COLD WATER WALLEYE
Cold water does a number of strange things to fish. Fish are cold blooded creatures therefore their internal body temperatures are relative to the water temperature around them. In the winter time, during times of cold water, all fish tend to slow down. Their metabolism reduces and their bodies are less active. That is why anglers often find huge schools of actively feeding gamefish in the early fall... the fish are stocking up body fat reserves for the upcoming cold months. That's what makes ice fishing for walleye and perch so lucrative a technique during cold water months. Vertically jigging is considered a subtle approach to catching fish, the presentation is slow and gamefish don't have to swim fast to catch the falling lure or minnow. Perfect.
What about winters like this, when there is no ice? Can fish be caught from a boat? You bet they can. Keep the above paragraph in mind as we discuss favourable tactics. Despite the lack of ice, the internal clocks of walleye force them to migrate slowly up rivers in preparation for the spring spawning rituals. As they transverse the waterways, they feed as they go. The feedings are subtle due to water temps and reduced metabolisms but the certainly keep feeding.
Boat trolling is certainly not out of the question, but there are better tactics to suit the cold water season. How about anchoring your boat over a favourite fishing hole and vertically jigging? Sure! Just pretend there is ice on the river and go for it in the same manner. Position the boat over a spot where you would normally catch walleye through the ice, get out your favourite ice jigging rod and begin. Use the same lures as you would ice fishing. Swedish Pimples, Rapala jigs, spreaders with minnows and lead jigs with curly tails will all produce winter walleye from the boat in the same manner as though there were ice on the waters.
Remembering that river fish are moving fish, there is not much need to go looking for them. If you are in a typically good spot that usually produces, the fish will come to you. You can go looking for them, just don't get too aggressive in your presentations! The fish are slow and sluggish and will certainly not chase down a quickly retrieved lure or fast trolled spoon.
I like the drifting tactic. The Sydenham doesn't have much current in the winter and the boat can drift along lazily while you bounce a minnow jig combo off bottom. If you have a depth sounder in your boat, all the better. Try to keep the boat drifting slowly along the bottom edge of the shore line drop off. This is the "Walleye Highway", the contour that fish use to navigate upstream. An electric trolling motor would be of the greatest benefit to keep the boat on that contour drop.
How slow do you want to present your offering? As slow as possible. During cold spring fishing trips, I have even let my minnow jig combo just drag on bottom. Sure you will lose a few lures, but you will also catch fish. If yer losing lures or jigs, yer in the right spot.
The addition of live bait is a must when you are fishing cold water. You wouldn't dare drop a jig down a hole in the ice without a minnow or some kind of worm or bug on it would you? Same thing with open water/ cold water fishing. Keep a good mix of feisty live minnows handy, and change them often. A dead, lifeless minnow is far less attractive to a sluggish walleye than a live one.
The one negative thing about winter fishing in open water in Ontario? You can only legally use one rod! Yes, two rods on the ice, one rod per angler in the boat!