Our Man In Canada
July 14th, 2003

NWT Walleye on the Fly
By Chris Hanks

Years ago, on northern Manitoba's Hayes River, I occasionally took small walleye on a fly rod with a yellow sally jig. My results were never consistent was I was simply dabbling around creek mouths in the spring. Back then, if I really wanted fish I broke out the spinning rod. At Johnny Hoe I was determined to take walleye on a fly rod. Perhaps it was not an accident that I waited to make the big push until I was on world class water with first rate walleye fishermen for whom fish forestalled freeze-dried rations. What I learned is that any good streamer fisherman who is willing work bottom structures from 5 to 20 feet down has a shot. Your casting will not always be elegant as your turn over a heavy sinking line with a pair of weighted streamers, but the rig is effective. The best flies at Johnny Hoe look amazingly like small jigs.

Although two- to found-pound walleye would have been a gas on my 6 weight rod, I resorted to a nine-1/2 foot, 8 weight that throws a nice open loop in deference to the heft of the flies.

Walleye are carnivores with a capital C. They prey almost exclusively on small fish. The list of potential prey cited by Scott and Crossman in Freshwater Fishes of Canada is nearly encyclopedic in length. If it is smaller than the walleye and swims, it is food. Knowing this, I went armed with weighted streamers that matched the indigenous nine spine stickleback, flat headed sculpin and smelt or herring. These were backed up by a variety of attractor patterns. In the end, it was imitations of local bait fish based on the Clouser minnow pattern that were the most effective.

Despite my success, walleye are not a natural fly rod fish. Unlike northern pike which will readily strike near the surface, the walleye normally must be dredged up from the deep. Given the choice of catching a couple of walleye in the morning, or a boat load of northern pike, there is no choice, walleye make a better shore lunch.

In most of North American, fly rodding for walleye is not high on many peoples'list as warm water temperatures drive the fish down shortly after they spawn. In the Mackenzie River drainage of the western NWT, however, there is a window of opportunity in late spring and early summer when the fish are within the range of the streamer fisherman. Since I fished the Johnny Hoe, I have made it my business to seek out other fly rod walleye opportunities that are easier to access. The key is to stalk them in a riverine situation before they drop back into a lake and go deep.

The Johnny Hoe River can be difficult to hit right. By the time the ice clears in Great Bear Lake and the lodges open later in July, it is really too late for the Johnny Hoe. One northern lodge owner, quipped at me as I prepared this manuscript, "Don't mention Johnny Hoe. It is simply too far away." In a real sense he is right, there are other superb walleye holes that are not overfished and easier to access. Flying out of Hay River, Yellowknife and Fort Simpson there are great opportunities. Trout Lake Lodge and Deegahni Lake Camp, south of Great Slave Lake are, for instance, fly-in operations that open in early June on superb water at a fine time for the streamer fisherman looking for walleye. If you can catch the walleye on the bug, then someday there is Johnny Hoe. ~ Chris Hanks

Credits: From Fly Fishing in the Northwest Territories of Canada, By Chris Hanks, Published by Frank Amato Publications. We appreciate use permission!

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