Want to catch a really big walleye — the trophy of a lifetime — and do it from shore? It’s no secret that, of the five Great Lakes, Lake Erie would likely be your best bet. But what time of year to go, and how to catch them? Early spring produces the heaviest fish — the females are full of eggs — but Fall may be even better for catching numbers of big walleyes, for several reasons.
Someone who has experienced this fantastic fall fishing first-hand is Lake Erie Fisheries Program Administrator, Roger Knight, a biologist for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Wildlife.
“I have great memories of a walleye fishing trip to a Huron, Ohio, pier one October evening, when eight of us caught our 6-fish limits in an hour. And the fish ranged from 6 to 10 pounds. A longtime friend and I fished side by side, and we both caught our 6 fish on 11 casts. My friend broke his personal best walleye record three times that night. I can’t remember a better fall walleye pier-fishing experience.”
But Knight says that fall night-fishing from piers for walleyes is like angling anywhere — sometimes sizzling, sometimes not. “The fishing can be spotty because the walleyes follow the food, mostly gizzard shad. If the shad stay offshore, so do the walleyes. But if the shad come in close, you can literally catch a walleye on every cast. I have seen walleyes in water as shallow as 4 feet, with their dorsal fins exposed like sharks,” he says.
Typically, shad schools hug the shoreline when offshore waters cool quickly. A chilly October tends to create better shorefishing than a mild October, but there are exceptions. November usually produces more consistent fishing, with water temperatures in the mid-40F range the key. In many years, walleyes can be caught from shore well into December.
“These fish tend to be large females that spent their summer in the Central and Eastern basins of Lake Erie,” Knight says. “They then migrate back west, where they stage until spawning in spring. In fall, they’re on a major feeding binge because of lower water temperatures and an abundance of high-energy preyfish. It’s not uncommon to catch multiple walleyes over 10 pounds in autumn, though the average fish is between 4 and 8 pounds.”
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