Dial up your bank fishing expertise and get ready for a fish fry! That’s right, walleye are not just reserved for boat anglers. Some of the best walleye fishing spots are only a single cast from shore.
With some basic understanding of seasonal movements and a few tweaks to your tackle selection, you too can catch more walleye from shore. It is all about timing and accessing the right spots. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know.
Seasonal walleye movements
Shore anglers are well situated to take advantage of concentrated fish during specific times each year. Get your timing right and the action really heats up, even without a boat. In general, there are three main transition seasons that predictably concentrate fish within easy reach of shore.
Hands down, early spring is the ultimate opportunity to catch large quantities of trophy walleye. As winter recedes and the spawn takes priority, walleye transition to their spring time haunts in huge numbers.
The pre-spawn is all about shallow water. Spawning beds are usually located near stream inlets, shallow water gravel bars, rip-rap edges and cobble adjacent to flats. All of these are prime targets for shore anglers in the spring.
Finding these spots may take a bit of research on your part. Take some time to look at Google Earth images and ask around for local advice. Chances are, you’re within a short drive of a few decent spots.
Timing the spring bite takes a bit of guess work but once dialed in it’s fairly consistent from year to year. The first walleye to arrive in spawning areas are small males looking to lay claim before females show up. Once water temperatures reach the mid to upper 40s, large females move into the shallows from deeper areas.
If you catch the spawn too late though, getting fish to bite is a real challenge. Walleye feed less actively when the spawn is in full swing. Pre-spawn females are your best shot at catching a fish over the 10 or 15 pound mark.
As summer heat warms up shallow water, walleye start moving deeper in search of cooler, more oxygen rich environments. Boat anglers may have access to the deep water pockets but savvy shore anglers still have a few tricks up their sleeves.
Walleye don’t just find refuge from the summer sun in deep water. Spill ways, stream or river inlets and healthy weed patches near piers and docks all provide comfortable accommodations for feeding walleye.
Any areas with moving water are going to hold walleye. The current oxygenates and cools the water while providing a fresh supply of forage. Spill ways and inlets also concentrate more fish within casting distance from shore. Work the current seams with baits that will get noticed in the low visibility environment.
Slip bobber fishing near weed lines and from docks is also a proven summer tactic that catches plenty of fish throughout the day. However, when the dog days of summer get you down, it’s time to hit the night bite. Walleye move shallow on summer nights to feed and bank fisherman can capitalize on the frenzy. We’ll discuss it more later.
Much like spring, the fall transition pushes fish into shallow water in high numbers. Water temperatures are dropping and walleye start to load up on food in all the same spots that shore anglers use in the spring.
October and November are great times to try these near-shore spots. Evening and morning will prove to be most productive.
Find the right shoreline structure
Of course, the biggest obstacle to bank fishing success is access. Shoreline access on many popular walleye waters is abundant but it also needs to coincide with shallow water habitat.
Here is a quick list of the most likely hot spots for shoreline structure that you should look for.
- Riprap banks – In lakes without inlet streams, riprap provides some of the only spawning habitat around. Walleye cruise the toes of riprap edges where the hard to soft transition occurs. There is usually smaller gravel at those spots that make for better spawning beds.
- Gravel bars and points – Gravel bars and loose cobble are particularly good for early spring walleye. Especially look for areas with light, wind driven, wave action that keeps the eggs circulated with freshwater. Gravel beds situated adjacent to sand flats should be at the top of your list. Points are always a good source for concentrating fish. Walleye use points to corral baitfish and frequently produce some large catches.
- Pinch points – You can really up your odds by keying in on areas that constrict the movement of fish to and from feeding and spawning zones. Places like road bridges, culverts, channels, points and fallen trees all force fish to pass through tighter areas.
- Moving water – Spillways and rivers offer a unique opportunity to shoreline anglers. Walleye congregate at current seams where swift moving water breaks into calm eddies. Anglers pull walleye from reservoir spillways during most of the year and the annual spawning cycle brings fat-bellied females upriver within a stones throw from shore. Moving water will consistently produce the most opportunity for trophy catches.
- Piers and docks – Most walleye anglers overlook public docks as a valid source of trophy fish. The fact of the matter is, docks attract baitfish and baitfish attract schools of walleye. Look for docks and piers that sit in 8 to 10 feet of water with nearby drop offs. A weed line or vegetation within casting distance is a bonus. After dark, shore bound walleye addicts do well.
- Submerged road beds and ditches – Many flooded lakes have old road beds or ditches under the surface near shallow flats. These are magnets for walleye in spring and fall.
- Weed lines – Walleye often hold tight to weeds while on the lookout for prey and when seeking shelter.
Night bite mayhem
As promised, it’s time to discuss the biggest advantage of shoreline anglers. Walleye spend most of the night stalking the shallows near shore for food. You’re likely to encounter large numbers of fish if you stay out after dark.
The spring pre-spawn cycle always brings the largest concentration of fish within reach of shore anglers but the rest of the open water season is often best fished at night. Big walleye can’t resist the bountiful prey that awaits around structure tucked against the bank.
It’s important to be properly prepared to access your spot. A good headlamp is essential.
Walleye shore fishing gear
Over half the battle is figuring out where to fish. Once you have that completed the fishing part is easy. One thing I love about shore fishing is that it brings me back to the basics. You don’t need a boat or any of the complicated gear that goes with it. Keep it simple and you’re good to go.
Rod, reel and line
Just about any rod and reel setup will do. I like to rig up a 7 foot medium-light or medium weight rod. A rod in this range will give you the reach to cast out over more water and still have the sensitivity and back bone to handle most fish encounters.
I also like to spool up a spinning reel with slightly heavier line than I might normally use from a boat. The reason being, you are more likely to get snagged fishing from shore and it’s nice to have the extra line strength to pull free without loosing to many lures. Monofilament or braid in 12 pound test is usually sufficient. Attach a 2 to 4 foot fluorocarbon leader to the main line with a small barrel swivel or double uni knot.
Shore fishing for walleye is the time to simplify. A small selection of bait will suit almost every situation and season.
My go-to baits are 1/8 oz to 1/4 oz lead jigs with a small variety of soft plastics. 3 to 5 inch long twisty tail grubs and jerk baits all work great. Kalins brand makes some of the best soft plastics I’ve tried.
Keep an assortment of colors handy too. A few of my favorite jig colors are orange, chartreuse, black and pink. For the soft plastics, have some natural shades of brown and green, a darker purple or black and some white as well. It’s important to match the colors to the water clarity and tint.
You can’t go wrong with bait options either. Salted shiners on a jig or Lindy rig are stellar when slowly crept along the bottom. You can also rig up a slip bobber with leeches or worms. When fishing areas with current like inlets or rivers, a weighted bottom rig will put the bait right in front of fish holding in the seams.
It’s also a good idea to have a few stickbaits or crankbaits on hand. I often use Berkley Flicker Shads to troll weed lines and flats and they work great for shallow shoreline fishing as well.
In most cases, you can pull up to a fishing spot in your car, get out and start casting from shore. For the times when access is tough or you simply want to expand the area you can reach, there are a few more items to consider.
- Waders – Being able to comfortably wade in the water will open up huge areas of walleye honey holes. Whether you move around large flats or only step offshore a few feet, it can mean the difference between no fish and finding the hot bite. Wear rubber boots at a minimum.
- Headlamp – At some point you are going to learn how awesome the night bite can be. Keep a head lamp with you at all times for those impromptu night outings.
- Bucket – It serves as a place to sit and a container to carry out your catch. I don’t leave home without one.
- Net – You’ll appreciate having a net along when you hook into a giant pre-spawn female. A medium length handle is sufficient as long as it’s easily portable.
Now that you’re ready to set out in search of new walleye shore fishing opportunities, I’ll leave you with some parting tips.
- Shore casting for walleye requires a slower approach when fishing bait. I found the best success with slow retrieves and soft little pops as opposed to snap jigging like I do in deeper water. Remember, you are trying to cross paths with cruising fish. The longer you keep the bait in the water, the better.
- Don’t be afraid to stay mobile. Like any type of fishing, covering water is how you will find more fish. When things seem slow, re-evaluate and move spots. Always look for pinch points and structure that hold fish. Sometimes you may be in the right spot, just not at the right time. You may need to try unproductive spots at dusk or later in the night.
- Pick apart each spot thoroughly. When fishing current seams or turbulent spillways and tailraces, be methodical. A cast or two is not enough to convince me there are no fish. Fish are only willing to follow your bait for a few feet in swift water and it takes multiple cast to put your lure in the right spot. Work each spot until there’s no doubt you’ve covered every inch of water.
Shore fishing is something anyone can do. It’s a blast and there are so many opportunities for shoreline anglers to land a trophy or limit out on walleye for a nice dinner. Now, go out and find your local bank fishing hot spots this season.