By: Mitch Petersen
That’s right, hunting! Some people call it fishing but when going after walleyes from shore; I go into “full on” hunter mode! The best time to be out hunting are periods of low light like at sunrise or sunset and at especially in the eerie darkness of night. When everyone else is at home watching fishing shows, talking smart on internet fishing blogs or snuggled up in bed only dreaming about catching walleyes – you can be out living it! Chasing them from shore is not only productive, it’s usually a fun and exciting adventure every time you go!
Walleyes tend to move shallow during these prime feeding periods. At these times they congregate in shallow water sweet spots to feed, but can be extremely spooky and won’t stick around if they feel nervous or threatened. Fishing from shore can give you a stealthy edge… unlike motoring up in 8’ of water and banging around in your aluminum boat directly above them; you can use the shoreline to sneak up on skittish bug eyes without them knowing you’re there. The shoreline is like a duck blind… ducks won’t fly low over a couple of hunters standing out in the open, they stay away from danger – they aren’t stupid… and neither are walleyes. Use the shoreline to keep yourself hidden and even the shallowest fish won’t know you are there.
Always be extremely quiet and at night, never shine you’re headlamp into the water. If you need to use your light, remember turn away from the water. Don’t yell to your buddy 50 yards down the shoreline. A little caution and care can make a big difference between catching fish and just practicing your cast and retrieve. We all know rule #1 – fish where the fish are… right? Well, they ARE there, so don’t blow it by scaring them away.
Look for classic spots that should hold fish. Rocky shorelines (rip-rap damn faces are common), points, especially ones that are adjacent to deep water, sandy flats and areas of shoreline that offer current like inlets are all great places to try. Be “impatiently patient”. What I mean is, give areas their fair shake, but don’t be complacent waiting for fish to come to you unless you are in a proven hot spot. Remember, you are hunting – go find them!
Different times of the year can call for different methods to produce the best results. In the spring right after ice-out and throughout the early spring, the fish will be shallow due to the spawn. With so much rip-rap at our reservoirs, this is a great place to start your search. Check the local regulations for the water you’re fishing because the damns on some of our reservoirs are closed at night from March 15th – April 15th due to the spawn netting operations. Use suspending stick baits with a slow steady retrieve to trigger strikes. I like to cast parallel to the shoreline as I walk – casting to “new” water as I go. Don’t be scared to stop and cast back in the opposite direction too because a fish may ignore your lure as it goes past in one direction and absolutely crush it when it comes by the other!
Late spring through early fall, I like to use live bait when fishing from shore. A lively minnow or leech hanging under a slip bobber can be pretty enticing to old Walter… Of course, wind can make this method challenging so it works best when things are calm. I like to fish my bait close to the bottom… 6”-18” off rocks or sand. A slip bobber works great because you will easily know if your bait is dancing where you want it or if it’s stuck to the bottom. If your bobber doesn’t “stand up” in the water, your bait is laying down on the job. Make an adjustment by sliding your bobber stop towards the bait, this will allow the bobber to raise and hold the bait up off the bottom. Keep making small adjustments until your bobber is “standing up” in the water and you‘ll know your bait is in the zone. I like to add enough weight so that my slip bobber is almost neutrally buoyant – so finicky walleyes can take it without feeling it. Hunting at night with lighted slip bobbers is a quiet, relaxing way to fish and can be a lot of fun! When the “light goes out”, reel up the slack in your line until the fish starts to load up your rod and WHAM -Nail em! Here in Colorado with a 2nd rod stamp, you can fish one set up with live bait while you cast crank baits with the other. Crank baits with rattles can “call” fish into the area from a distance. Even when the fish aren’t super aggressive, the subtle “dead stick” lying in wait with some wigglin’ meat can still trigger a bite. A lindy rig is a great choice for fishing live bait when it’s windy, but only when you are fishing a sandy or smooth bottom. I like to use light line, 6lb test is great and a heavier slip sinker, up to ½ oz. The heavier weight will allow you to make longer casts and cover more water. After you cast it out, let the rig sit for a bit. After you’ve exercised “impatient patients”, bring it in 15 – 20 yards and let it sit again in the new area. Leave the bail open so when a fish takes the bait it won’t feel any resistance. At night, a good trick is to take a small piece of bright paper and tear it slightly. Slide it onto your line just off the tip of your rod. When a fish takes your bait, you will see it move with your line and you’ll know when you’re getting bit. Remember… like when fishing with slip bobbers, the key for more hook sets is getting all the slack out of your line before sending the hook home!
When the chill of fall arrives, the fish put on the feed bags in preparation for winter. Larger fish will move shallower chasing tasty bait fish that are also shallow seeking out warmer water. By this time, the bait fish will be adult size, the largest of the year so this is when I switch over to larger, suspending and floating stick baits to do my trickery. Bomber Long A’s, Rouges, Floating Rapala’s and Husky Jerks in size 10’s 11’s 12’s are all great choices.
I don’t believe walleyes are very “adventurous” and they’re definitely not careless! They are as spooky as a Whitetail Buck during hunting season. Two things make a walleye tick, food and staying alive. They are predatory machines that live in a brutal, unforgiving ecosystem of the underwater world. Hunt them stealthily from the “blind” and you will be rewarded with success!