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Walleye Town

 

When western anglers are asked from time to time to rank their favorite game fish, the poll results are invariably the same. It’s rainbow trout and walleye that occupy the top spots. All other angling species must take a very distant back seat and for good reason. Provincial governments go out of their way to stock thousands of rainbows each spring making them readily available in ponds, lakes and reservoirs virtually everywhere.


Fisheries managers have worked diligently to restore and enhance walleye populations through harvest restrictions, spawning protection closures and restoration through stocking. So instead of trailering to some remote Canadian shield lake to find cosmic walleye action, Old Walter has become available in abundance within easy access of large population centres and nobody knows that more than walleye anglers from Alberta’s capital city. Because, as unlikely as it sounds, Edmonton may very easily claim the title of Walleye Town with four prime fisheries and a developing fifth within an hour’s drive of a million people. Here’s a rundown of the capital’s walleye hotspots and some timely tips on how to hook them.


Pigeon Lake

Pigeon Lake is a cottage country waterbody southwest of town with a long and troubled history. Twice it had its walleye extirpated by over-harvest and commercial netting incidental catch. So when biologists tried one last time to bring the ‘eyes back in the late 1990s it was done not with a lot of confidence.

Pigeon Lake prime Alberta walleye

Pigeon Lake has developed into a prime Alberta destination walleye fishery

But despite the odds, the millions of walleye fry that were released in the lake took hold. Within a few years anglers reported aggressive little walleye showing up. The lake has never looked back despite noisy protests from the lake’s traditional whitefish anglers who observed that the whites had abandoned their shallow water haunts during the spring ice season with the arrival of a new and aggressive predator. Now walleye are the primary target for recreational anglers and for good reason. Triple figure days are not out of the question. The famous provincial park drop-off may rank as the most heavily fished piece of structure in the province and that’s obviously because it’s that productive.


It was late summer and Pigeon was beginning to show the ill effects of being surrounded by urban development and a close-ended drainage system. There was a troubling algae bloom and angling prospects didn’t look promising. But sometimes beauty is more than skin deep. Instead of the drop-off, where a small flotilla was already anchored up, my fishing partner Emmerson and I motored to another enticing piece of Pigeon Lake structure - the Grandview Hump.

Pigeon lake alberta provincial park

A flotilla of angling boats gathers most summer weekends on Pigeon Lake’s productive Provincial Park Drop-off

This underwater flat a couple hundred metres off the summer village on the south shore is renowned for its walleye holding properties. When the Lowrance began recording a rise in the lake bottom, we backed off in about 15 feet of water where the fish finder was no longer indicating bottom vegetation and set the anchor. There are probably as many ways to angle for walleye as there are anglers. From using 8-weight fly rods and streamers to elaborate crank baits and trolling techniques but we chose the old school way of catching them. A tub of medium-sized frozen shiner minnows threaded on a chartreuse jig head. This rig can either be cast with a spinning rod and reel set-up, allowed to sink to the bottom, then brought back in a pop-and-stop retrieve or simply dropped over the side of the boat until the line goes slack, indicating the bottom has been reached. Then lifted a foot or so with a rotation or two of the reel so the bait is suspended above the substrate, but still in the walleye zone. After that simply wait for the tap. It didn’t take long in coming with Emmerson, and we were very soon into fish. It stayed that way all afternoon.


Unlike pike, which more time than not rush their prey and bite hard and unfortunately end up with the lure very deep - making safe catch and release sometimes problematic. With pike you do need a good set of jaw spreaders and a long hook extractor, while the walleye bite is far more subtle. Sometimes so light that you almost need a sixth sense to feel it. It also requires a lot of patience and will-power not to set the hook too soon. Allow the fish to fully mouth the bait before pulling the trigger or a lot of jigs will come back with nothing but a shiner head attached to the hook. A shock tippet is not needed for walleye angling. Unless they share the waters with toothy pike. In that case a foot or so of coated wire or the new braided tippet material can be attached to your line. I’ve also had increased success after replacing the monofilament and loading my walleye reel with braided nylon.


Mono has too much memory for my liking. My angling "feel" has improved exponentially since the switch. So have my hook-ups. Of course, for many walleye anglers, it’s all about eating. The tradeoff is, if anglers fry all the fish, there soon won’t be any around to catch. Because of angler pressure Pigeon Lake does have a restricted harvest where anglers apply for tags in three size ranges that are distributed through a spring draw. When the time came to put the boat back on the trailer, we’d probably boated 100 walleye. And on a day when our prospects didn’t look too great, it doesn’t get much better than that.


Lac Ste. Anne

Lac Ste Anne is a big lake northwest of town with a great history. Its super-abundant shoals with lake whitefish once fed the inhabitants of Fort Edmonton. The lake is also the home of a long-standing pilgrimage where First Nations people cure their ills and restore their faith in Ste. Anne’s sacred waters on the site of Father Albert Lacombe’s famous mission. There’s even supposed to be a canoe-smashing Manitou cruising its depths.

Pelican and waterbirds on Lac Ste. Anne's Alberta Rock Island

Pelicans and other waterbirds gather on Lac Ste. Anne’s distinctive Rock Island

But today Lac Ste. Anne is all about walleye. Again the lake’s now-thriving walleye populations are the result of another rescue mission by provincial biologists. The fish numbers were nurtured back to health through a harvest closure and the results have been nothing short of spectacular. As I found out on a summer excursion to Lac Ste. Anne and the mid-lake mound opposite the river lot settlement and mission. Again after locating the fish-holding structure on the sonar, then backing off until the screen no longer showed bottom clutter.

Walleye fisheries surrounding Alberta's capital city Edmonton

Alberta’s capital city is surrounded by several fine walleye fisheries. Including this Lac Ste. Anne specimen

After that the fishing was dead easy with strikes coming both by stop-and-go retrieving or suspending the frozen minnow bait. We even broke out the fly rods for a spell. Later we used our map of the lake bottom to locate a concentration of contour lines along a section of the north shore which indicated a drop off. Walleye love hanging out where the lake bottom deepens dramatically and this one was no exception. The action may even have been better than on the Mission Mound and produced another high double-figure day. Lac Ste. Anne also has a restricted harvest available through the spring tag draw.


Battle Lake

The Walleye Town sleeper fishery is Battle. It’s also the most picturesque lake nestled in a largely undisturbed wooded valley with a stoic butte standing sentinel at its northwest end. While only a short drive further down Highway 13 from Pigeon Lake, Battle seems like a million miles away from the hustle, bustle and competing user groups that appear many days at the big, nearby cottage lake. It was toward the butte where we pointed the boat one early-summer evening, in search of what Battle Lake is becoming known for. Big, hard-fighting walleye. We had already entertained ourselves thoroughly catching too many fish to count - including many feisty pike.

Trophy size walleye Edmonton Alberta's Battle Lake

Walleye grow to trophy size at the Edmonton region’s Battle Lake

Although like many Alberta lakes where there are competing predator species, the Battle pike are mostly on the small side. But they clearly punch above their weight when hooked on light spinning or fly tackle. At the butte we anchored in 20 feet of water which the fish finder revealed sloped away sharply. Then lowered our jigs and minnows to the bottom and held on. It didn’t take long for the walleye to find our baits. The action was steady and sometimes spectacular in a lake that is thankfully now protected with zero harvest which allows the walleye to grow big.


The River

As well as Walleye Town another alter ego for Alberta’s capital is River City. For no other reason than the fact that a big, sprawling river runs through it. The North Saskatchewan River once had the unfortunate public perception as a heavily polluted waterway. And when it’s roiled with gray glacier-melt or run-off after the early summer rains, it’s not particularly attractive. But when the floods subside and the NSR returns to mid-summer levels, it takes on a gorgeous green hue and is absolutely sublime. During the fall foliage season it’s even better. It’s also full of walleye.

Walleye in the heart of Edmonton North Saskatchewan River

Big North Saskatchewan River walleye can be caught in the heart of the city

Not just in some remote, upriver eddy, but right in the heart of the city. Although you’d never know it because as soon as you clear the Quesnell Bridge on an up-stream trip, the wilderness takes over and the river turns primitive. Here there are current breaks, glides and backwaters that attract and hold walleye. Look for water 6 to 8 feet deep and anchor where the slow and rapid flows intersect with a distinct line running down it known to anglers as the "seam". The technique is to use a heavily-weighted jig baited with a frozen shiner to find the bottom despite the current. Then slowly bring it in with a stop-and-pop retrieve. The hit will likely come when the jig is brought in motion. Impressive multi-fish days are easily attainable without ever having to leave the city limits.


Maximum access requires a boat. But not any boat. The North Saskatchewan is swift and surprisingly shallow in places with expansive rock gardens. A standard propeller-powered fishing boat is simply a recipe for a bent prop. A jet boat is the way to safely access the river. Floating the river with a drift boat or pontoon is a viable alternative. Bank angling is also a good way to catch walleye. Again fish the eddies, storm sewer outfalls and current breaks but also be aware that the unstable riverbanks contain boot-sucking seams of bentonite clay and caution should be taken when placing your feet.


Lake Wabamun

This large waterbody west on the Yellowhead Highway is still a work in progress after 6.5 million walleye fry were released in 2011. These fish are now showing up in impressive numbers and Alberta Environment and Parks appears to be headed for another Walleye Town success story. If it wasn’t for the detrimental effect their interlopers are having on the lake’s once-impressive pike population.

Trophy size pike in Wabamun Lake Alberta

Large, trophy-sized pike were a fortunate outcome of CNR’s tragic Lake Wabamun oil spill in 2005

After a consumption ban was slapped on Wabamun following Canadian National Railway’s tragic toxic oil spill in 2005, followed by a zero harvest regulation, the pike grew exponentially. Now they are undersized and apparently undernourished and this special trophy fishery, unfortunately, appears to be a fading memory to hopefully be replaced by another thriving fishery in and around that place called Walleye Town.

Lake Wabamun Alberta walleye

A Lake Wabamun walleye


Previous Fishing Articles

(1) Walleye Town

(2) River Fun - One Bite At A Time

(3) Fly Fishing Larger Rivers

(4) Going With The Flow

(5) Becoming A Better Fly Fisherman

(6) Swinging The Fences

(7) A View From The Aerie

(8) Dixieland Delight

(9) Atlantic Salmon - The Fish of 1000 Casts

(10) Do It Yourself Pink Salmon

(11) Montana's Cool Missouri

(12) Pretty Is As Pretty Does

(13) Toothy Critters

(14) Hard Water Lakers at Cold Lake

(15) Top Ten Flies

(16) Northern Exposure

(17) Home Water Lessons

(18) Chicken Of The Sea

(19) Sealing the Deal – How to Ensure You Land More Fish

(20) Deep In The Heart Of Texas

(21) Keep It Up!

(22) River Fishing for Fall Walleye

(23) After the Flood - A look at Southern Alberta rivers and streams one year after the flood

(24) Reindeer Lake - A Diversity of Opportunity

(25) Hawg Holes

(26) Saltwater Salmon

(27) Early Season Dry Fly Fishing

(28) Down a Lazy River –
A Fly-rodding Adventure on the Lower North Saskatchewan

(29) The Fly Fishing Season Ahead

(30) IN SEARCH OF SPECKLED FOOTBALLS

(31) FISHING CANADA'S PRAIRIE CITIES

(32) Bright Fish from the Land of Silver

(33) Canada's "Other" Salmon

(34) Fall Walleye

(35) Wet Flies

(36) Versatility the Key to Success

(37) Grayling of the Boreal

(38) Teaching Kids To Fly Fish

(39) Size Matters

(40) Fly Fishing Small Streams

(41) Chasing Winter Whites One Lake At A Time

(42) Manitoba's Fishing Jewel

(43) The Twelve Gifts Of Christmas

(44) The Point Of It All

(45) Fishing With Friends-Big Weather Seizing The Day

(46) Fall Fly Fishing

(47) Personal Pontoon Boats 101

(48) Big River, Big Fish

(49) Bottom Bonanza

(50) Fishing Small Flies

(51) So Many Choices, So Little Time

(52) Four Seasons of the Bow

(53) Favourite Lakes - Some Like it Hot

(54) GEARING UP FOR SMALL STREAM TROUT

(55) Trout Hunting - New Zealand-style

(56) Don’t Leave Home Without Them –
10 Lures That Should Be In Everyone’s Tackle Box

(57) Edge Walleye

(58) FLY FISHING STRATEGIES FOR HIGH WATER

(59) Smallmouth Bass – An Oft Overlooked Challenge

(60) Four Corners – Four Waters

(61) Chasing Pothole Trout

(62) Springtime Stoneflies

(63) The Torrents of Spring

(64) Drift Boat Fly Fishing

(65) Bust Them With Bait

(66) Cure the Winter Blues with a Good Book

(67) Hot Strategies for the Cold Months

(68) Cutthroat: The Angler's Trout

(69) Terrestrials

(70) Fly In For Fishing Fun

(71) Rocky Mountain High

(72) Reading the clues

(73) Where the Trout Are
The art of locating feeding trout
in rivers and streams.

(74) K.I.S.S. and Tell Fly-fishin

(75) Fly Fishing 101

(76) To Catch a Big Halibut, or Ling Cod

(77) The Bountiful Bones of Ascension Bay

(78) Grayling in the Eye of the Beholder

(79) Fly Fishing for South Fork Clearwater Steelhead

(80) Manitoba's Red River - North America's Catfish Capital

(81) Eliminating the Spook Factor

(82) Trust Your Electronics

(83) The Most Important Hatch of the Year

(84) Early Season Nymph Fishing for Trout

(85) Finding Success for Ice Trout

(86) Walleye can be Humbling

(87) The Secret to Landing the Big One Finally Revealed

(88) Winter Flyfishing

(89) North Saskatchewan River - An Underutilized Gem

(90) Hot Fall Pike Action

(91) Tips and Tricks to Save the Summer Slow Down

(92) Reading Trout Stream Waters

(93) Frequently Asked Questions

(94) Streamer Fishing for Larger Trout

(95) The Lure of Big Walleye at Last Ice

(96) Deep Water Perch

(97) Post Spawn Brookies

(98) A Fisher's Life

(99) The River's Last Stand

(100) The Big Ones Come out at Night

(101) Coho on the Coast

(102) Chasing and Catching Halibut

(103) Summer in the Mountains

(104) Peak Walleye Season

(105) Slow and Steady Wins the Race

(106) Last Ice Rainbows

(107) The Burbot Event

(108) Tackle Matching

(109) Ice Fishing Strategy #2 - Going Light

(110) Ice Fishing Strategy #1 - Location

(111) The Lure of Brook Trout

(112) The Shallow Water Hunt is On

(113) Hot Backswimmer Action Happening Right Now

(114) Fishing Among Giants-Pursuing Lake Sturgeon on the Prairies

(115) Adventure at Davin Lake Lodge, Northern Saskatchewan

(116) The Vesatile Plug

(117) Bead Head Flies, Plugs and Shot and other Spring Favorites for Pothole Trout

(118) Planning your Upcoming Angling Adventures

(119) Good Fishing at Last Ice

(120) Maximize the Odds - Use Multiple Presentations

(121) Daily Fish Migrations

(122) Fish Migrations - Following the Spawn

(123) Lake Whitefish - An Ice Fishing All Star

(124) Pick Your Favorite Brook Trout Lake...and Go Fishing

(125) A Look Ahead to Great Trout Fishing

(126) Wrestling White Sturgeon on the Fraser

(127) The Fun in Ultra Light

(128) Flyfishing and Leadcore Lines

(129) Embrace the Spirit of Adventure

(130) Never Stop Learning

(131) Ice Fishing is Getting Hot

(132) Jigging through the Ice

(133) An Ice Fishing Unsung Hero – The Setline

(134) Rainbows on Ice

(135) The Season of Ice Begins

(136) Red Hot Fall Pike Action

(137) Hitting it Right with Water Boatman

(138) Facts On Cats

(139) West Coast Adventure

(140) June Walleye Frenzy

(141) Aerated Lakes are Big Trout Factories

(142) "First Fish of the Year - Pothole Rainbows and Browns"

(143) "Northern Exposure"

(144) Sometimes There is More to Fishing Than Catching Fish

(145) Early Season Pike On The Fly

(146) Man Overboard