Shore Fishing for Lake Erie Walleye
When Lake Erie walleye fishing comes to mind, most think of massive boats running many miles offshore to some of the deepest water of the lake and trolling. However, that’s not always the case. Lake Erie offers an incredibly underrated shore bite that allows even boatless anglers to catch the walleye of a lifetime, and Ohio has some prime locations to do so. I was fortunate enough to grow up in the heart of walleye country about 15 minutes east of downtown Cleveland. I landed my first walleye from shore when I was 14 years old, and the fact that it weighed 9lbs 10oz certainly got me hooked! In this article, I’ll highlight everything you’ll need to know about this world-class walleye bite to help you put your personal best in the net this year!
Even though Lake Erie is an incredible fishery packed full of walleyes, it’s not magical enough to produce a phenomenal shore bite 24/7. Fall and spring are by far the most productive seasons and night is when the giant ‘eyes are shallow and feeding. Walleyes can see incredibly well in low light conditions, so nighttime offers them the prime opportunity to ambush their prey. As water temperatures begin to cool in mid-late September, baitfish such as emerald shiners and gizzard shad move shallow, and the walleyes are right behind them. These fish will gorge themselves all fall in preparation for a harsh Lake Erie winter. I have caught walleyes shore fishing as late as Christmas Eve when weather permitted. They only get fatter as fall continues, so your odds at a giant increase the later in the year you’re willing to brave the cold! Spring is also an excellent time to shore cast walleyes. From ice-out to the end of May is typically when the bite is the best and nighttime still dominates. It is very possible to catch them in the summer months as well, but it is largely dependent on the presence of bait, and the size and number of fish are typically smaller.
My personal best walleye weighing 12lbs even, taken shore casting around 11:00 pm on December 12, 2015
It’s possible to catch a walleye in a number of places along the shoreline, but some areas are certainly better than others. There are some key factors to look into in order to determine if an area is a suitable location for holding big walleyes. One of those factors is bait. When a walleye is close to shore, it’s typically there for one main reason: food. If there is a large abundance of bait in an area, walleyes typically won’t be too far behind. Bait can come and go though, so if you catch fish in an area that is relatively flat, contourless, and boring they were likely only there because of the presence of bait and may not stick around long if that bait decides to leave.
Another one of these factors is depth. When you find access to deep water close to shore on Lake Erie, it’s usually a good spot. There are many piers, seawalls, and rock jetties all along Lake Erie’s Ohio shoreline that offer access to deeper water and all are excellent places to consider trying. A rock jetty or pier at the mouth of a river is probably the best place to shore fish for walleyes on Lake Erie. These areas provide deep water access, typically some good contour, current, and almost always have baitfish close by. All the ingredients needed to attract a trophy-class walleye. It’s very important to be cautious when fishing these environments, especially when air temps dip below freezing. A layer of ice can form over the rocks or ground you’ll need to stand on to access the water, and if that’s the case don’t even consider trying! It’s nearly impossible to stand on that icy surface and no walleye is worth risking your life over.
Once you’ve put yourself around some big walleyes, you’ll need the right gear and baits to get them in the net. My all-time favorite bait for shore-casting walleyes is a Rapala Husky Jerk. This bait has landed countless walleyes over the years and its slow wide wobble is extremely enticing for cold water fish. The shallow model in sizes 12 and 14 is ideal and color is largely dependent on condition and location. Clown, Glass Clown, Silver Blue, and Tennesse Shad rarely fail to produce, though. Throwing the shallow variety is key as these fish are suspended and always looking up to feed, so you definitely don’t want your bait to be running underneath them. A slow, steady retrieve is typically the best way to work this bait in the cold water months. Don’t be afraid to reel painstakingly slow. I also highly recommend swapping the trebles on this bait before use. Walleyes will often slash at the bait and end up hooked on the side of the face or just by one hook, and you don’t want to lose the fish of a lifetime because your hooks weren’t sharp enough to keep a big one pinned. Swap those trebles out with some size 2 or 4 Gamakatsu 2X Strong Trebles and you won’t be sweating as much when you hook that fish of a lifetime. There are of course times when the Husky Jerk doesn’t produce, and your options are either to go louder and more aggressive or more finesse.
Lake Erie can often get churned up and dirty in the fall with high winds and rough water. When this happens it’s time to go loud and aggressive and pick up a lipless crankbait. A ½ oz Rapala Rippin Rap in Gold Chrome is a tough bait to beat. Work this bait somewhat erratically with some pops and stop-and-go in the retrieve. There’s not much mistaking what it feels like when one decides to thump a lipless!
Finally, on the rare occasion when the lake is calm and clear, it’s time to pick up the swimbait. Walleyes can get finicky when there’s no wind or current to break the water up a bit, and the Keitech Fat Swing Impact is a walleye slayer in these conditions. They come in a variety of colors and sizes that can all get the job done. For the fall, a 4.8” in Electric Shad, Gold Flash Minnow, Sun Gill, or Silver Flash are excellent options. These will all still catch them in the spring, but it can sometimes be beneficial to downsize to a 3.3” or 3.8” as the water gets warmer. Fish these baits on a 3/16oz Gamakatsu Round Jig Head and try to keep them suspended 4-6ft beneath the surface.
As for tackle, you’ll want a setup that is capable of making long casts and light enough to keep treble hooks pinned in the paper-like mouth of a walleye, but also heavy enough to throw decent-size baits. A long rod and a 4000-size reel are key for getting excellent casting distance. For the angler on a budget, I recommend going with an Okuma Celilo Spinning Rod in the 8’6” Medium Light model. This rod is labeled as a steelhead and salmon rod, but don’t let that steer you away! It’s the perfect length and action for this type of fishing. Pair this up with a 4000-size Shimano Sienna Spinning Reel and you’ve got an excellent walleye outfit for around $115. For the angler willing to spend a little more money and get a high-quality setup, check out the St. Croix Avid Walleye Spinning Rod in an 8’0” Medium Light. Pair that up with a 4000-size Shimano Vanford Spinning Reel and you have the ultimate Lake Erie shore casting setup.
Line is also a very important part of this setup. Braided line is a must as it allows for greater casting distance than monofilament and fluorocarbon. It also has no stretch or memory so when you hook a big walleye at the end of a long cast the hooks can easily dig into the fish. 15lb Power Pro is the perfect braided line for the job. The only issue with braid is that it’s visible to the fish, so a fluorocarbon leader is needed for those finicky walleyes. 3-6ft of 10lb Gamma Edge as leader will do the trick.
Lastly, there are a few miscellaneous items you’ll want to have in order to have success. The first is a net. Just about everywhere you’ll shore fish for Lake Erie walleye will require a long-handled landing net. The Beckman Coated Fishing Net in the 6-9ft extendable handle is perfect for getting those big ‘eyes in the net easily. It’s a little pricy, but you don’t want to lose that fish of a lifetime because you didn’t have the right net for the job. There are other quality extendable nets available at fishusa.com that are more affordable, too!
You’ll also want some type of hands-free light source. The EZRED Realtree ANYWEAR Alkaline LED Neck Light is my personal favorite. It’s comfortable, bright, and easily adjustable. A good pair of pliers is also key. Dealing with treble hooks at night and with cold hands can be trouble, and pliers can certainly help avoid any accidents from happening. A good set of bibs and a nice waterproof jacket are also crucial for helping keep you comfortable and on the water all night. It’s never a bad idea to wear a life vest when fishing around cold water either!
Lake Erie’s walleye fishery is truly second to none at the moment, and Ohio’s shore fishing offers all anglers the opportunity to take advantage of it. Luckily, fishusa.com has all the tackle you’ll need to catch the walleye of a lifetime! I hope this article encourages you to get out and take advantage of the incredible fishery we’re so lucky to have.
Shore Walleye Fishing Tackle List:
Lures & Baits
Smithwick Perfect 10 Rogue (Not mentioned in article, but a great bait!)
St. Croix Avid Walleye Spinning Rod
EZRED Realtree ANYWEAR Alkaline LED Neck Light