March 24, 2022
By Andrew Pegman
When it comes to fishing large bodies of water, breakwalls are a favorite spot for shore anglers seeking deeper water and bigger fish.
"Although breakwalls are designed for shoreline erosion protection and to provide safe harbor, some are also designed with a dual or secondary purpose of providing angling access," said professional fishing guide and educator Jeff Liskay.
Odds are good that if you scan a breakwall, you will see a variety of anglers trying their luck. Breakwalls are the perfect setting for fishing big lakes near urban areas and cities, and the shared fishing space creates a sense of community. Breakwalls also provide excellent access to various species, including yellow perch, largemouth and smallmouth bass, steelhead trout, walleyes, and many more.
But how do you find a good breakwall, what gear do you need, and how do you fish it? Whether you're a novice interested in giving breakwall fishing a try, or a seasoned breakwall vet, Liskay provides pro tips on how to get the most out of the experience.
How to Find a Good Breakwall
According to Liskay, there is an art to finding the right breakwall to fish. In general, the best breakwalls provide access to deeper water—and more fish.
In terms of where he sets up his breakwall base camp, he looks for deterioration from mother nature, those chunks of rocks that are difficult to traverse. He scouts out fallen pieces of rock and stone that create structure for baitfish, almost like a mini reef.
"When the waves hit the breakwall, it forms a dead zone," he said. "That's the reason why the bait congregates there, and the big fish follow the baitfish."
Another key scouting question he asks himself is whether he can land a fish from his fishing spot. He will look for flat rocks, maybe even rocks located slightly under the water, and use those as a platform. The stones can be slick and slippery, so use caution.
Liskay will sometimes wear waders to get his rod tip closer to the water, where the wind and rocks are less impactful on casting and retrieving. This strategy reduces snags and improves casting accuracy. Obviously, it's essential to use good judgment to find a safe and stable platform from which to fish.
How to Gear Up for Success
Since most breakwall access involves walking a distance from your vehicle, it's essential to bring the right gear to be successful.
When gearing up, he prefers low maintenance, low-cost options.
Rod and reel combo – Liskay uses a longer rod, at least 7 1/2 to 8 1/2 feet in length. The long rod helps him cast farther and maneuver lures (and hooked fish) around the breakwall rocks. Most brands with a medium-light to medium action will work just fine.
He likes using a 2500 to 3000 size spinning reel to make longer casts. He recommends a sound drag system since part of the battle occurs near the rocks, but the reel doesn't have to be pricey.
String up a good 8- to 10-pound test line. He prefers the heavier test since the 10-pound is slightly more abrasion resistant. At the end of the line, tie on a Duolock rather than a snap swivel to swap-out lures easily.
Crankbaits/Jerkbaits/Stickbaits: Reef Runners, Rapalas, and Smithwicks are solid options. These lures are staples for walleye, largemouth, and smallmouth. Colors vary and include chrome/blue, clown, shad, and a white belly color to imitate baitfish.
Liskay Pro Tip: Make sure there is some cadence to the lure retrieval. Create an erratic rhythm using rod action, reel action, or both. Use multiple variations of a 'go, go, pause,' retrieval strategy. The pause is critical—and play with the timing of retrieval. Make sure you take a long enough pause.
Spoons: K.O. Wobblers and Little Cleos are reliable in colors like chrome blue and silver, chrome and chartreuse, orange, and green and white.
Liskay Pro Tip: Because these are sinking lures, count them down to the column of water you want to fish. Tie on a spoon, cast it out, and leave the bail open to count down the spoon to the bottom. Once you get the depth, then you can experiment with different counts. If you're throwing close to rocks, just splash it and go.
Plastics: The go-to options are colors like pumpkinseed to match gobes and baitfish colors like pearl and white. Twister tails, tube jigs, and swimbaits are all excellent choices.
Liskay Pro Tip: Paddle tail swimbaits are a favorite off the wall. Strategies include bringing them straight back, jigging them off the bottom, and staircasing them up the rocks.
Net and tools: A long net is essential, and keep a pair of pliers handy for hook removal.
Liskay Pro Tip: One of the biggest challenges of fishing a breakwall is landing the fish. Work under the assumption that you'll catch fish and think about how to get that fish in safely if you're alone. The buddy system also works, whether it's with a fishing partner or a nearby angler who offers a helping hand.
How to Fish a Breakwall Strategies and Tips
Before you rush out there, take visual surveillance of the surroundings, then you can scout out a good spot.
Don't cast directly out into the lake. Cast on a diagonal and retrieve your lure parallel to the rocks if you have access (but don't encroach on other anglers).
Complacency is the enemy. Work your way up and down the wall.
Look for birds nearby feeding on baitfish and the occasional fish feeding on the surface. If you're an astute listener, you will hear some fish splash the surface, and surfacing fish is a good sign of feeding activity nearby.
Fish the invisible structure of dirty and clean water. Fishing is better on days when the water has a little mystery better than on crystal clear days.
Expect the hits to be a little quicker and more aggressive when you're fishing closer to the rocks. Predatory fish rely on stealth and ambush tactics.
Get the lure working. The fish may follow it as it changes speed and will hit it at the last second, in the final five to ten cranks.
Check for the best weather conditions. Fishing is often best when you're a little wary of being on the rocks. Windy conditions give predator fish an advantage over their prey. A good 1- to 3-foot chop and a light to moderate wind of 8 to 12 mph are perfect.