Nighttime walleyes are even more numerous in shallow water at certain times of year than at others.
When I was a youngster I spent a lot of time growing up in the Northwoods, I often hoped on my bike to ride to a lake to fish from shore during the day. When you’re eight years old, pretty much everything you caught you kept from panfish to walleyes.
At night, my Uncle Leonard “Rick” Rickert would drive me somewhere to fish. He owned and operated the Woods Motel & Resort at the junction of U.S. 51 North and Highway 70 East in Arbor Vitae, Wis.
Back then, we didn’t have fancy lighted slip bobbers. The lights from the windows of a nearby tavern or cabin illuminated our floats and the boat dock. By the time I had to go home, I usually had a stringer tied to the dock heavy with whatever would bite. The catch often included several walleyes that hit late during the night.
Uncle Rick’s resort has been torn down for years. All I’ve got left from that time in my life is a 1958 Johnson Seahorse 5.5 horsepower outboard he gave me and the memories. I wouldn’t trade those fishing days or shoreline night for anything in the world.
I came away with one thing more — an important bit of fishing knowledge. Walleyes spend a lot of time after dark prowling the shoreline in search of food within a single cast of land.
Where to Find Them
They frequent the shoreline when water is cold in spring and again in fall. Piers located on a gravel shoreline or the north shore can be hot then. Don’t forget the fact the very biggest walleyes in a system are among the females that move to shallow water to spawn in spring at night along shorelines that feature fingers and extended points. Those big fish will be back when cisco spawn during late October and November.
Docks and piers near weeds are better in summer. Public fishing piers that extend out into the lake provide fishermen some deeper water night float opportunities in warm weather, too.
Waves hitting a shoreline turn the walleyes on no matter what the season.
More than a few of my area’s largest walleyes are caught by locals off their boat dock or a public fishing pier. In central Illinois, the state record segue of 9 pounds, 10 ounces was caught near dusk by a guy fishing from a public dock on a 900-acre reservoir.
As a result, every boat dock, public fishing pier, dam, spillway, bridge, railroad trestle and shoreline becomes another opportunity to fish lighted slip bobbers. Some walleyes will collect under boathouses built over the water supported by tons of wooded pilings and beams because wood attracts baitfish. The lights on the docks and piers start the food chain when they attract bugs and baitfish towards the light. Another plus — most public piers are handicap accessible.
The best water depth for dock/pier fishing is 10 feet or less, but odds improve when there’s a drop off to deep water nearby. Shoreline snags like logs, downed trees, weeds and fish cribs are best fished from shore, not from a boat, and snags, logs, downed trees and the weeds are great targets for lighted floats. Many people who own houses or a cabin on a lake sink logs or rocks or wind up in 10 to 15 feet of water, just a short cast away from the dock.
Many reservoirs offer designated camping sites on islands and along the shore. Some flowages have designated public fishing areas and parking located below the dam. On occasion you will see me fishing there. You can spend the night walking and casting down a shoreline for miles. Take advantage of the wind to drift the float back to the pier or parallel down the shoreline. A slip bobber that’s moving along gets more strikes.
Shore Anglers are a Quiet Bunch
You’ll probably have to take my word for just how good shore fishing can be until you try it. Shore fishermen are a closed-mouth crew. They seldom report catching walleyes from their dock. Don’t be misled by reports in the local paper that simply site “area lake” where it’s supposed to say what body of water produced that huge walleyes in the picture. Shore fishermen can slip under the radar that way.
More often than not, they don’t say a word to anyone. They keep a tight lip on their nighttime walleye success. I respect that. The last thing they want to see is me fishing right in front of their dock, so they catch big fish and don’t brag. But remembering your neighbor’s $50,000 Ranger boat was tied to his boat at the exact moment he said he caught his trophy should be a dead giveaway he didn’t have to go far. Heck, he’s doing better off the dock. Why go anywhere? Fishing from a boat may be more mobile, but the results aren’t always better.
Keep it Simple
Lighted slip bobbers are a perfect presentation for fishing after dark from a dock or pier because they are simple. A couple of rods rigged with lighted floats and live bait and you’re ready to go. No wonder it’s become a Northwoods tradition to pick up some bait before dark and head for a boat dock, public fishing pier or below dams to cast lighted slip bobbers from shore.
It’s no wonder the city dwellers who take part in the weekend northern migration make it a habit to grab lighted slip bobber rods from the garage or boathouse and cast out bait even before they unload the car after driving for hours on a Friday night. They’ve discovered how simple and effective the tactic is. Forget the boat and the ramp for a night. Just relax on a weathered dock bench on a warm night, watch the moonrise, spend time with the kids and the dog. Anyone might catch a nice walleye. They are there and they bite.
When you do catch a nice one, try to keep your voice down. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been anchored over deeper water in my boat with clients and not catching fish only to hear someone on shore yell, “I got a big walleye on my line!” Hurry get the net. Hearing that really hurts!
For more slip bobber tips, check out Greg Bohn’s book “Master the Art of Slip Bobbering“.