June 17, 2021
By Dustin Prievo
Kyle Magill-Jones of Cicero, N.Y., has participated in many fishing tournaments across the Northeast over the years, but never has he done what he did in a recent walleye tournament on New York's Oneida Lake.
In fact, it’s likely that very few ever have.
Not only did Magill-Jones win the Chittenango Lions Club Walleye Derby, held the first weekend in May, he landed the tournament's biggest fish and that fish just happened to be one of three that the New York Department of Environmental Conservation tagged and released into the lake prior to the tournament.
The tagged walleye, one of approximately 1 million that swim in Oneida's waters, measured 25 3/4 inches. Between his tournament winnings and the reward for the tagged fish, Magill-Jones netted a $4,500 payday — $2,000 for finishing first; $2,500 for the tagged walleye.
Magill-Jones was fishing with his buddy Jeffrey Boshart, owner of Reel Pressure Guide Service, the day he caught his winning fish.
I was able to hook up with them recently for a day on the water and get the scoop on what is currently working on Oneida Lake and across the Northeast for walleyes right now.
"There are a couple ways I love to get after walleye," Boshart said. "Jigging and Trolling are my favorite for the mornings, and today we are going to do both."
Here’s a look at techniques that will catch a limit of Oneida walleyes.
Trolling is a great way to cover lots of water quickly and get a sense for what the fish are eating. Boshart’s go-to lures and colors for trolling vary, but he has a few favorites. Berkley Flicker Minnows and Flicker Shads in sizes 7 and 9 are hard to beat.
The colors that were catching the most walleyes on my trip with him in early June were Firetiger, HD Perch, HD Smelt and almost any lure that had purple in it.
We focused on waters around 20 feet deep and trolled at a depth between 15 and 18 feet. Boshart uses the Precision Trolling app to know exactly how far to send the lures to get the exact depth we were looking for.
Magill-Jones recommends the Hammer Worm Harness that is popular on Oneida Lake in purple, orange or chartreuse and tipped with a worm or leech. Trolling these at slower speeds can be deadly. The worm harness bite usually picks up quite a bit after a mayfly hatch.
Jigging is a much more hands-on approach to catching walleyes. It takes a little more patience and skill but is very effective. The benefit of jigging is that you are keeping the lure very close to the bottom where the walleyes like to be.
It’s no secret on Oneida and many other lakes that hold walleyes that the black-and-purple bucktail works best throughout the season. Other lures that Boshart and Magill-Jones find successful are blade baits and Jigging Raps.
The key to jigging is knowing when to switch colors and lure types, as the fish’s preference can change from day to day and sometimes even hour to hour. Even if something works right away, don’t stay married to it if the bite slows.
CASTING STICK BAITS
As evening falls and the sun begins to set, casting stick baits can produce amazing results on walleyes.
Magill-Jones caught his tournament-winning fish on a Rapala Shadow Rap in the Live Perch coloration, and stick baits are a favorite of both him and Boshart. Magill-Jones says the key to using stick baits is matching them to the baitfish the walleyes are feeding on.
This tactic is usually done at night when walleyes push the baitfish up to shallow waters. Most people cast stick baits from shore in spring and fall, but it can be difficult now due of the influx of weeds. If you want to give stick baits a try in summer, it’s best to do it from a boat.
Of course, nothing about walleye fishing is an exact science, and sometimes luck plays as big of a role in success as skill. The key, however, is being willing to adapt, think on your feet, make changes when necessary and not being afraid to try new things.
For Boshart and Magill-Jones, staying out late and heading to the shallows made all the difference during the tournament. Luck may have played a part in catching the tagged fish, but skill and experience surely contribute to the limits of walleyes the two anglers routinely catch.