One of the best ways to learn about walleye is viewing them with an underwater camera. It has taught me plenty about walleye that sonar can’t.
Identifying fish species
One advantage of an underwater camera is it shows fish species. This is a huge time saver. Many times I thought I found walleye, only to have the camera reveal bass, catfish, drum, or carp. Dropping a camera is a fast way to rule out areas and not waste time on non-target species.
Same structure, changing players
A camera has taught me how different fish species relate to different structure throughout the year. For instance, walleye can mill around rocky reefs and shoals where they’ve spawned during the start of the season. Eventually, they move on, which can coincide with other species moving in.
Smallmouth and walleye overlap a lot, often sharing structure. Sometimes bass are thick in an area, but then walleye become the more active predator as light fades. The summer-to-fall transition can also see these two species play musical chairs with various mid to deep structures.
Edge theory proven
It’s almost cliché, but walleye really love edges. Their affinity for border lines is plain as day watching their white-tipped tails swim around structure. As a result, I’m constantly looking for weed walls, drop-offs, holes, dark-light transitions, bottom transitions, and other edges.
I remember an outing with Derek Samson. We had put several walleye in the boat, but it was a “one here, couple there” deal. Determined to find a big school, we put the rods away and began covering water with the electronics. Pulling up to a wing dam in 28 feet of water, we dropped the camera and drifted with the current.
At first all we saw was a mix of rock, wood, and curious smallmouth. Then the bottom changed to a hard line of rock against a sand flat loaded with walleye. It was an amazing sight and a turning point in an incredible day on the river.
Current is king in rivers
As a visual learner, using an underwater camera has reinforced the significance of current on walleye location. I’ve known this in theory, but seeing it has really hammered it home and given me more confidence when fishing flowing water.
It’s fascinating to see walleye tucked into areas of slower flow, like the front and back ledges of a hump, belly to bottom within a hole, or tucked in behind boulders.
The lesson here is walleye prefer not being in the fast flow, but close to it so they can ambush prey getting swept downstream in the swift stuff.
Identifying travel corridors
Pinpointing the path walleye use to move on and off of flats, humps, points, and other feeding areas helps locate the best spots holding the most fish. Several winters ago I was ice fishing a mid-lake hump with my friend Steve Barnett, who was putting an absolute smack-down on ‘eyes during the twilight bite.
I dropped the camera close to him and immediately understood what was unfolding. Barnett was parked over a rocky finger walleye were using as a highway to access a perch buffet. We marked the spot with a waypoint. It continues to be a reliable stop on milk runs in open water and on the ice.
Testing fish reaction
An underwater camera can be used to observe and experiment with a presentation based on how walleye react to it. I do this more ice fishing, but there are open-water options, such pulling a lure behind an Aqua-Vu’s XT Trolling Fin. Seeing several curious walleye approach a bait, then turn away is a sign to modify tactics. This could include trying a different bait size, another colour, or different lure action.
Small clues are worth it
In dark or dingy water, a camera’s viewing capability is limited, but I still keep one in my boat. Catching a glimpse of a walleye, or part of one, swimming past the lens is a win when I’m in search mode.
Every year I learn something new courtesy of this technology. If you’re looking to up your walleye game, investing in a camera is worth considering.
Originally published in the 2020 Fishing Annual issue of Ontario OUT of DOORS magazine.