After waves break onto a shoreline, gravity causes the water to rush back down into the lake, where it’s pulled into the next breaking wave. This powerful sucking action is known as a reverse current or, more commonly, an undertow. The area of water affected by the undertow is roughly double the height of the waves. For example, three-foot waves will churn up the top six feet of the water column.
Walleye will avoid getting caught in the undertow, so there’s no sense fishing right in it. But these opportunistic predators will work the outer edges below the undertow, feeding on creatures banged up by the rough water. In situations such as this, try trolling crankbaits that run a foot or two below the churning water. You can also try other presentations that will stay close to bottom, such as bottom bouncers with spinners, or big jigs.
Last summer, I had guests at my cabin who really wanted to go fishing. The lake was rough, with four-foot rollers, but since my friends only had one day to fish, we decided to give it a try.
Our only choice was a bay close to the launch that was somewhat sheltered, but still had big rollers coming in. So I kept the boat tracking along over 10 feet of water, just outside the undertow, while we pulled bottom bouncers and spinners tipped with leeches. The walleye bite was absolutely insane. We had multiple hook-ups, making it one of my best outings of the year.