Lake Erie walleye

Plentiful walleye make Lake Erie a prized destination for sport fishermen.

NIAGARA FALLS, Ontario (TNS) — Lake Erie is a big fishing hole, stretching more than 240 miles from its Michigan shoreline in the west to its eastern extremity in Buffalo. The Detroit River feeds it a steady flow from the upper Great Lakes, and Niagara Falls sends Erie’s water cascading into Lake Ontario.

In between, there are roughly 10,000 square miles of fishing water, the home of the greatest walleye fishery in the world. Anglers target and catch walleye from the point just south of Grosse Ile where the Detroit River merges with the lake, all across its shallow western basin, transitional central basin, and into the much deeper and cooler eastern basin. While the average depth in the overall lake is about 60 feet, the water in the western end doesn’t get much deeper than 35 feet, and in the eastern end you will find depths over 200 feet.

But despite its wide range of depths, changes in water clarity, and variations in the composition of the lake bottom, Lake Erie has one unmistakable common commodity — those walleye. Fishermen in the four states and one Canadian province that share the lake engage in an endless pursuit of this member of the tastiest gamefish club.

The approach might vary, in terms of the tackle, lures and ancillary equipment used, with some colloquial favorites sporting loyal followings, but there is a class of baits and lures that seem to ignore the state or international boundaries and speak fluent walleye, no matter where they are used.

With a set of teeth that would make the character Jaws from the James Bond films proud, Lake Erie’s walleye are meat-eaters that are on the hunt for other fish. When they detect a flash or a flutter, that is akin to ringing the dinner bell at summer camp. There are hundreds of lures that mimic this display, and one that has consistently produced fish from the Michigan waters to New York and many points in between is a creative spoon and nightcrawler harness combination developed by the Ontario-based and family-run Thundermist Lure Company. It is called the Viper Spoon.

“Fishermen have been using spoons or spoon-type lures forever, but what we set out to do was improve on what was already out there,” said Ivo Coia, one of the three brothers that formed Thundermist. “We think that along with age comes wisdom and experience, and we set out to develop better lures, based on what we know and what we’ve experienced as fishermen.”

Ivo Coia, an accounting major with a business background in management, joined forces with brothers Claudio and Phil, both mechanical draftsmen and designers by trade. Their shared passion for fishing, and that endless imaginative drive to produce the angling version of “a better mousetrap” has hatched a variety of Thundermist innovations.

The Viper Spoon is one of the most popular and universally successful creations to come out of the Thundermist research and development division, which could be a drafting table and sketch pad located in the corner of their modest facility stationed here, about midway between the historic Welland Canal, and the point where the Niagara River wraps around Goat Island.

“We think it has the perfect combination of flash and flutter,” Ivo Coia said. “It has performed exceptionally well with Lake Erie walleye, but the Viper Spoon also catches a lot of smallmouth bass, and a variety of salt water species.”

He said that the unique configuration allows the spoon to carry a trailing bait without diminishing its effectiveness.

“Since it was designed to handle a bait, adding the bait doesn’t hinder the action like it does with most spoons. Adding a bait actually enhances the action, and the success rate with this spoon has been phenomenal.”

Ivo Coia added that when the Viper Spoon is rigged with a bottom-bouncer and a Thundermist T-Turn bait rig, the angler is able to target walleye in deeper water and keep the lure in the strike zone near the bottom without having to use the more complicated or expensive gear.

“When the walleye are hovering right near the bottom, you have to get your bait down there and this rig is a simple way to do that,” he said. “You don’t need a down-rigger and all of that high-tech equipment. Anyone can do it, out of a boat, a canoe, or out of a kayak. With the bottom-bouncer putting you where the fish are, and the Viper Spoon flashing and fluttering, you’ll be catching fish.”

Ivo Coia said that using this type of rig also allows the angler to feel the strike and react, as opposed to trolling or down-rigger setups where the fish essentially hooks itself.

“You get a lot more of a fight fishing this way, when you are bottom-bouncing with these spoons,” he said. “You are holding the rod in your hand, you feel the bite, and you set the hook. Bottom-bouncing with a spoon is the closest thing you get to jigging.”

The Viper Spoon comes in a number of sizes and colors, with the gold, silver and bleeding pearl chartreuse patterns proving to be the most successful at fooling Lake Erie walleye. And the fish, from Monroe to Marblehead, from Lorain to Ashtabula, from Leamington to Port Stanley, and from Presque Isle to Athol Springs, could not care less about the jurisdictional boundaries, the varied political climates, or the exchange rate. They just want to attack anything that looks like food.

“From one end to the other, the fishing on Lake Erie is just phenomenal,” Ivo Coia said. “The walleye fishing has just exploded out here, and it is nothing short of fantastic.”