Catch walleye now from shallow water at Lake Erie

Mike Bleech Outdoors Columnist

Watch the weather reports for winds out of the south. One of those evenings when a balmy breeze carries from the land over Lake Erie will do fine. Any time the wind allows boats onto the lake and fishing from shore, be ready to fish by sunset. This is an opportunity you do not want to miss. It lasts but a few weeks.

About this time each spring, depending to a significant extent on water temperature, Lake Erie walleye are active within reach of anglers casting from shore, and even more so, close enough to shore for fishing in a relatively small boat. These are not the same walleye that migrate from the Western Basin and are caught through summer in much deeper water. These walleye are a local population that reside year-round in Pennsylvania and New York water. Catch rates tend to be very good.

Recent fishing reports indicate that walleye have been hitting from near shore out to about 40 feet. The pattern seems late in starting this spring. It should improve for at least a couple of weeks before the walleye move to deeper water.

Trollers have been hitting walleye in the Walnut Creek Access area, and anywhere from East Avenue Boat Launch into New York. Some good catches have come from straight out of Dunkirk.

Beach casters congregate at the official access areas, especially at Walnut Creek Access. This tendency was fueled by the fact that big walleye feed on steelhead smolt when the smolt emerge from the creeks into Lake Erie. But more likely, walleye are near shore anywhere they find abundant food. Baitfish generally crowd into the relatively warm near shore water.

If you have fished Lake Ontario during spring for trout and salmon in shallow water, this is basically the same pattern. It can be fished in the same manner. Shallow running stick baits run behind planer boards can be very effective. However, in my own 14-foot boat, I seldom run planer boards and just troll with two, or three, flat lines. If the water is calm, the electric motor is used rather than the gas motor.

Maneuverability can often be very important, so if you must use a planer board, use just one. This will allow much a smaller turning radius than with two planer boards. Staying with the fish is the way to great walleye catches at Lake Erie. If you have GPS, use it. Set marks where walleye hit, and develop a trolling pattern by following the crumb trail back and forth through the fish.

The relative maneuverability of using a smaller boat and using just a couple of lines can be big advantage. Pulling the lines at the end of each trolling pass reduces wasted turning time. But make a few trolling turns first. Sometimes a good share of hits happen during turns.

Try a serpentine trolling pattern for the same reason, because turns often trigger strikes. Also, by making frequent turns the lures pass through water the boat does not pass over.

This spring the hot lure has been the F18 Rapala Floating Minnow in the standard silver sides with black back color pattern. Beach casters use this large lure size to gain casting distance. The lures are retrieved very slowly to keep them running very close to the surface. Many trollers prefer the smaller F13 size since casting distance is not an issue.

Trolling or retrieving lures very close to the surface seems to be a big advantage. Like most of our game fish, walleye eyes look up. They can see baitfish silhouetted even against a night sky, and prefer to attack from below, just like sharks.

Some other lures that should be effective for shore casters are a 5-1/2-inch floating Rebel Minnow, a Kastmaster and a Jointed Rebel Minnow. All cast well and can be retrieved close to the surface. The Kastmaster is a heavy casting spoon. It casts as well as any lure I have cast. Because of its shape, it rises toward the surface. Close the bail and start reeling as soon as it hits the water. A slow to medium speed retrieve will take to toward the surface. The Jointed Rebel Minnow has very nice action even when it is retrieved so slowly that it ripples the surface.

If you do not have a GPS, pay strict attention to where you are in relation to where you launched. Watch the launch as you depart so you know what to look for when you return.