we have two slot-sized fish in the boat. We congratulate ourselves for making the right choice for our destination for this trip. River conditions are ideal with high water levels and good flow rates that produce turbid-stained water with 12-16” of visibility. The weather is excellent throughout the weekend—crisp mornings open up to warm sunny afternoons with temperatures reaching the mid 20s. No angler could be happier!
The Spanish River flows a total of 338 km (210 miles) in a southerly direction from the headwaters of Spanish and Duke Lakes—the west and east headwaters respectively—to its mouth at the North Channel of Georgian Bay on Lake Huron. The river was used mainly as a transportation corridor by First Nations peoples and 18th century fur traders, and then by the pulp and paper industry in the 19th and 20th centuries. Today, the river is used mainly for recreational purposes such as fishing and boating and is protected as a Provincial Park waterway.
There are four hydroelectric dams on the Spanish River: Big Eddy and High Falls, which create Lake Agnew; Nairn Falls Dam, 12 km below; and the Domtar Mill Dam in the Town of Espanola. The dams maintain the water level and flow rates throughout the seasonal transitions.
Our presentation for the weekend consists of vertical jigging with heavier-sized jigs to achieve bottom contact and no more than a 45-degree angle in the line. Bottom contact should be your main focus for any type of walleye fishing—this ensures that your bait is in the strike zone because, more often than not, walleye relate to the bottom. We tip our jigs with medium-sized chub minnows and various plastics including grubs and swim baits.
Our ideal rods range from 5’6” to 6’6” with a medium-to medium-heavy action and a fast tip to indicate bites and to handle heavier jigs. Reels from the smaller 1000 series up to the 2500 series spool with braided line between 10-15 lb test. We tie a 2-3 foot, 10 lb fluorocarbon leader for abrasion resistance and re-tying ease due to the high snag waters we are fishing.
A steady jigging cadence is used to keep the jig off the bottom and to avoid snags caused by dragging jigs. Keeping the line tight on both the rise and fall is beneficial because fish are biting as they pleased. Jig colour changes throughout the weekend as well—as one bite slows, another turns on. We often use different jig colours until one colour starts to clearly out-fish the others.
We keep our approach very simple throughout the weekend and our persistence pays off. At any given time, other anglers on the water are seen catching fish on bottom bouncers and crank baits.
An awesome walleye opener is caught in Zone 10 in Northeastern Ontario. We land double-digit numbers of fish, with our biggest walleye coming in at 28.5″. What a beautiful specimen and a great fight in the current! We have steady bites the entire day and we cover a lot of water to determine where the fish were located in the river system. It’s an excellent day on the river and we manage to fill our limit with perfectly-sized keepers in the 16-18″ range.
We head back to the Massey Motel for a delicious fish fry and some time to unwind from a great start to the weekend. As we enjoy our day’s catch and reminisce about our outing, being the anglers that we are, we decide to head back out on the water for an evening of pike and bass fishing. The possibilities are absolutely endless in Northeastern Ontario with the year-round pike and bass fishing seasons in Zone 10. Be sure to check the regulations before heading out on any body of water.
I doubt there’s better fight or bite in any other fish than in a spring smallmouth coming out of hibernation and in the pre-spawn phase. These fish hit hard and fight like a freight train with acrobatics that would rival Cirque du Soleil! That evening we manage to get into roughly a dozen ranging from 3-5 lb with a bonus 30” pike. What a great way to end an amazing day of fishing!
The walleye opener in Northeastern Ontario simply doesn’t disappoint. We are fortunate enough to have great success targeting walleye along with other species, including smallmouth bass, pike, sucker, and rock bass. The non-stop action makes for memories that will last a lifetime, and days like this remind me of why I love fishing so much! Any time spent in the great outdoors beats a day at the office.
Stay tuned for my updates on fishing in Northeastern Ontario throughout the season!