Walleye By Foot
Conventional wisdom says that casting for walleye from shore is a game only for the fall or spring. However, with a little research and some exploring, big walleye can be caught consistently from shore during the hot summer months under the cover of darkness. During this past summer, I worked as a “camp jack” and as a musky guide. Due to the constraints of my job, I was only able to fish for my own enjoyment and solitude during the evenings. I had access only to drift boats, which can prove to be tricky to maneuver alone at night and when short on time. Thus, I began my journey learning how to fish for walleye from shore. When I only have a few hours, the pressure is on and I am forced to look for those highly concentrated areas. Typically, this means looking around the dams, and more specifically, the eddies and pockets next to the whitewater below the dams. From my experience, the big dams can be intimidating in a boat due to competition with the other fishermen or, as a shore fisherman, trying to cover a large area of water from the bank. The shore option can also result in a lot of snags.
I realized I needed a change of strategy. After a few unsuccessful trips to larger dams and losing many jigs to the rocky bottom, I began to rethink my approach. I took the map book out and began searching for the smaller dams, the types of dams that were on the small to midsize rivers having only two gates. I picked a few and began to do some exploring. To my surprise, these dams all held some nice sized walleye, pike, crappie and even muskies. The pools below them were smaller and much easier to cover than the larger ones. Because I had done some research and limited my search to areas accessible only on foot, I had these areas all to myself. An additional benefit to this strategy is the ability to stay mobile and easily pack up and move to the next dam.
I always begin my approach by fan casting crankbaits to cover a lot of water. I start my approach by pitching them up against the dam to reel them through the eddy. In fact, I go as far as casting them along the downstream bank and ticking them against the rocks during the retrieve. My favorite crankbait for this situation is the original floating Shad Rap. I usually begin with the big cranks and work my way down in size. I prefer the floating cranks because when I hit large boulders, I am able to let the lure float up a little, avoiding the snags but also giving the walleye a longer look at the lure.
Once I have covered the water with the cranks and have gone through a few different sizes, I switch my approach to jigging. The speed of the current will dictate your jig weight. However, a favorite of mine is the 1/8 oz. jig, tipped with half of a nightcrawler. My technique for jigging begins with standing and looking toward the dam within casting distance. I aim my jig for the edge of the heavy current between the main flow and the eddy. I let the jig fall to the bottom with my finger on the line because I have caught many big walleye as the jig sinks to the bottom. Once the jig hits the bottom, I let it sit to about the count of five, then I give it a quick jig and then let it sit for another five or six count. Repeat this process all the way back and I can virtually guarantee success. When using live bait on the jig, I may let the jig sit for a longer count to really give the fish time to find it.
Additionally, another technique I learned when the walleye are being finicky is to dead drift nightcrawlers. The rig for this situation is simple: a size six bait holder or octopus style hook, a few split shot about a foot above the hook, and then attach half a crawler to the hook. Simply pitch the rig up along the edge of the swifter current where walleye wait to ambush their prey. Allow the rig to sink and let the swirling currents do the work. Keep your finger on the line to detect their strike. I find that they will bite with this rig when the bait hits the water as the sun sets and darkness increases. I like this technique because it best imitates the food coming over the dam and washing downstream, something the walleye are looking for.
Finally, If the walleye are ignoring all of the above presentations, I go back to a rig I learned fishing the Wisconsin River. The rig consists of a 1/2 oz. to 1 oz. egg sinker, a swivel, two feet of leader material and a floating jig head. On the floating jjg head I use a minnow, leech, or half a nightcrawler. I throw the rig into the eddy or along the swift current and let it sit because these are the ambush points for walleye. The egg sinker anchors the rig to the bottom and the floating jig head keeps the hook above the snags where the fish are. Of course, after the cast, it is a waiting game. However, this rig shines year-round no matter how cold or warm the water is. It’s my “go-to” when all else fails.
The beauty of this scenario is that basically any spinning outfit will work for this situation- no fancy equipment necessary. However, my favorite is a 7 ft. medium action spinning rod, spooled with 12 pound mono. Additionally, an assortment of jigs, ranging from 1/2 to 1/8 oz. in a variety of colors will work well. Add in some size six hooks and an assortment of split shot for your drifting bait. My favorite crankbaits are Yellow Perch colored Shad Raps in virtually any size. Egg and bell sinkers ranging from 1/2 oz. to 2 oz. will serve you well, depending on the current. And, an assortment of floating jig heads ranging from size 6 to 1/0 will do well. Finally, don’t forget your chair, a headlamp or lantern, some pliers, a stringer for keeping a few beauties, and your favorite beverage to make things comfortable.