Walleye are those big fish that every angler loves landing on their weekend fishing trips. They can be aggressive and strike fast, and they can put up a nice fight when you’re hauling them in. But walleye fishing from a boat is not always an option for every angler or fishing location, so you may be happy to know that shore fishing for walleye is also a very viable tactic.
Walleye come into shore often to search for the baitfish that make up their diet. Once you locate their feeding zones and can determine the time of day or season when they are most likely to come in close, you can set yourself up on the shore and catch walleyes like there is no tomorrow.
This article aims to demystify the behavior of walleye and give you tips on when to best target them close to shore. Whether you are a brand new angler or an experienced shore fisherman, the following tips may help anglers of all experience levels fine tune your fishing tactics to land the big fish with ease.
How to Catch Walleye from Shore: Basics
Finding Active Walleye close to shore
One of the best places for targeting walleye from the shore is spillways. The water in this location is extremely well aerated which means the walleyes have ample oxygen supply. This also brings in a wide range of different baitfish that walleye use as a food source, but the turbulent action of the water can disorient the baitfish and make them an easy target for hungry walleyes. This is an excellent spot to consider if you’re looking for the most active fish.
If you can set yourself up in this area, you’ll have a lot of biting action if you toss in the right bait with a few casts. Spillways are normally a very lucrative spot for walleye fishing all year round, even when the water temperature is high in the middle of summer as the high levels of aeration keep the walleyes happy and content in this spot. Walleye will spend a good amount of time in spillways, so if you’re looking for a great spot to land walleye from shore, this is it.
River Gravel Beds
During the spring, looking for rivers that have an abundance of larger loose gravel and rocks are a great choice. This is prime spawning ground and will draw in both male and female walleyes of large breeding sizes. The water is normally a few feet deep in these areas and may or may not also have a weed line nearby.
The depth in these spots will be 3 to 6 feet which can give you an excellent view of the walleyes in the water, especially if the water is clear. It also gives you a great option to use waders so you can get up close and personal with the walleyes you are targeting. If you don’t have waders, you may need to fine-tune your casting range to land walleye from shore.
In addition to finding these areas appealing for spawning, walleye can also use them as feeding grounds. Smaller baitfish will hide among the rocks which also makes them easy for walleye to pick off one by one when they are feeding. Walleye spend a lot of time in areas where they have easy access to live bait fish, so if you can see minnows or perch, you will probably find walleye nearby as well.
Current Breaks & Seams
Each river will have an area where the current breaks and becomes more subdued. The middle of the river will normally have a higher speed and turbulence, but rocks, logs and other natural debris can lessen the force of the water and provide areas of slower water movement for walleyes to rest in while still getting the high oxygen content from the faster moving water nearby.
In order to fish in these areas, look for natural obstructions in the river such as sunken logs, partial beaver dams, large boulders, and more. You can also look for areas where smaller baitfish are common, as walleye will remain nearby to pick these off for eating.
Weedy Shallow Bays Near Deep Water
Weeds and other vegetation makes a great cover for walleye. It provides a natural cover for both walleyes and the smaller bait fish they use as food including minnows and shad while also bringing them closer into the shore.
The walleye will move into these high vegetation areas throughout the day and night, so you won’t be limited by the time of day in this location. With the vegetation reducing the amount of light that reaches the lower levels of the water, walleye and bait fish feel more comfortable and are much more active.
Shallow flats normally have a nearby steep drop which can go considerably deeper. Walleye will commonly gather in these deepwater areas and hunt for their bait fish prey in the shallow spots. If you’re testing to see how active walleye are in these areas, you can toss your lure in the water a few times and slowly reel it in just to see how interested and eager the walleyes may be.
How to Target Walleye from the Bank
As one of the most popular and effective ways to catch walleye, jigging is a very versatile way to not only lure in walleyes, but make them strike as well. If you’ve started your fishing trip using jerkbaits and crankbaits, but notice the walleye being more timid or disinterested in those, try switching to a jig with minnow body to get that first spring bite.
Most shore anglers will use a ¾ ounce jig head if the wind is low and they are using a light main fishing line, but for a heavier breeze you can go with a 1 ounce or heavier jig head. You’ll also be able to get your jig to sink quickly and drag across the bottom of the lake when using the larger weight or braided line.
This is also the way you can “bottom hop” by letting the jig sink quickly, then be jerked up repeatedly. This is a great fishing tactic for anglers using sturdier rods. It also helps if your rod tip is flexible since you will be getting a much better hop with a medium-light power rod.
If bottom hopping doesn’t work or elicit the responses you were hoping for, you can also drift it and drag across the bottom. This is especially effective for active walleye that are seeking food in a low visibility environment. They will strike hard and fast on a jig that may be brushing up a bit of silt here and there.
Soft baits can come in a huge range of options from worms and leeches to minnows and frogs. They are normally made from soft plastics or rubber and can be used on their own or be matched up with a specific spinner rig. It’s also common to attach your soft plastics to a jig head to get decent movement and presentation from it in shallower water.
Spinnerbaits and Spoons
A very attractive option in most situations, spinners and spoons can get even stubborn walleye excited. The shiny metal or brightly colored plastic sides reflect the light and sparkle in both high light and low light situations to grab and hold walleye attention. This mimics the shiny scales of natural baitfish and helps attract walleye up from the depths of the drop-offs to strike your lure.
If you’re fishing in the late spring and early summer when the water temperatures are slowly rising, spinnerbaits and spoons can give you the best results overall. If you can get one that matches the actual live fish in the area, walleye will strike with aggression and speed.
You can use spinnerbaits and spoons in all water depths, but may get the best results from midwater depths. Cast your spinnerbait or spoon at maximum distance, then slowly lure it in so it spins and waves. If you’re having trouble getting walleye to strike, try casting at a different angle so the spinnerbait or spoon passes by the fish’s strike zone.
There are a range of different rigs you can use if the other fishing options are not working. A live bait rig is popular and simple to set up. In fact, you can set up and change your bait rigs multiple times per day to test and see what offers the best results.
Using a floating bait rig is normally the best option for shore fishing. It’s a great option to let the bait move with the water and wind giving it a highly natural look to the walleyes below. Letting your floating rig move with the wind will also scoot it into areas where walleye are likely to hide, such as high vegetation areas with low water flow.
If fishing in a river or creek, try casting your lure upstream and letting it slowly float at its own speed. This will mimic the natural flow a normal baitfish might make, giving walleye in nearby slack water areas a good chance to strike.
If all else fails, live bait can bring in the most fickle and timid walleye. Some of the best choices for bait are yellow perch, fathead minnows, golden shiners, and shad. If you can keep these baits active and moving in shallower water, they will quickly elicit bites even when other lures and bait choices did not.
Since minnows are a natural prey item for walleye, hooking them through the nose or spine can ensure they provide enough movement to draw in walleye from the depths or heavy cover while you are fishing. If minnows or other live fish are not working or may not be legal in your area, opting to use leeches, worms or crayfish can be a great alternative. They still provide the same natural movement and can get the same responses from the fish.
Best Time of Day to Catch Walleye from Shore
During the early morning hours, walleye will be active and searching for food. This is a great time to drop your bait or lure into the water to stir up some strikes. During the summer fishing season, the cool early morning hours are the absolute best time to toss a lure in the water and get a response.
The late evening after the sun has gone down is another very suitable option for fishing. The subdued lighting and heavy shadows provide cover for the fish as well as security. They will also be using this time to start hunting for their normal prey fish of minnows and shad.
While daytime fishing is viable throughout most of the year, it should not be your chosen time of day during the summer. During this time, the sun is too bright and the water temperatures in the shallows can be too high for walleye to be comfortable, so instead they will seek cover in the deeper and cooler water away from the direct sunlight.
How to Fish from Shore by Season
For anglers that only go fishing once per year, spring is the season they love. This is the time of year that walleyes are coming out of their winter torpor and colder water and preparing for spawning. They will not only start becoming much more active, but will also move back to their normal spawning grounds. If you have located these spawning grounds before, you will find the fish in these same spots for years.
Early morning and late afternoon are the best times to toss your lure in the water as walleye will be more active during these times. Using swimbaits and crankbaits is your best option during this time of year, but normally early-spring walleye are hungry and will take anything with vigor.
During the summer, water temperatures will play a big role in how active the fish are. If the temperatures are extremely high, fish will not be as eager to strike and may instead avoid any bait or soft plastics lure you toss in the water. When bites come slow, using live bait will be a good option that can help get the fish active. Minnows and yellow perch are a common go-to, but crayfish, leeches and shad can also get the fish interested and are a great way to locate schools of walleye.
When the summer temps are high and the water of the lake starts heating up, walleye will be more active during the evenings and early mornings when the water is a few degrees cooler. In the afternoon, you likely won’t get much action at all regardless of what bait or lure you are using.
Try searching for low light conditions and other areas that are extremely well shaded by trees or other vegetation. Even if the lake water is warm overall, it will still be a few degrees cooler in the shaded areas which can make all the difference in walleyes coming in for a strike on your bait.
As the temperatures start changing and getting cooler, walleye will become more willing to feed. They want to pack on the calories so they can retreat to deeper water and overwinter until spring. During this time, you’ll likely get a decent response from the fish on jigs, crankbaits and more. Try both fast moving lures as well as slower vertical jigs.
If your lures aren’t working from the shore, switching to a live or dead bait will most likely elicit a response from the fish hanging out in deeper areas near sunken islands or sandbars. They not only target prey fish by sight, but also by smell, so live bait is an excellent way to get them to react.
Fishing for walleye during the winter can be a lesson in patience. You will rarely find them near the shore as the shallow water is much colder. Instead, they will be in much deeper water where the temperatures are slightly warmer.
When fishing for walleye in the winter, your best choice will be to locate more central areas of the lake where the water is deepest. Walleye can be found in transition zones and water up to 30 feet deep, though even throughout the winter they will normally remain around 10-15 feet deep.
Effective Bank Fishing Tips for Walleye
Use waders to get close to key spots
Wearing waders not only keeps you dry and warm while out on the lake or in the river, but can give you access to better walleyes. Wading out into the water or crossing a river to get to a nearby sandbar can give you an edge on locating male walleye or large females.
Additionally, wading out to the edge of a drop off can give you access to walleye hanging out in deeper water. Not to mention you will be much less threatening to walleye than if you were on a boat above them which opens up a range of opportunities when trying to land a trophy size walleyes.
Use a Castable Fish Finder
If you’re looking for a surefire way to locate walleye, using a castable fish finder is an excellent option. While these small devices may not always be easy to use depending on the location, they can definitely give you a leg up when trying to locate stubborn trophy fish.
Similar to split shot weights, castable fish finders are small and lightweight, usually the size of a bobber, and can attach right to your line to make casting them in your desired location easy. The biggest downside is that they can be prone to snagging on brush and other vegetation, so keep this in mind when casting into areas of heavy cover.
You also need to ensure it’s secured to your fluorocarbon leader in such a way that it will not come undone as losing your fish finder will put a definite damper on your fishing trip. If you don’t know how to tie knots securely, it may be worth learning before you head out onto the shore or hop into the boat.
Cover the Water
Depending on the type of bait you are using, casting into the same area repeatedly may not give you the results you want. Instead, try covering water with more lure options by spreading out your casts in different areas to see if you can entice fish from other areas. This helps anglers locate walleye in a few feet of water to extremely deep drop offs.
Seek Out Points, Shelves and other Structure
Vegetation and other flooded plants or tree roots are an excellent option to find big walleye in the afternoon and evening. Walleye move into these areas with thick vegetation to both rest and target their prey. If you’re wondering how to catch walleye from shore, anglers will do well to seek out these specific points.
Shore anglers should try tossing a range of lures in among the brush to see if you can entice a walleye to strike. They may be responsive to top water lures, but midwater vertical presentations are usually your best option. Don’t be afraid to do some trial and error so you can pinpoint exactly what areas the big walleye hang out in.
Find the Baitfish
If you are able to locate a spot in lakes or rivers where perch and smaller fish gather, you can assume that walleyes will not be far away. Walleyes love coming into the shallows to hunt their prey and perch is one of their favorite meals. If you can find baitfish, you can find decent sized hungry walleye.