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When The Leaves Are Gone The Bite Is On - November Walleye in Severn Sound

Located in the south east region of Georgian Bay about an hour from north GTA, Severn Sound is a quick trip up Hwy 400 to Hwy 12 to multiple access points from Port Severn to Penetanguishene.  You can travel hundreds of miles without finding the same quality of fishing that the Sound has to offer this time of year. This is a great fishery all year, even through the ice, but it comes alive in November. The possibilities of catching Walleye, world record Muskie, big Pike, and even Lake Trout are all within a few miles of any launch point.  If that’s not enough, until November 30th when the season closes, South East Georgian Bay has some of the best Smallmouth bass fishing anywhere in the province. It may not be the most comfortable time of the year to fish but the rewards are plenty.

Severn Sound Map

Our day excursion started from Orillia with a short drive up Hwy 12 to Midland where the public launch is open until ice in. From there we headed straight out from the harbour to the main flow coming from Port Severn via Waubaushene channel. Even in mid November on a weekday the area is spotted with diehards looking to squeeze the last days of the season in and many will fish until the ice or strong winds  won’t allow them to launch. Although protected by numerous points and islands, a strong west wind can put the Sound in a froth.Lone Pine of Georgian Bay The signature windswept pines of Georgian Bay didn’t get that way soaking in the sun so you do have to do a little weather watching when planning a trip. If you are an experienced boater with a seaworthy and reliable craft, then it takes a pretty stiff wind from any other direction to cause unfishable conditions.

One of the benefits of fall walleye fishing is that there is no need to be out there in the dark. These fish are gorging before winter and can be aggressive in the daylight. Walleye are nocturnal feeders and those that wish to brave the dark on big waters will no doubt be rewarded with the biggest fish, particularly on a full moon cycle. As we were heading out the ardent big fish anglers were just coming in. Some of them wait all year for this time of the season and sleep all day to fish all night. There are advantages to fishing at night. The winds could be down and you could have the best water to yourself. The techniques change at night as fish suspend or feed on baitfish in the upper half of the water column so trolling deep diving crank baits such as Reef Runners is the ticket.Reef Runner Crank Bait


We headed out to an area that had been producing the day before for a good friend and spring Pike fishing partner, Bob Formosa, who landed close to twenty fish the day before. He advised us to take some minnows in case the bite was really slow but we decided it would be an all artificial day. Our first fish came within minutes of arriving. As we approached the first potential spot we slowed and watched the sonar like a hawk. Dirty Pearl Strike Zone Slammer

We were not seeing fish stacked up, but more a series of singles right on the bottom. My partner for the day Rick Watt of Orillia dropped a dirty pearl Strike Zone Slammer on a 3/8 oz. Jig head in 29 feet of water on the top of a ridge that fell off to 50ft. One bounce off the bottom, a light tap and that familiar weight, and the first fish was on. Within minutes a 21.5 inch Walleye was in the boat. Not a bad start to the day. We hadn’t planned on keeping any of what is considered the best table fare in the province, but if we had, this fish would be short as the slot size for Walleye in Zone 14 on Georgian Bay is 16.1 to 22 inches. There is a two fish limit for a sports licence which consists of (2) under 16.1 or (1) under and one over 22 inches with a possession limit of (4).

Rick's first Severn Sound WalleyeThe fish was quickly releases and it is important to release the fish fast if you do not intend on keeping it. Whenever a fish is brought up to the surface from deep water, the pressure change can cause what is called barotraumas and cause loss of equilibrium and bloating of the swim bladder. If the fish is release quickly before the symptoms develop, the fish will be able to swim back down to the bottom where it came from, equalizing the pressure. If put in a livewell for pictures later or culling for a larger fish, the fish will most likely float on its side due to an inflated swim bladder, and once a fishes swim bladder is bloated, the fish would require what is called fizzing or venting, a procedure that involves inserting a syringe through the side of the fish into its air bladder to relieve the air. If a fish caught in deep water does right itself in the livewell it can be released with a high percentage of survival. More on barotraumas and fizzing.

Technique and Baits
Many ardent walleye anglers still use live bait and there is no doubt it still works. But in the fall when fish are aggressive, live bait fishing may not be as much of an advantage. On most days in the Sound there will be several regulars bunched up in a small area, anchored, using minnows or even worm harnesses and waiting for fish. I assume they must catch fish from time to time as new fish migrate to the area. Most of the time one boat lands a fish and other boats move in on the action for what they believe are a school of active fish.  

The first day we were there six boats were anchored close to one another. No one seemed to be catching and since we don’t like to fish in a crowd we stayed well clear preferring to cover water and find new schools of active fish.  When we spotted fish on the sonar we dropped jigs and used subtle jigging motion 4 to 6 inches off the bottom. This seemed to produce best for us on this day. When it didn’t trigger a bite we drifted away letting out line and started drift and dragging and hopping the jigs through a line where we had marked fish. This also produced, particularly when the bite got slow and fish were harder to find. We had landed four fish and lost two others in the first ninety minutes with artificial baits while the live minnow bite in the herd of anchored boats seemed to be slow from what we could see. One other angler within site in the same area was also using a spot and drop technique with artificial baits and it seemed every time they were within site they were landing another fish.

One other angler within site in the same area was also using a spot and drop technique with artificial baits and it seemed every time they were within site they were landing another fish. The morning bite was good until about noon when the winds changed and a strong east wind seemed to shut them down in the afternoon. We did manage to boat six nice fish and lost a few more before heading in early. This was a pretty good day on the water and a great learning experience for my first trip to Severn Sound for November Walleye.

  Ginn Rocks in Severn Sound

Kurt's first walleye in november 2010Kurt Hehl of Midland with a 25 inch November walleye, one of five for the day.

Day Two – This is addicting  
On the second mid week trip to the Sound I fished with Kurt Hehl, a local angler and member of the Georgian Bay Bassmasters who grew up in the area. We headed out about 8:00 a.m. as the air temperatures had just made its way up to 34 F (1 C) and the surface temperature of the water was 42 F. We headed out to our first spot and started marking large schools of suspended fish.  Kurt told me these fish can get quite aggressive and even hit deep running crank baits while making long casts over deep water.  We tried this technique for a while with little success although one boat that was close was targeting Muskie and casting large swinbaits and although they didn’t land any Muskie while we were there they did manage to boat several good size Pike.

Kurt changed to a small tungsten spoon with a feathered tail and jigged and dragged as you would a grub or other rubber bait. For a two hour period he schooled me and my rubber baits 5 to 1 and caught all the bigger fish including a nice 25 incher that weighed about (6) pounds.  Once again the bite slowed in the afternoon and we headed in early as the snow line we could see in the distance closed in. It caught up with us as we approached the launch. Neither one of us is a stranger to fishing in the snow and in much colder conditions being avid hard water anglers. With the right gear and layering, along with survival suites, the worst weather days are just another day on the water. The number one rule of late fall fishing is prepare for the worst day and, of course, don’t fall in. We ended the day with six fish and numerous lost fish and even kept one for dinner.

Last Day
It is extremely difficult for me to put my boat away before shoreline ice starts to form and even then I don’t mind breaking a little ice to squeeze in the last days of the year. In contrast the November 2009 where there were many days with little wind, November of 2010 has been a howl fest. It seems every day sees winds of 25 to 40 Km per hour which makes for extremely uncomfortable fishing conditions. But with an optimistic outlook and a lot of free time, I managed to get out once more. The day was perfect with sunshine and flat seas. All of the fish seemed to be pinned to the bottom and there was a noticeable lack of baitfish anywhere I went. I spent five hours jigging, dragging, spooning, and cranking and never boated a fish. I guess that’s fishing, but another day on the water in Severn Sound or any area of beautiful Georgian Bay is much better than cleaning the garage at home.

What They Were Eating
I don’t keep many fish but when I do I always take a look at the stomach contents as I clean the fish. When we were on the water, baitfish were present everywhere we found Walleye so the assumption was that whatever the baitfish were we were marking was the main forage. But the fish I cleaned had two Round Gobies and a crayfish claw partially digested. Since gobies do not have an air bladder they can’t swim far off the bottom, so the suspended baitfish we were marking were not the only forage and the Walleye were feeding much like bass would in this area.

Walleye have a soft or light bite and often mouth bait and spit it out, so a sensitive rod will help feel the bait being picked up. I use a 6.6 medium action spinning rod with an extra fast tip. To add to the sensitivity I use 10 pound test Power Pro micro braid line that doesn’t stretch and will transmit every little tick and bounce so you can feel the difference between the jig head bouncing of a rock and a bite. I tip this line with 15 to 20 feet of 10 pound test fluorocarbon leader and tie a ¼ or 3/8 once football jig head using a Palomar knot. The reason I use such a long leader is because any knot will be the weakest link and when a fish gets close to the boat I want the leader to have a couple of turns on the spool so there is no knot between the reel and the fish.  

 History of the Fishery
Georgian Bay was once Ontario’s premier walleye fishery producing fish of incredible size and abundance. Fish weighing over 12 pounds were common in many parts of the bay along the eastern shore and fish nudging 20 pounds were not unheard of. Those days are long gone as  Commercial fishing and lack of stringent recreational fishing regulations took its toll through the 70’s and 80’s. This was then compounded with drastically lower water levels and eroding spawning habitat through the 1990’s. Additionally the influx of invasive species like zebra mussels and non natives like black crappie disrupted the aquatic ecosystem for many native species. The perfect storm of cumulative stressors resulted in a fishery in critical condition. In spite of stocking programs the bay struggled to rebound to its former glory with the low point in populations being 2005.
Thanks to an aggressive program initiated by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and several independent organizations including the Eastern Georgian Bay Anglers and Hunters, the bay is well on its way to recovery. The rehabilitation plan included lowering the harvest limits to (2) fish. A slot size was imposed of no fish between 16.1 and 22 inches (41 to 56 cm). Just 5 short years later there are signs of recovery from the French River to Severn Sound. Some reports from Pointe au Baril would indicate that the area has recovered and experiencing the best Walleye fishing in 30 years.
According to the ESTN surveys conducted on Georgian Bay and the North Channel of Lake Huron, 1998-2005, Severn Sound was the least affected by the cumulative events including environmental changes but still populations were well below Ministry target levels in 2005. Today populations are still below target levels but well on the way to recovery to sustainable levels.

Other factors have helped reduce stressors on Georgian Bay as well. Over the past 10 years the trend towards catch and release fishing has grown in popularity for most species throughout the province and Severn Sound is no exception. Many of these fisheries have taken on an angler watching angler self governing effect in recent years. Anglers do watch other anglers much closer these days to make sure the slots are being respected, particularly when fishing on the ice. Add to this Ministry enforcement and education, lower limits and imposing a slot size and the effects are evident as populations and average size are growing. This is not strictly a catch and release fishery and Walleye are a renewable resource, so sampling the rewards of a day on the water, particularly in late fall with exceptional table fare is expected.

As we approach that time when water can turn to ice in a hurry, I can’t help but think there will be just one more day to spend time on the water in Severn Sound.



Georgian Bay Bassmaster

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