Casting a crankbait or jig in shallow water is often the most effective way to catch walleyes in the spring, when they're up shallow and feeding. The keys are finding the shallow water fish, then provoking them into striking. Let's take those topics one at a time.
Finding shallow fish is challenging because your electronics won't show them to you -if you run over fish in shallow water, they'll spook. Therefore, you need to look for places that concentrate baitfish. Wind is a big help here: a steady wind blowing into the same shoreline will push plankton against the shore, bringing minnows, shad or shiners in the mix. Another visual clue is a vertical "wall" along the shoreline, that walleye can trap bait against. With sloping shorelines, bait can go shallow and escape.
If you find a consistent wind, a wall and wave action forming a mud line in the water, you could be looking at a real hotspot. Minnows hide in mud, but walleyes can find them with their lateral line and the superior light gathering capabilities of their eyes.
Many times you'll find walleye up shallow without wind, walls or mud. These areas are actually fairly easy to find, too. They'll usually be close to other structure, like points, where walleyes hang out. If you see a bunch of boats on a point with no one catching many fish, don't hesitate to test the waters right on the shore--the fishing pressure can actually push walleye shallow.
Walleye can also be inside of weedbeds where they've been cruising for food. In some cases, walleyes will be right in expanses of reeds and cattails looking for bait.
So how do you catch them? Like we mentioned, it pays to hone up on your casting skill.
Start with a jig baited with a crawler, minnow or leech--something no walleye can usually resist. Pitch it up shallow and bring it back with different actions, letting the fish tell you how they want it. Sometimes a slow drag works; sometimes an erratic, hopping retrieve is better. Sometimes you have to "dead stick" it--let the jig lay in the bottom. Experiment.
With a minnow, use a plastic shad body on the jig; with a leech, a curly-tail body often works better. In stained or muddy water, the more vibrations the plastic creates, the easier a walleye can find and attack it.
OK, maybe you miss a bite, and don't get any more. Maybe the water is dirty and you want to use something with a bit more action. Maybe you're catching and releasing so many fish you're getting tired of hassling with live bait.
Switch to a bait-less jig with a shad body or a curly tail grub, or tie on a crankbait. At times, a wiggling twister tail grub on the jig will catch more fish than a jig and minnow. Here, you work it faster, not letting fish study or smell the lure. You're looking for reaction strikes. Same with a crankbait. Just toss it up near or past the fish-holding area and wind it back through the fish. A crankbait often provokes a strike from a fish that wasn't triggered by a jig and minnow.
An overlooked lure for shallow fish is a sinking stickbait like the Countdown Rapala®. It's great for fishing a slope. Cast it shallow and start the retrieve right away. Pause it as you work it deeper, letting it sink and stay in the bottom strike zone. A suspending jerkbait like the Husky Jerk® can be awesome in shallow water, too. So this spring, work on those forgotten casting skills. It can pay off with some of the most fun walleye action of the year.
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