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October 2019 – The end of open water

sunrise on the lake

It’s nearing the end of October the days of open water are certainly numbered. I went out on Saturday for what will be my last trip to visit my new usual spot, Mulhurst Bay on Pigeon Lake, Alberta. The weather is certainly colder and the temperature that morning was a brisk 2°C. I knew the docks would be pulled out for the winter already so I came prepared to launch the boat solo with chest waders and plenty of insulation. Water dripped off my waders as I climbed into the boat and quickly froze on the deck. It won’t be long until ice up now. According to my fish finder water temps were between 4 and 5°C and lake turnover was in full swing. Algae made its way to the top and plenty of weed growth came with it. This time of year can really change fishing patterns but I found the walleye in the same locations as before and to my surprise, as aggressive as they have been all summer. 

I caught a few Walleye early to get the skunk out of the boat but they were not my target for the day. With the cooler fall temperatures I was anticipating the Whitefish to move to shallow water and was eager to target them with my fly rod. All morning I idled slowly along the shores, casting a San Juan worm and strike indicator at likely spots. I had no indication there were Whites around and as noon arrived, I gave up. I know there are plenty of Whitefish in Pigeon Lake, but I haven’t found them yet. 

The last thing I wanted to do before tucking the boat in for the long winter was mark some potential ice fishing spots. Last winter I marked waypoints in my handheld GPS of popular ice fishing spots around the lake. Today I went back to those spots with my Humminbird and Autochart Live to figure out what made them popular. It probably looks silly to see someone driving back and forth, again and again, in what looks like the same spot but they are likely not just wasting gas, but mapping out contours. I admit this is a boring exercise, to keep myself entertained I usually listen to some music and when I feel like I’m about to nod off I will stop and make a couple of casts. The payoff is worth it though, it will be a lot easier to set up the ice fishing command center when I know exactly where I want to put it. 

As I’ve said in a previous post, I spent a lot of time this year targeting Walleye. There were three techniques I started the season using: trolling bottom bouncers, jigging with Rapala jigging raps or rippin raps, and snap jigging with a jighead and a minnow. Only the last technique went the distance and has become a staple for me. I first learned of snap jigging in the spring from Tom Boley’s YouTube channel. If you haven’t watched any of his videos I suggest you give him a try. There is more information packed into 10 minutes of his show than the usual half hour fishing specials you get on TV. To be fair, I think the reason I didn’t spend more time trolling bottom bouncers was because I became familiar with the lake. Thanks to AutoChart Live I spent much less time searching and more time catching.

If you’ve spent any time on Pigeon Lake you probably know the go-to technique for Walleye is a jig and a frozen minnow. I’ve used it and it’s no doubt reliable but I couldn’t get behind the massive amounts of minnows I went through. I like fishing plastics because they are so much more durable. Using a minnow, every time I caught a fish I would have to put a new one on, meaning I went through a couple tubs per outing. This year I started using the Berkley Gulp Alive! Minnows and they quickly became my preferred choice, other soft plastics worked but the Walleye seem to key in more on the scent. I also found that the 3” length worked the best, the 4” minnows wouldn’t produce the same results. One Gulp minnow would last through 3 or 4 catches before being too torn up to use, and the best part is that they are 100% biodegradable – so I don’t feel bad about losing them in the water. After a full season of use I didn’t even finish off a jar. In my opinion the Gulp minnows have been just as effective as actual minnows and a much better value.

Another victim to the Snap Jigged minnow.

I am sad to see the open water season come to a close. I really enjoyed the warm weather, getting a wicked farmers tan and cruising around on the kayak; but my next favorite season is just around the corner – ice fishing!

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