Walleye French River Fishing

Walleyes (a.k.a. Pickerel) are known to be a finicky fish. Some anglers describe walleye feeding habits as something of a constant “tap-tap” feeling or a bump, but there are occasions when they are less weary and strike out of instinct; sometimes greedily as they pursue lures ment for large Pike and Musky. While those instances are not unheard of, especially during the early spring and fall months, more often than naught walleye have to be tempted and teased using live bait presentations which account for the vast majority caught.

Walleyes, like perch, are a schooling fish and cluster around structural elements like rock humps, inside turns, breakline transitions, shoals, sunken logs, fallen trees, and docks on the French River Delta. Depending on the time of the season, they will migrate and follow schools of baitfish while other times they will lay in wait near different bottlenecks and flowing current where other fish are migrating. Hunting and catching walleye requires a firm understanding of the river structure and conditions, good boat control, plus an understanding of their feeding habits. These key points are an important part of walleye fishing; whether it be while working a jig and minnow suspended off the bottom, working your rig at a consistent depth, or trolling with harnesses and spinner rigs. 

Various popular techniques and tactics are used for walleye in the French River Delta and Georgian Bay Biosphere Area to catch one of our most popular species.

Live Bait :

Fishing with live bait for walleye is a tried and true tactic for many enthusiasts as it offers wide range of options and various presentations for your potential trophy. Some options that an angler might consider is presenting with a slip sinker or a slip bobber rig, pulled behind a spinner, tipped on a jig, or simply fished with a plain hook and split shot. Minnows, leeches and worms are the three most common live baits used for these picky river and bay fish. Nightcrawlers often match molting crayfish and become the bait of choice.

Below, is a basic seasonal guideline to follow in preparing to fish with live bait for walleyes:

 

Spring: Minnows, Emerald Shiner, Lake Chub, Northern Redbelly Dace, and Fathead Minnows are some of the legal baitfish to use during cooler spring water temperatures.
When Walleyes are feeding on Yellow Perch during the season, perchy patterns are the choice.

 

Summer: Leeches and Nightcrawlers work well during increased water temperatures of the season.

 

Fall: Minnows, Longnose Dace, Emerald Shiner, Blackchin Shiner, Bluntnose Minnow, Fathead Minnow, Blacknose Dace are relatively hardy species and Small Suckers. When Northern Cisco or Tullibee move into the French River, sliver and purple patterns work well.

Always check to make sure you are using legal bait for Ontario to fish for walleye.  The Baitfish Primer is a good reference to determine your bait from local French River bait shops. Nightcrawlers are available at the Bear’s Den Tackle Shop along with rigs, jigs and lures. Nightcrawlers often match the scent of molting crayfish and become the bait of choice.

 

Fishing with Jigs:

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Variety of floating jigs, photo by walleye411.com

Jigs are the most popular lure used for walleye. The angler using this rig can reach the depths where walleyes inhabit. Depending on the depth and season, colour may not be relevant as most walleye anglers tip their jigs with live bait for added attraction and scent for the dark depths.

 

How to work and present your jig depends on the time of year:

When the waters are cold, walleyes are sluggish and require a slow presentation with short gentle taps on the retrieve the best opportunities to catch them. It is not uncommon during this portion of the season to sometimes feel as if you snagged into something or have a sense of them not biting as they may hold onto your bait at a slightly higher depth.

For warmer water, they become more active and may require an intense jigging retrieve.

In both scenarios, however, you must lightly cast your rig or simply drop it off the side of the boat and let your bait sink to the bottom. Then retrieve with a series of twitches and pauses based on the time of year. After each twitch maintain a taut line while the jig sinks back to the bottom. Walleyes usually hit while the jig is sinking due to the appeal of a weakened prey. If your line is not taut you won’t feel a strike, sometimes you will feel a distinctive tap, other times you will feel light pressure as if the jig is hung up. Whenever you feel anything different set the hook. When fishing with jigs a must have is a fast action sensitive rod so you can feel even the lightest taps, the fast action gives the power for an immediate hookset.

 

Bottom Bouncer Slip Sinker Rigs:

bottombouncingwalleyerig2Walleye are abundant in our area and are known for picking up live bait and dropping it as soon as they feel any type of resistance. The slip-sinker rig eliminates the resistance, as a walleye strikes the bait the angler free spools the line allowing the walleye to swim away to eat the bait for a hookset. The slip sinker rig is made up of three components, a hook, sliding weight and a stop. They can be purchased pre-tied at most sport shops or you can make your own. Fishing the slip sinker rig is quite easy, after a cast allow the rig to sink. When you pull the rig the stop catches the sinker as it moves along the bottom allowing the bait to look natural for an easy meal. The sinker is the most important component, it must be heavy enough to get the rig to the bottom. A rule of thumb is 1/8 oz. for every 10 feet of depth. Most anglers use an egg or walking type of sinker, but in vegetation a bullet type sinker works best allowing the rig to slide through the weeds. For hooks the smaller the better, size 6-8 octopus to maintain a natural look. The stops can be a barrel swivel, to make it adjustable a bobber stop or a very small split shot can be used. Most often walleyes relate to bottom structure, leader lengths of 18 to 36 inches works the best. Bottom Bouncer or Loten Floating Jig Walleye Rig are effective for trolling slowly for deep water techniques too.

 

Slip Bobber Rigs:

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Photo Courtesy of walleye411.com

When walleyes suspend at a certain depth on a piece of structure (rockpile, crib, or submerged hump) the slip bobber rig is highly effective by presenting the live bait at a pre set depth, putting the bait right in their face. You can make slip bobber rigs rather easy or buy them at sport shops. To make a slip bobber rig simply start with your stop attached to the fishing line, you can use a piece of string or a rubber band knotted on the line thread on a small bead then the bobber. Add a small split shot below the bobber for balance then tie on a hook size 4-6-8 and bait with a minnow leech or nightcrawler. Remember to hook the head of the worm allowing it to dangle and entice. 

 

Walleye Spinner Rigs:

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Fishing with spinner rigs for walleyes can be used to present minnows, leeches or nightcrawlers for scent and taste with a combination of presenting attracting flash with vibrating motion. You can change your speed according to the conditions. As weeds are emerging, ‘eyes will school around the fresh growth so spin your lure through the area quickly to see if one will attack. Spinner rigs require approximately 2 oz. weighted options of slit shot or mixing and matching sinker weights to get to the depths of 20 feet by adding the weight a few feet ahead of the spinner rig for drifting  or trolling. Most anglers prefer using a bottom bouncer or a three way rig to keep the spinner in contact with the bottom. Shallower areas may only require the weight of a small split shot. Try different depths, breaklines to match your different spinner depths and styles to locate the walleye patterns. 

Trolling:

Allows anglers to cover more water, especially in unfamiliar waters with less time to locate walleye schools. Prior to the introduction of downriggers, side planning boards and diving planes, our grandfathers would cast a spinner rig or a diving crankbait off the back end of the boat in the prop wash as a technique referred to as flat lining.  In high winds, a back troll into the wind may be needed to control your speed. With the new trolling tools offered now fisherman can choose more options to present their baits.  

Downriggers:

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Illustration by hookline-fishing.com

A fishing technique that precisely places lures vertically in large bodies of water. Extremely difficult to do on the French River Delta with changing depths and occasional trenches or other natural obstructions. Certain larger bay sections of the river allow for this method, but be prepared for loss of lures and rigs snagged in underwater structures.

 

Side Planers:

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Highly detailed image from in-fisherman.com and their indepth article.

Similar to a downrigger, this technique spreads fishing lines horizontally on the sides of the boat so you can reach greater depths.

Diving Planes:

A diving device attached to the fishing line that dives on a plane downward and outward. They work well for deep trolling, but the water resistance can force your hook set not to reach the fish unless rigging with a swivel and extra monofilament through another swivel  fastened to a leader and your lure. This allows the planner to slide on your line like a slip sinker and you can set the hook directly against the fish.

Maximizing your walleye catches on the French River in the end hinges on utilizing the right lure, right bait, right presentation and being in the right place to hit the hottest combinations. Enjoy spinning up more French River walleyes on your next trip!

 

Article by Joe Barefoot, M.B.

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Our Logo

After 31 years of ownership for the Bear’s Den Lodge, Art, Brenda, & I thought it would be best to make some revisions and follow through with a New Year’s Resolution of revitalizing ourselves. We are still in the process of working on our project but some brief history of the old logo (left):

When Art Barefoot decided to move to Canada, chasing after his dream, Brenda Barefoot decided the Lodge needed to have a logo that represented the spirit of operation. The original logo started as a doodle by Art when he was inspired by his cocker spaniel playing in the yard. After many different renditions of the dog, this one was modeled into a the familiar Black Bear (with brown tones) that many have come to recognize in magazines and TV shows. Art left his mark with his first name hidden in the front left claw, closest to the grass.

While this logo will still be seen, the newer and modernized logo on the right better represents who we are today. The blue and green are carried over from the original logo, along with the trees and bear. It represents our primary passion for the outdoors and the big game trophy fishing and hunting, along with the natural beauty, scenery, and experiences that many of you expect and love of the French River!

Our passion continues for the protection of the environment, the cultural rich history and culinary experiences all wrapped into who Bear’s Den Lodge has evolved today.

Authored by Joe Barefoot

Spring Peaks & Zika Seeks

Are you planning for a camping trip this year? Already shopping at your favourite retailers and outdoor suppliers? Are you prepared?

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Mosquito Photo Credit: Care2.com

Something that I’m sure has been bothering many, or at least gaining interest, is the rising concern for the Zika Virus. We have been hearing about it on TV, in newspapers, and even the various social networks. Various media outlets are bringing to light different advisory warnings for those traveling to countries with the outbreaks. While various regions all over the world are still in their winter seasons the virus will have a harder time spreading until spring peaks with the mosquito population.

Do not fret! This short article will detail import things you should know about the virus and ways you can stay healthy in the great outdoors!

The most common way to contract the virus is from mosquito bites. According to the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) website those who are infected may experience symptoms such as: fever, headaches, rash, joint pain, muscle pain, and/or conjunctivitis (a.k.a. pink eyes or red eyes as seen below).

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Image provided by CDC

While there are currently no cures or vaccines for the Zika Virus; we have to be as a scout and “be prepared”. Some of the best and most common ways to help prevent being a mosquito’s meal is to use bug spray with DEET as the active ingredient to repel those pesky insects.

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Example of one popular brand with DEET

For those with kids (three and younger) or wanting to add another layer of protection from not only mosquitoes, but also things such as fleas and ticks; is to wear clothing with Permethrin. Both the US and Canadian military have used Permethrin in their uniforms for over the last 30 years. While it may be more expensive than regular clothing there are alternatives to spray your clothing and camping gear at a fraction of the cost. While Bear’s Den Lodge does not promote any particular brand of Permethrin products, this short five-minute YouTube video from Sawyer goes into greater detail of how to use and safely apply Permethrin sprays.

 

 

 

There are also other great options for those seeking alternatives for their traveling individual needs.

Remember, stay safe and be prepared this season!

 

Authored by Joe Barefoot

Fishing – The Job that Hooked My Heart

“Ever since I was a young boy I always had fond memories heading north and fishing with my brother in Ontario,” says Art Barefoot (Co-Owner of Bear’s Den Lodge). “From the people, the sights, and even the thrill hearing the reel squeal from another fight with a fish. It was paradise and I wanted to be part of it.”  BDLcollection 263.JPG

“Life wasn’t always easy growing up in a humble Pennsylvanian farmstead, but I knew after my first voyage north that I wanted to be an outfitter.”

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Owner & Executive Chef Art Barefoot providing laugher and warm meals.
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Line Class World Record Muskie Holder Art Barefoot explains the Muskie fishery and structure of how to fish the French River to Bill Hamblin (center) and long time guests Chris and Harry.

“Through high school I worked several odd jobs from pumping gas, being a lifeguard to even working at the local meat market as an apprenticing butcher. During my free time I went hunting, fishing, and even competed in archery, rifle, shotgun, pistol, and handgun shooting competitions.

After I graduated, I then attended the University of Georgia where I wanted to become a marine biologist.  Like a fish taking to water, I only thought it was natural to begin furthering my understanding and curiosity of aquatic life. In order to help pay for my education, I learned scuba diving. Once I was licensed, I not only instructed others at the University of Georgia, but also worked for Florida’s Department of Fish and Game.

As I was working for the Florida Department, I had to learn how to do underwater mapping with a small dive team as we explored the various underwater caves and springs, while measuring the water’s flow. At the time we had no idea why the Department wanted such detailed maps until sometime after we finished our last expedition and saw construction clearing the lands and bogs for Disney’s new theme park.”

 

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Aerial photo of the Bear’s Den Lodge

Art Barefoot, brings his culinary skills from, the Fire Team and Scuba Search & Rescue Team that he later worked for and would prepare the meals for the teams awaiting the next call. Later when he returned to Pennsylvania, he owned and operated a retail/wholesale meat market and catering business after being co-owner of a gun shop. There he found his love, Brenda Barefoot, after surviving a terrible auto accident.

He brushed himself off and later found another opportunity working in a bank as a teller and later became a loan officer, assisting businesses and people in advancing their dreams. With each promotion he got further away from home and each office had no windows until one morning he was seen carrying his gun over his three piece suit to be prepared to jump out of the truck, go into the woods, and go deer hunting when the opportunity presented. That was when his now wife, Brenda, realized it was time to follow his childhood dream.

After searching for a place to purchase, Art wrote across his desk “Gone Fishing” and left for the great Canadian wilderness and has never looked back.

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Owner Art Barefoot guiding

Walleye Fishing French River

Walleye fishing in the French River Delta and Georgian Bay has one of the highest rod hours in Ontario Canada. Ever increasing numbers, these fish naturally spawn in the Delta of the French River under the protection of slot limits since 1994.

Walleyes or Pickerel, as locals call them,  grow large and fight hard in this great Canadian wilderness river system, French River Provincial Park. They have large cloudy light sensitive eyes and prefer the stained waters of the French River and Georgian Bay. Walleyes tend to feed at sunrise, sunset or at night in the clearer water areas. Migrating walleyes head for the Georgian Bay late summer and begin to return late August to prepare for spawning in the spring. Many lunker size walleye remain in the French River all summer providing fisherman the opportunity to trophy fish walleye all season.

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Walleye Fishing French River

We recommend using live bait rigs and jigs for worms and minnows, bottom bouncers, or run crank baits such as, Mepps and our handmade Bear’s Den Lodge spinners.  Aggressive walleye are known to hit bucktails and bass lures too.

The average size of these fish, range from 1 – 4 lbs. but, with the ever growing population of walleye; are growing over 10 lbs. Despite controversy,  Blue walleye remain in this Canadian fishing river system for the anglers to catch.

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Blue Walleye on the French River Delta, Ontario, Canada

Fishing Tip: When fishing, be prepared to set the hook when you, feel that first bump or tapping, otherwise they will clean your hook off!

More fishing information about walleye and other fish in the French River area are available from Bear’s Den Lodge expert outfitters or stop by the Bear’s Den Lodge Tackle Shop and chat. 

Authored by Joe Barefoot, M.B.

Pike Fall for this Hook, Line and Sinker…

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Know Your Cast, Fall Pattern Fishing

Northern Pike are an aggressive freshwater fish with an attitude of its own. These predators chase, attack lures and are very territorial. As fall approaches, weeds tend to die causing these fish to establish new habitats and hunting grounds during the cooler waters of autumn.

During this period, they hang over hard bottom with green weeds until vegetation wanes and depletes oxygen necessary for aquatic life. This puts strain on pike in the noxious environment, causing northerns to seek new cover habitats over saddles, points, rocky reefs or shelves that descend into deeper water.

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Catching Pike on the Cast

Weed edges over muddy bottoms normally die faster than solid bottoms. Cast for pike on weed edges of green vegetation. Often times in the fall, trolling spoons or crankbaits are necessary to locate the movement of fish. Once you pop several predators, take note of your surroundings; especially of the structure that produced the pike to locate additional pike producing areas in the French River.

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Ferocious Appetite

Spinnerbaits are a favourite dinner of these audacious fish along with bass. Their fall preferred (colour) palette is autumn colours of chartreuse, orange, yellow and a splash of white. To further entice the ferocious northern pike’s appetite, your presentation is also a factor.

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Being in the (Strike) Zone

When casting in fall, water temperatures are dropping and presenting properly in the strike zone is important. Your retrieve is as important as your cast placement. Prior to the retrieval of your bait, you should always change the direction of the moving lure (side-to-side) with an occasional jerk to further entice the fish. This will allow you to see if the pike is following and since they are cousins of the muskie, using the popular “figure eight” will also work on this species for those wary in the hunt.

*Another method suggested by Art Barefoot, 14# Line Class World Record Muskie Holder, Retired Guide and Owner of Bear’s Den Lodge, highly recommends keeping your rod tip down and making a large circular pattern beside the boat before the final retrieval.*

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Taking the Hook, Line and Sinker

Positive aspects of autumn fishing are the larger game fish, less competition on the water, and a ravenous hunger to take the fall hook, line and sinker fishing the French River Delta.

Authored by Joe Barefoot