How to fish the little-known—and astonishing—summer walleye hot spot found on large, shallow lakes


Don’t ask me how this incredible walleye pattern has flown for so long under the radar screens of so many walleye anglers—it is one of life’s mysteries. Dr. Paul Cooley first got onto the midday walleye/shiner spawn beach pattern as a youngster fishing in Lake Winnipeg. Then, he documented it as a scientist, while working with Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Paul outlined every detail for us when we talked with him recently on our Doc Talks Fishing podcast.  Here are some of the key takeaways to get you excited:


Why are larger lakes like Lake Winnipeg, Lake Manitoba, Lake Erie and Last Mountain Lake so unique from a walleye/shiner forage perspective?

  • These large lakes are shallow for their size, and what you have in these basins are largely pelagic communities. So, you’re seeing a lot of fish that swim in open water. And sometimes they go near shore. That is when the Grand Slam happens.
  • What we found was that the thermal structure of the lakes, as they get larger, the thermocline starts to wave. The upper waters are separated from the bottom waters when they stratify, but in larger lakes the thermoclines start to oscillate. This means its nutrients can pass through that barrier.
  • The vast majority of lakes like Lake Winnipeg are pretty featureless. It’s just a big plate. The walleye are roamers and you can catch them just about anywhere. But there’s a certain time of year when the shiners come ashore.
  • Then the walleyes can use the edge structure, kind of like they do in Precambrian Shield lakes. So when the shiners move ashore, there’s only one way out and that’s past the walleye. Once they get them up shallow, that’s where some exciting fishing happens

I think we’re going to shock everyone now, Paul, because the best spots for the pattern is the last place that a walleye angler would look. And that’s where everybody is sitting on a beach. The sandy warm beaches under the hottest, calmest conditions possible. That is best walleye fishing, right?

  • It’s the truth. When I was young, we went to the beach one day and I brought my fishing rod just for the heck of it. And boy was that a fun day. I went home and told my father, “Dad, look what just happened.
  • It took five or six years to put the pattern together, to understand what the conditions were when it would set up well. You really had to watch the weather closely. So we stumbled onto it luckily the first time, and it took quite a while for us to learn what it was.

How do we know when the shiners are hitting the beaches and getting ready to spawn?


  • There are times when the beach is filled with shiners. There’s no mistaking it. The signs of them are everywhere. Later in life, I was in university and working with Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Freshwater Institute, and we were actually doing beach seine surveys, circumnavigating most of Lake Winnipeg.
  • We were dragging 100 metre long beach seines sampling for science. That’s really when I looked at this and said, okay, now I really understand what’s happening here.
  • There would be some days you would drag for a hundred meters and the seine was so heavy.  It’s the conditions that set up, and the time of year when they come ashore.

So, what are the perfect conditions and how do we identify them?

  • It all depends on the wind. So it will start to set up about right now. The shiners come ashore at the summer peak period. Like you’re going from spring transitioning into summer.
  • Lakes are starting to set up their thermal structure. The trees are vibrant green. Everything is just growing and you’re moving out of spring and into summer. And that’s when the shiners are coming ashore, and when it’s calm to spawn. So they’re coming up on the beaches and they’re spawning in shallow water.
  • We found it takes about two days, but a 20-kilometre wind will bust this pattern up. But if you have two days of calm weather in mid-June, when the summer peak is peaking, it doesn’t have to be perfectly calm, just not a lot of wave action because the fish literally want to get on the sides of the sandbars.
  • The walleyes are in water less than waist deep when the shiners come in. We’ve actually seen schools of them crossing two-foot deep sandbars. And we got in trouble from mothers because we were trolling too close to families.
  • We were quite far away, but you know how people are careful about their kids.
  • But when people weren’t in the water, we’d be much closer to shore—oftentimes in less than three feet of water. It’s a tremendous thing. But it’s all about the setup. It it takes two calm days before the shiners come in.

And the best beaches are pure sand, right? That is crazy!


  • Yeah, it’s true. Like there’s a lot of areas that are quasi beaches. There’ll be some boulders here and there, some weeds, but they’re not areas where deposition occurs. So if you’ve got plants living, that’s not the habitat.
  • The best beaches tend to be crescent -shaped. When you walk down a beach, every step you take, you’re getting a little bit deeper. And I think that’s why they really prefer those environments.

Time it right and how good is the walleye fishing?

  • We pulled up on a beach one day and it was 28°C (82°F) degrees and not a breath of wind. It was 10:30 in the morning. And it was calm as glass. Right away, I jumped down, get our tackle and I’m putting lures on. And we hear this noise in the lake. And my wife, Kathy, says, “What’s that?”  You know, being the scientist, I say, “it’s just the lake giving off gas.”
  • It was thousands of shiners jumping for their lives. You could see walleyes, you wouldn’t see the fish itself, but in the shallow water, you could see strings of shiners going from left to right. And these fish were coming in like sharks.
  • For five hours we got sunburned. We caught fish up to 29-inches. My wife caught the angriest walleye I’ve ever seen. It was a 27-inch walleye. And you know when you catch a little 18-inch walleye, they throw up their dorsal spines and stick out their gill plates and opercula. This was a 27-inch fish and I couldn’t get it out of the bottom of the boat it was so angry. They were so incredibly turned on. They were still biting when we left.

Finally, cast or troll?  What is your preference?

  • For this particular pattern, the lure I would tell you to get, you can’t buy anymore. They were made by a company called Lazy Ike and it’s a small banana bait. And there was a perch pattern, which has a green back and sort of a golden side with a tinge of orange on it.
  • Drag a lure like a Lazy Ike or Flatfish, something that’s dark that contrasts strongly against the sand. Remember, you’re up shallow.
  • If the pattern is really happening, you can fish 10 feet behind the boat while you’re trolling. It doesn’t matter.  We’re typically 40 to 45 metres (120 to 135 feet) behind the boat trolling sort of an S pattern in closer to the sandbar, a little bit out, a little bit in, a little bit out. And even though you’re catching fish on your first pass, keep going because the beach is kilometres long and the best schools might be at the other end.
  • The biggest fish are in the biggest schools. So at least for the first few passes when you get there, even if you’re catching fish, trudge forward. Don’t stay on the fish because there’s probably somewhere else where it’s actually a bit better.
  • Basically eight pound test and lures that only get down four feet. So shallow water lures that are oscillating a lot and making a lot of noise. I don’t typically use baits with rattles in these in these conditions because the the bill or lip of your diving lure is going to be rubbing in the sand anyway, and that’s that’s making tons of noise in shallow water.
  • You don’t need to troll. all the time either. All you have to do is cast because every cast you’re catching a fish. These beaches are kilometres long. They move from time to time, so find them, work an area for a while and they tend to stick there.
  • We now have warm weather and just the small shiners are coming ashore. We’re finding the fishing is the best in the middle of the day. We’ll fish for three hours and almost catch nothing at 10:00 o ‘clock, 10:30, 11:00 in the morning. Just when people start to come out on the beach, the shiners move in and the fishing starts.
  • There has been times we’ve had to leave because it’s so hot you get sunburned. And we’ve tested it late in the day. We’ll go out at like 4:00 o’clock and we’ll hit them for an hour or two. And then in the evening it slows down. So we’ve always said, lunchtime is the best time to catch walleyes on the beaches.

To listen to the entire walleye/shiner podcast with Dr. Paul Cooley CLICK HERE or tune into Doc Talks Fishing on your favourite podcast provider.