Erie Walleye Can Be Shore Easy
So many miles of water and where does one begin? This is the problem for Lake Erie walleye anglers. Even though the shallowest of the Great Lakes has an estimated 26 million walleye, it also has 6,361,600 surface acres of water.
Lake Erie Good Starting Points for Shore Walleye
The list below offers areas with good structure covering large areas along the shoreline. The places mentioned have boat launches.
Huron Harbor - From Huron Harbor troll a couple miles west. East of the harbor is very good structure that continues all the way to Vermilion (boat launch here).
Lorain Harbor – Troll west to Vermilion.
Avon Point – Pay close attention to structure around the point, then troll east and west.
Rocky River – Good areas east and west.
Cleveland Edgewater Park – Troll west from the Cleveland Harbor to the Gold Coast.
Fairport Harbor - There is good structure west of the harbor all the way to the Mentor Lagoons. Troll east of the harbor past the Perry Nuclear Plant. Excellent rocks piles and bottom going east.
Geneva State Park Marina – It has good structure on both sides of the marina.
Break walls – At times all the deeper harbor break walls have walleye visiting them. This is especially true at night. These long rock piles offer structure and walleye attracting bait..
Many Erie fishermen believe the grass is always greener on the other side. With this thinking they race to the deep blue waters far from shore. Yes, good catches do occur way out there, once the fish are found. With sky rocketing gas prices, these are expensive walleye.
However, Lake Erie does offer some good close to port, shore walleye fishing.
“I always believed that a lot of people run over walleye while traveling long distances to catch walleye,” said Travis Hartman, fisheries biologist for the Ohio Division of Wildlife. “When anglers get the right timing and techniques, they can catch nice walleye near shore. Given the right weather conditions, they can do it in relatively small boats.”
Before May, Hartman finds the walleye tend to be in the upper half of the water column. These are post spawn fish that are feeding heavily before their migration east into Lake Erie’s central basin. These walleye are in pursuit of baitfish and tend not to be structure oriented. However, this does not mean walleye schools may not venture close to shore, in pursuit of baitfish.
Since they are suspended, anglers look for baitfish and big hooks (fish) on their locators. Usually the anglers troll stick baits such as deep diving Husky Jerks or Reef runners behind mini planer boards. Usually, the fish are in the upper half of the water column. The trolling speeds often are from 1.0 to 1.5 mph.
Around May as the water temperature approaches 50 degrees, some of the walleye start migrating from Erie’s western basin and head east. Marblehead, Huron and Vermilions’ shorelines heat up first.
“From May into mid June, it’s more like traditional walleye fishing,” said Hartman. “While using my Sonar I am paying close attention to rock piles, ledges, points and other hard bottom feature that attracts fish as they move east. You don’t always see the fish on the locator because they may be amongst the rocks. They use specific contours as migration routes.”
A good variety of shore walleye lures (top to bottom) Deep diving Reef Runner, Deep Diving Husky Jerk, Shallow Running Reef Runner, Rip Shad, Flicker Shad, and worm harness.
One tactic that Hartman uses is running four Off Shore mini planer boards from his boat. He uses the 800 series, deep diving Reef Runners. Hartman likes to cover the water column so he runs them 30’, 50’, 70’ and 90’ behind the boards. Productive colors would include wonder bread, pink lemonade, blue Hawaiian, and bare naked. Starting in May he starts trolling at 1.5 mph. and slowly increases the speed if there are no bites. As the temperature warms in May and June, the boat’s speed can reach 2 mph..
When the waters warm into the mid 50’s and higher, nightcrawlers on worm harnesses can be productive. Of course, what is the best depth? Hartman utilizes a spread of spinners running at different levels to find the fish.
On the main line he puts in-line weights several feet ahead of the spinners. Each rod gets a different size sinker. One gets a one ounce lead, another a two ounce sinker, three and four ounce weights may be put on the other two rods. All are run 25 feet behind the boards. When one depth gets hot, he changes the other rods to that weight. He prefers gold Colorado spinners and trolls them at 1.5 m.p.h. Hartman often starts trolling in 15 feet of water and if that doesn’t work, he gradually starts moving into deeper depths until he hits fish.
As the shoreline waters start warming east along Avon Point and Cleveland, these areas start getting migrating walleye. When these water temperatures approach 50 degrees and higher these central basin shorelines start producing walleyes. Don’t think that skinny waters only produce small fish. Some real lunkers frequent these shallows. At this time of the year, all shorelines with structure are potential hot spots. However, some are more consistent than others.
Rock piles, and drop-offs are attractive to walleye not only because they offer irregular features, but these structures hold bait. Also the shallow shore waters tend to be a little warmer. The shorelines are magnets for these traveling fish.
Personally, early morning and late afternoon are my favorite times. At night bonus walleyes move into the shallows to feed. The evening angler can start catching these bonus fish a couple hours before sunset. Anglers catch them at night trolling shallow running stick baits like Reef Runners, Husky Jerks, and Rattlin’ Rogues.
Fishermen, who get to the shoreline before sunrise, also have a shot at catching these nocturnal fish before, they move out. During these low light times, don’t neglect the break walls. These manmade structures hold bait. Walleye will come to feed along these walls, especially at night. At times the evening and morning angler can do quite well without leaving the harbor area.
However, this does not mean that all the walleye leave the shallows during the daytime. Cloudy conditions and a choppy lake surface cuts down on light penetration. Thus the angler can find extra numbers of walleye in skinny water at these times. Don’t be afraid to downsize some of your lures to mid-depth crankbaits, such Flicker Shads, Shad Raps and Rip Shads. Some days these are just the ticket.
If there is a big school of baitfish in close, even in sunshine, it’s hard for these walleye to turn down a good meal.
One of my favorite rock piles has huge boulders strewn all around a large area. During the daytime, even in July and August, we catch fish from these shallow waters. I believe the walleye rest on the shaded side of the largest rocks.
When trolling in the central basin shorelines, continue paying attention to contour lines that run west to east. If a fish is caught along a contour line 16 feet, mark that spot and keep going east for about a half mile. There may be more walleye along that contour line, especially where it bends in or out.
If there isn’t another hit, turn around and troll the contour line back to where the original walleye was taken. Troll that spot from all angles.
The current can play a critical role while working these contours and structures.
If there is a current flowing from west to east, the lure will run differently when trolling with or against the current. That’s why the fish may only be hitting your lure when traveling in one direction. They may ignore the lure when it runs in the opposite direction. The different current speed causes the lure to run differently, and this may turn the fish off. To determine if there is current, stop the boat. Lower a line into the water with a heavy split shot. Watch to see if a current drifts it in one direction.
At the boat’s side, study the trolled lure’s action carefully. Next, turn the boat around so it is going in the opposite direction at the same speed. Analyze the trolled lure for changes in its action. If there is a difference, slow down or speed up the motor to see what is speed is needed to re-create the lure’s productive action..
I have several pieces of structure that tend to hold fish almost every time I go out. These areas will be hit from different directions and speeds before leaving them. Later in the day, it’s a good idea to come back and make a couple more passes over them. Also , pay close attention to structures, on contour lines, that jut out north and south. They often hold walleye.
When looking for the most consistent times to catch shore walleye, watch Lake Erie’s water temperature. Prime time is when it is between 58 and 64 degrees. Also, several days of consistent weather lets the fish set up on shore structures making it easier to pattern them. A consistent shoreline walleye lure is blue prism Reef Runner run 60 feet behind the boat. Other good colors are pink, greens, and fire tiger.
Cutting a wide swath in the water, with a variety of lures at differing depths, is a good idea. Ohio anglers are allowed two fishing rods per person. So maximize it. If the reader thinks this only applies to big boats, wrong! My boat is not huge. In fact, it has bench seats. While running flat lines and multiple Off Shore mini-boards, it looks like a yellow porcupine with all the rods sticking up in the air.
The trick is to determine what depth contour lines the boat will be following. If the boat is in 15 to 16 foot depths, then place shallow running stick baits on the board closest to the shore. On the farthest board on the north side, use a deep runner.
Often we start out by running different lures and baits at a variety of levels until the walleye’s depth and lure preference are discovered. When running worm harnesses, place them on the boards closest to the boat or on a flat line. At times, white perch, yellow perch, or rock bass will strip the live crawler off. It’s much easier to pull in the lure closest to the boat to check and re-bait it.
Personally, gold Colorado bladed spinners in size 3, 4, and 5 are my preference. These round blades make the lure rise, causing fewer snags. The blade’s thumping sound draws in fish. When above 1.5 mph., many anglers like willow leaf worm harnesses.
As said before, there are days when the trash fish destroy the crawlers on the worm harnesses. When this occurs many anglers leave the infested spot for another area. However, eating size perch also get the walleyes attention.
To try and keep bait on the worm harness, use lures with two trebles. Attach one live crawler to a hook on each of the trebles. Next, take a Gulp Crawler and hook it the same way on a front and rear treble hooks. This way, if the live nightcrawler gets stripped, the spinner still has Gulp on it.
As June approaches, the walleye shore action really starts picking up east of Cleveland and keeps heading east as the walleye schools continue migrating. Not all these fish are moving at the same speed or time. This means shoreline spots are getting replenished with new fish. There still are plenty of migrant and resident fish found all along the shore line from Huron east
Casting for Shore Walleye
Some walleye anglers prefer to cast, rather than troll for walleye. Trolling the shoreline is a good method for locating the structure and locations where the walleye tend to be. Once found the angler can successfully cast spinners and crawlers.
Jeff Liskay is an angler who casts for walleye 95% of the time. While he may not catch as many casting as he can trolling, he likes the hunt for them. He uses Tom’s Walleye Lures, Tom’s Tiny Teasers or an egg slip sinker with a worm harness. He prefers spinner blades that are gold or chartreuse/silver.
“Early in the season the length of the line between the egg slip sinker and the harness should be longer than it is later in the summer,” said Liskay. “In early summer the leader is three feet and later it is 18” to 24”. The early season egg sinkers are 3/8 to ½ ounces.”
He uses a brutally slow retrieve during the early season. He casts off the rear corner of the boat. He lets the lure swing behind the transom while using a slow western basin pull. This is not a vertical pull but a long flat pull. The rod is kept parallel to the water. The strike often is at the end of the pull.
As the waters’ warm, he adds more speed to the retrieve. When the water is above 70 degrees, he switches to a ¾ or 1 oz. egg slip sinker. This forces the angler to retrieve faster when fishing high or in shallow waters. This creates reaction strikes. In 20 foot depths, he uses the egg slip sinker and harness.
As soon as the boat is in 18 feet, he switches to weight forward spinners. All the spinners are baited with live nightcrawlers. In the hotter waters, he likes a snap retrieve. Rip the spinner forward and stop. Often the walleye hits the bait as it falls back down. This is especially effective with the heavy slip sinkers and harnesses. When fishing spinners in summer, too often the anglers are fishing beneath the walleye.
One of the best structures for casting is a rock pile that goes north to south and is unattached to a contour line.
Also, there seems to be resident fish that hang around all summer. When the waters warm, be ready to vary your speeds. Too often in July and August the anglers fish under the fish and troll too slowly. Sometimes the fish want a crankbait traveling at 3 mph or more. Also, in this hot water be prepared to rattle their cage. Take a deep diving Reef Runner and let out enough line so it is banging the bottom.
Troll between 2 and 3 mph.
Hang on because this lure will be banging the big rocks like crazy. Of course, it gets even worse when a big walleye grabs it. We only flat line troll when we do this. We have taken big ‘eyes in July and August in depths as shallow as 12 feet. Zebra mussels pose a problem when the lures are jack hammering the rocks. The zebra’s shells often cut the line three or four inches above the lure’s eye.
To remedy this, tie a six inch wire leader to the crankbait’s eye. Tyger Wire is very good because it can be easily tied with a figure 8 knot, It is very flexible and zebra mussel resistant.
Now, it should be pointed out that while planer boards really help the shore angler to cover large swaths of water, anglers can flat line troll for walleye. However, the flat liner benefits by using rods that are 8 or 10 feet long. This length gets the lure farther from the motor’s prop and can produce more fish.
This summer why not experience the Erie walleye that are shore easy.
- written by Paul Liikala