Lake Erie Fall Walleye Tournaments Will Feel Impacts Of Migrating Walleye

By on September 16, 2015
Travis Hartman holds up a Lake Erie walleye, a fish that sometimes calls for out-of-the-box adjustments. (Credit: Travis Hartman)

The days are getting shorter and nighttime lows are hitting the 40s and 50s as I’m writing this. Lake Erie’s surface temperature is dipping towards the 60s and the fall walleye migration back toward the western basin will likely be underway very soon if it hasn’t already started. For diehard walleye anglers, it’s a sign of great things to come.

Lake Erie’s waters from the Bass Islands to Cleveland can produce some of North America’s best walleye fishing from October through December and the best days are usually filled with five- to 10-pound fish, including trophies into the teens. In the best fall seasons, when Mother Nature spares us of extended high winds, the location and technique options are extensive and can include incredible night fishing in shallow waters along the Erie shoreline.

The 2015 fall walleye fishing season has some added anticipation as the Cabela’s Masters Walleye Circuit will bring their championship to Huron, Ohio. Fifty of the best walleye fishing teams from across the country and also Canada will compete for the walleye tournament world’s top prize, to be named as World Walleye Champions. Throw in the annual “Fish Huron Ohio Walleye Challenge” that quickly fills a 100-boat field, and the stage is set for an extremely competitive October in Ohio’s waters of Lake Erie.

The rules of both tournaments are simple: Bring back the heaviest five walleye that you can catch each day and see how your weight compares against the best competition that you’ll find in any fall walleye tournament. Even though both tournaments are limited to Ohio waters, the area being “pre-fished” by most competitors will be expansive to say the least. Lake Erie’s walleye are numerous and grow to trophy sizes because of the great habitat and prey available, and Ohio’s waters alone stretch roughly 145 miles from west to east and over 25 miles from north to south at its widest.

So how much weight will it take to win? The answer is nearly as tough to predict as the weather that it relies on. The best case scenario would be relatively calm winds with stable weather leading up to and during the tournaments. At the opposite end of the spectrum, Lake Erie’s October winds and unstable weather can humble even the best tournament pros. It’s safe to say that good weather will produce daily five-fish weights over 40 pounds and great conditions will push the best weights over 45 pounds per day. The three-day MWC championship could definitely produce a total weight of 120 pounds or more for the winning team, and how much more will be directly determined by how far west the biggest fish have migrated and how calm the water is to get to them.

A night-trolled walleye from Lake Erie (Credit: Travis Hartman)

A night-trolled walleye from Lake Erie (Credit: Travis Hartman)

With so much at stake, there will be plenty of fine tuning when it comes to presentation and even the most subtle tweak might be the difference in cashing a check or going home ounces away from placing. That being said, most of the fish will be caught using a handful of Erie staples for October walleye fishing. With reasonable conditions, it might be fair to assume the best chance at a huge bag is in the vast expanses of open water east of Huron. How far east could change by the day, but there is a good chance that the winners will most likely fish within 10 to 30 miles of the launch.

Either tournament could certainly be won by teams running 50 miles or more to the east, but every additional mile increases the gamble. The farther you run, the calmer weather that you need all day to get there and get back, not to mention the amount of precious fishing time that you lose when your long run requires refueling to make it all the way back. The presentations of choice in open water will come down to two primary options: crankbaits or worm harnesses. There are limitless options when it comes to colors, weighting and bait choices, but at the end of the day many of the fish caught in the tournament will bite a crankbait or a worm harness in Erie’s open waters.

If the weather produces big waves that make long runs or even nearby open water fishing difficult, then look for structure fishing to come into play. From the island complex to nearshore waters around Huron, there are plenty of “rock fish” that could become extremely important if they are the most consistent bite when the tournament days are here. The most common method of catching Erie’s rock fish is to troll worm harnesses behind inline weights that will be fished right near the bottom around the rocks that the walleye are feeding near. Historically, the highest weights won’t come from these areas, but inconsistent open water fishing could make structure fishing a must, especially in a three-day tournament.

The eyes of the tournament world will be focused solely on Lake Erie this October, and the numbers of big walleye within range could threaten some of the sport’s most coveted records. Will Ted Takasaki’s 53-pound single day record (not surprisingly also from Lake Erie) be broken as it nearly was a few years ago in an MWC tournament out of Huron in May? Is the MWC’s three-day championship weight record in jeopardy of falling? How big will the single biggest fish weighed in be? All of these questions will be answered shortly, and the results could potentially be nothing short of incredible. Many of us will be closely following Erie’s fall migration, and only a few will figure it out well enough to win the upcoming tournaments.

Top image: Travis Hartman holds up a Lake Erie walleye. (Credit: Travis Hartman)

About Travis Hartman

FishSens pro Travis Hartman is a two-time WBSA Lake Erie Walleye Trail points champion and 2015 Cabela’s MWC World Walleye Championship qualifier. He has 21 top 10 finishes and is also a licensed charter captain.

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