TOLEDO, Ohio (WTVG) - For many of us, catching big walleyes is something you need to run miles out into Lake Erie to do. Most of the schools of big fish chase forage well off shore. But, this is the time of year when you can find walleye on the rocks, especially after the sun goes down.
"Walleyes feed heavily to prepare for the winter and spring spawning," said Ohio Department of Natural Resources Fisheriers Biologist Travis Hartman. "The fish they feed on, especially gizzard shad move into the shallows because the water is warmer and the walleye follow the food."
From Cleveland to the Detroit River, breakwalls, rocky points, and near shore reef structures will attract big walleyes looking to feed after dark. October, November, and even December are prime months to find those fish. They're feeding on shad, shiners, and perch.
"Any sort of crankbait like a Smithwick or Rapala Husky Jerk that mimics those perch and shad will catch walleyes, right now," according to James Soricelli of Maumee Bait and Tackle.
Soricelli says to wait about an hour after the sun goes down, then head down to areas of rocky shoreline. He says a long cast and slow retrieve will catch fish. But, be careful because those rocky areas can sometimes be hazardous to navigate. You can catch actively feeding fish all night long, but also be prepared to lose some lures. The rocks claim their fair share of snags.
"Metzger Marsh. Catawba Island, and Luna Pier are all good locations for walleye this time of year," says Soricelli. "You can also catch them below the dam in the Maumee at Grand Rapids."
Saugeyes, a walleye-sauger hybrid, mimic the same behavior on area upground reservoirs. Some anglers use headlamps and walk the rocky shorelines until they see the reflective glow from the eyes of saugeyes in the shallows. Crankbait techniques are effective for those fish, too.
"They're hybrids, so they don't have offspring, but they still produce eggs and have similar behavior," says the ODNR's Hartman.
Some upground reservoirs to try are Wauseon in Fulton County; the Findlay Reservoirs in Hancock County, and Veteran's Memorial in Fostoria.
Back on Lake Erie, the action isn't just confined to shore. Boat angler can also get in on it.
Captain Paul Holzheimer of Bad Habit Walleye and Perch Charters is a veteran Lake Erie walleye guide: "We troll crankbaits in shallow areas at night in October and November. We get some of our biggest fish of the year that way. The area from Cleveland to Huron to the Islands and Port Clinton can be very good."
Night trolling can take practice. Specialized equipment like glow lights are used to illuminate planer boards. Heavier trolling rods are used, but the lures, crankbaits like Bayrats and Bombers remain the same. And navigating after dark takes patience and caution.
"It's work, but it's fun, too, and there are some big fish to be caught this time of year," said Holzheimer.
Remember to dress for the weather. Night fishing in our colder months can take a toll. Dress in layers, and have a place you can go to warm up. While it's not always easy fishing, the pay off is that the fish are accessible to a lot more anglers in close or from shore. And, because big fish move in to feed on the rocks, you could be rewarded with a trophy walleye.