If you have already filled your deer tags or prefer to spend time on the water than in the woods, the time between cool temperatures and solid ice can be challenging. You want to get out, but no ice and a stored boat have you stuck on shore. How are you going to fill the time? What do you think about some fresh walleye? What would you say if I told you not only can you catch walleye from shore, but it could be the best bite of the season? That is precisely what I am saying, and it could be easier than you think.
BEST WATERS IN
You might not have realized it, but some of the best walleye waters in the Northeast are right in your backyard. Kinzu Reservoir and the Allegheny River are some of the best fishing in Pennsylvania and are constantly ranked as two of the best waters in the U.S.
The Kinzu and Allegheny offer miles of shoreline open to public fishing, easy access, and plenty of walleye. As the temperatures drop, these fish will naturally move into areas easily fished without a boat, making them a perfect destination to thaw the winter blues.
WHERE TO LOOK
As the water temperatures drop, but have not yet reached the freezing point, walleye become very predictable. If you do a little homework and check the local charts, it should be only a matter of time before you find them and fill your creel.
Lake: Fish will look for nearshore reefs, boulder piles, some humps and remaining weed beds. This is where they will hide and ambush prey as they put on weight for the long winter. Walleye will spend much of their time in 15-20 feet of water, hugging the structure and hiding. As night approaches, you can expect fish to head closer to shore, often as shallow as a couple of feet, as they cruise any remaining weed beds for smaller fish.
River: Walleye will naturally migrate upstream as the temperatures drop. On the Allegheny River, this means some of the best fishing could be right through Warren County. In moving water, they will look for one of two things – discharge pools below dams or deeper pockets in the river. There was no scoreboard to hide behind on Sunday. No magic in the final moments that “Fourth Quarter Kenny” has summoned semi-regularly (if always briefly) to avert disaster.
Like the structure in the lake, walleye will use these spots to sit and wait for potential prey. Because the current is usually at its lowest this time of year, the “deeper pool” does not need to be much. A difference in depth of only a couple of feet can provide the cover walleye needed to set up an ambush.
WHAT TO USE
Natural bait caught from the local waterways is always the best option, no matter what you are fishing for. “Match the hatch,” as the fly anglers say, and it is hard to beat a minnow and jig when teasing a hungry walleye. Winter fish may be slower to strike and not as aggressive, so you may want to add a stinger hook to pick up short strikes. If the bite is still slow, try using a banana jig to add some flutter on the drop or a stand-up jig to keep the minnow off the bottom.
Some good alternatives are available if you cannot find enough natural bait. Gulp Alive can be almost as effective as the real thing. Hard baits, with or without a joint, are just what you need to tempt a weary walleye, although I recommend going smaller than you might at other times of the year. Finally, remember to have a few blade baits on hand. If fished close to the bottom with a quick upward snap followed by a short pause, they are hard to resist.
As far as tackle is concerned, lighter is better. A 6-foot medium action rod, a trusty ball bearing reel spooled in 6-8-pound test will be near perfect to get the jigging action needed or a slow drift when possible. If you prefer a braided line, add a couple of feet of leader to hide everything in the clear, cold water.