Where are anglers catching the largest walleye?

Mike Bleech Outdoors Columnist

There was a time in the foggy past at a mystical river called Allegheny, more than anywhere else below a mighty dam called Kinzua, when walleye weighing 12 pounds, 13 pounds, 14 pounds, even 15 pounds were caught with some degree of regularity. For a while, local anglers kept this quiet. But walleye so big attract a lot of attention. Soon it was written about in national magazines.

When most anglers in the Great Lakes Region think of big walleye, they think of Lake Erie. Certainly, more 8-pound walleye are caught from Lake Erie than anywhere else in North America. But seldom are huge walleye caught from Lake Erie. Very often the largest walleye of the year reported in the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission ‘Angler Award Program’ was caught from the Allegheny River.

Looking back over the largest walleye in the past 18 years, 10 were caught from the Allegheny River, six from Lake Erie and one each from the Allegheny Reservoir and Youghiogheny Dam.

During this same period, eight walleye that weighed at least 14 pounds were caught, five from the Allegheny River, two from Lake Erie and one from the Youghiogheny River. Three walleye weighing more than 15 pounds were caught, two from the Allegheny River. One walleye over 16 pounds was caught from the Allegheny Reservoir.

Five of the annual largest walleye were caught with Rapalas, three on jigs, two on Reef Runners. Two were caught on minnows. Rapala Minnows have been the most popular lure for big walleye in the Allegheny River since soon after the Kinzua Dam closed its gates.

The top walleye from the Allegheny River were caught from September through January, with most coming from November through January. The top annual walleye from Lake Erie were caught from May through October. The remaining two were caught in January and February.

Plan B would be same time, same place, using a bucktail jig tipped with a minnow. The jig head would be lighter than most anglers are using. One of the first generations of Kinzua Tailwaters walleye fishing was modifying molds to cast 1/16 ounce and 1/8 ounce with larger hooks than the original mold design were intended to fit. This involves drilling the circle for the hook eye and enlarging the slot for the hook shank. Both lead and mold must be kept very hot for the lead to flow around the jig bend.

The Allegheny River trophy walleye fishery looks even better when it is considered that Lake Erie may get as many walleye anglers on a single July or August weekend when the weather is nice than the Allegheny River gets in an entire year. Your odds for catching a huge walleye in Pennsylvania are best at the Allegheny River.

Going farther back in time, I will make a pretty good guess that more walleye weighing at least 14 pounds were caught before the year 2000 than after. Also, the Allegheny Reservoir would account for a larger share of the big walleye. Several huge walleye were pulled through the Allegheny Reservoir ice during the latter 1970s, which were the greatest years of Allegheny Reservoir walleye fishing. Also, a majority of the biggest walleye to come out of the reservoir were caught by ice fishers. Most of them would have been caught with a live minnow. But I have no Fish and Boat Commission records farther back than 18 years. They might not exist.

The big lesson from this data is that the best strategy for big walleye in Pennsylvania is using a Rapala at the Allegheny River during November, December, and January. The number one spot is the Kinzua Dam Tailwaters.

I write this now because many of you will sincerely say they are going to spend more time casting for walleye at the Kinzua Tailwaters. But come the cold weather of late fall and early winter, most will find excuses for not doing it. This is what I have been doing for the past several years. At least now in the middle of a warm summer, we can all make promises to ourselves that probably will be broken once again.