Catching walleye in the sand

by Tim Allard | July 25, 2017

Walleye love sand bars, flats, and shorelines. Grains are good.

sand - walleye

Photo by Eric Engbretson

Rocks typically come to mind when anglers visualize walleye habitat. Stoney points and reefs are classic structures fish use throughout the season. But, in my book, sand is an unsung hero. Walleye love areas littered with these little grains. Who knows, maybe sand tickles their bellies. While sand is ho-hum to watch on a fish finder compared with uneven, rocky terrain, everything changes once you locate a sandy spot-on-spot and your sonar display lights up with fish arcs.

Something a bit more

Admittedly, sand alone rarely attracts walleye. Food is a key factor, and when sandy spots contain additional structure or cover they look better. Any kind of rock is good, and sunken timber gets the nod as well.

Vegetation is another good find. Walleye like weed lines and clumps on sand bars and flats. Sparse grass or moss-like vegetation covering sand are great attractions, too. Minnows, crayfish, and nymphs hide in it, and like a kid with a sweet tooth, walleye know just where to go to find the cookie jar holding goodies.

Forget about light sensitivity

Once upon a time I put a lot of stock in the fact that walleye are light sensitive. I thought they’d cower from the sun, hiding in the shadows like finned vampires. Today, I take this strait with a grain of salt. I don’t ignore light penetration, but fishing sand bars, flats, and beaches has taught me that when walleye are hungry they’ll put up with sunlight.

Each year I spend a few days sight-fishing walleye. They cruise out in the open on shallow and mid-depth sand, acting more like smallmouth than walleye. It’s another reminder that there’s no rule book when it comes to fishing.

I’ll admit though, that even sandy walleye often hug rocks or tuck under a weed canopy for shade. There’s never a sure bet for what walleye will do on sand, but here are three reliable spots to explore.

Cozy up to the bar

Sand bars, also called underwater points, are awesome walleye spots on lakes, rivers, and reservoirs. These structures are travel corridors for fish movements from deep to shallow water. In-transit walleye are often active and willing to bite, making bars a reliable spot to wet a line.

Large structures act as a home, so expect to find walleye shallow on bars in spring, and progressively deeper on structure in summer and fall.

When shortlisting which bars to fish, look for ones that plunge into 40 to 60 feet of water. Walleye like this depth of surrounding water, but aren’t as keen on bars next to depths of 60 feet or more.

Figuring out flats

On many southeastern lakes, it’s hard to go wrong fishing mid-depth sand flats with vegetation. Plants hold walleye food.

Look for patches of sand on thick weedflats, or do the opposite and target weed clumps when flats are more beige than green. Polarized glasses will help you spot these areas of lighter coloured water.

Light penetration limits weed growth on deep flats, so rocks and bottom transitions tend to stack up walleye. Use 2D sonar, side-imaging, and an underwater camera to locate these sweet spots. Then launch your attack.

Sandy wastelands

Many lakes and rivers have beaches and sandy shorelines. Unfortunately, most are like a desert mirage — they look good from afar, but up close the potential vanishes and all you’re left with is sand.

Islands and reefs off of shorelines often mean other structures are in between that can hold walleye.

To avoid disappointment, focus on beaches near other walleye habitat. I like beaches next to deep, forage-rich weeds. Sand bars are also good, especially on rivers where they create current breaks. I also save beaches and sandy shorelines for peak times. I’ll gladly cast a jig or shad crankbait when a beach is pounded by waves because it’s likely walleye will be hunting baitfish in the turmoil.

Beaches and sandy shorelines are also great at night. It’s tough to beat running a shallow-diving crankbait through these areas. It’s easy for walleye to locate the lure given the openness of the area.


Set more hooks over sand

I’ve caught sand-loving walleye on many presentations. Here are some of my favourites.

When fish are hunkered down and cranky, a jig or a drop-shot rig works at any depth. A spinner harness tipped with a night crawler is a reliable choice for walleye scattered over large sand flats.

Use reaction baits when walleye are riled-up and feeding. Crankbaits, jerkbaits, and swimbaits cover water and catch big ‘eyes.

Another tip when fishing sand is to make bottom contact. Whether smacking it with a jigging spoon or pulling a sinker across the floor, the impact creates a silt cloud. Walleye are conditioned to watch for these disturbances, which are produced by feeding fish or startled prey. Stirring up sand attracts walleye like bears to honey.

Don’t snub sandy spots this season. They’re some of the best locations to fish walleye, even when it’s sunny.

Click here for a creamy and delicious walleye and shrimp fondue recipe

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