Winkelman: Two Tactics For Fall Walleyes Off The Dock

OK, I’ll be honest: My boat helps me catch fish; the motor gets me to my spots fast; sonar and GPS helps me find fish; and the electric trolling motor gives me great boat control for pinpoint bait presentations.

But … none of those things take away from my fondness for catching fish off a dock! The magic of dock fishing experiences as a little kid never leave you. So, when a friend called the other day to say, “the bite is on off my dock,” I jumped in the truck and went right over to his place on a nearby lake!

Babe Winkelman

As is typical for a good walleye bite during the cool autumn months, the action had been happening after sunset. His dock was situated in proximity to a steep break into deep water, where a short flip cast would put a bait into about 15 feet of water and a long cast would land you in 35-plus feet. Steep structure such as that is perfect for walleyes since it allows them to relate to bottom structure while feeding at a variety of depths in the water column.

I arrived at my buddy’s cabin about a half-hour after sunset and strolled down to the dock with two fishing rods in my hand. One was a spinning rod rigged with a Rod-N-Bobb’s slip-sinker above a hair jig, The other rod was set with a classic Lindy Rig and a circle hook.

Slip-bobbering for walleyes is a dynamite technique and one of my personal favorites. I intended to start the evening with that rig, and to tip my jig with a jumbo leech. But when I got out to the dock, my pal already had a line out with that very thing. So I decided to start with the Lindy Rig instead.

The reason for this is simple: whenever you have two or more lines in the water targeting the same fish species, it’s smart to present different baits. This way you can more effectively cover the spectrum of lure size, color, live bait selection, and depth. If the fish continually hammer one bait and not another, then you can roll with the punches and switch to what’s working best on a particular day or night.

Since my friend was already out with a leech, I opted for a Lindy Rig with a large shiner minnow to get the evening started. I hooked the minnow through the meat below his dorsal fin, rather than lip-hooking him. For set lines, a back-hooked minnow can swim around a lot more freely than if he’s lip-hooked. Now, if I was jigging and swimming the minnow in with a retrieve, then I would definitely opt for the lip hook.

After hooking my shiner, I lob-casted the Lindy Rig out into about 20 feet of water. It’s good to use a gentle lob cast to ensure that you don’t cast your bait off the hook (which can happen easily with aggressive casting). When my sinker found bottom, I put my rod in a rod holder and left my bail open. This way, if a fish hit, he could immediately begin running with the minnow as line played out through my Lindy slip-sinker.

Uses Tissue Paper Strike Indicator
And here’s a handy tip for this kind of fishing — especially when doing it in the dark — take a little piece of tissue paper and get it wet; then wrap it around your line beyond the rod tip and give it a little pinch to peg it to your line. If you look up and that tissue is gone, or it has moved, a fish is running with your minnow! It’s a nice little trick when dock fishing at night.

About 10 minutes passed when I suddenly noticed my “tissue paper strike indicator” was slowly being pulled away. I looked at my reel and the fish was peeling line at a fairly healthy clip. Oh boy was I excited! I gave that walleye a lot of time with the minnow, knowing I could because I was using a circle hook. With such a hook, a fish can take live bait all the way down into the stomach, but not get “gut hooked.”

Here’s how a circle hook works (and worked on this particular fish that night) … the walleye grabbed the minnow, swam away and swallowed it. Meanwhile, the fisherman (me) closed the bail and reeled up slack line. As soon as there was line tension, I didn’t set the hook. No, I just started reeling and the fight was on! That’s the beauty of a circle hook. It pulls right up out of the fish’s stomach and throat and when it gets to the corner of a fish’s mouth, it curls around and embeds. It’s the best way to harmlessly catch fish using live bait and ensure a safe release. The key is to NOT set the hook! Just reel.

That walleye was pushing 26 inches, and he went back into the lake unscathed. As the night went on, both the Lindy Rig and slip-bobber produced several fish. Three of them were right around 16 inches. They went on the stringer!

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One Response to “Winkelman: Two Tactics For Fall Walleyes Off The Dock”

  1. Gary Grishaber Jr

    Thanks for all your shared stories and fishing and bait techniques . Fishing ,golf and of course baseball are such great opportunities we have to spend time with family and friends. Keep the stories coming, Hopefully, more people will find time to enjoy these stories and give up all the poor publicity we see on social media.