This month we talk with Captain Pete Dahlberg, otherwise known as Walleye Pete, of Four Seasons Guide Service. Our topic: Finding and fishing shallow water structure.

pete holding a big speckled sea trout
Captain Pete knows how to find some seriously nice fish in the shallows.

Q: Let’s start with gear, what do you throw for a mixed-species bag?

A: My three favorite lures are easy. A 6” BKD or 4” to 5” soft plastic paddletail on a 1/4 to 3/8 ounce jighead. These baits can be worked on and around structure like shallow wrecks, rockpiles, grass beds, current rips, etc.

When the water is 50 to 60 degrees, a hard bait can really help with a finicky bite shallow. I like a Rapala X-rap 10 if in 4’ or less water, or a X-rap 12 in 4’ to 10’ or so. These baits rattle, vibrate, and really draw attention from a distance when the fish aren’t numerous in an area. Work them aggressively and redfish, stripers, and speckled sea trout will all eat them.

When water temps in the spring are warming through the 60s all shallow species will bomb a surface plug. A Storm Chug Bug is one I love. It’s big enough to draw strikes from big stripers but also small enough to be attacked by specks and reds. Throwing well past structure and working back over it is most effective. Don't land the lure right where you think the fish may be or spooking could occur.

As for rods I like a 6’ 8” medium-action rod, or something close is fine, with a 3000 size reel and 14- to 15-pound braid line. Anything heavier impedes long casts with light lures.

Q: What are some of the most important visual cues you look for when prospecting for hotspots?

A: Current and structure are always what I look for. Points with current ripping around or underwater structure with a current rip over it are a huge visual clues for me. I always attempt to position the boat adjacent to these current rips and about 3/4 of a cast away. Staying quiet on the boat is also important. When you’re this close to the spot, stomping, hatch-slamming, music, or big abrupt man voices are bad.

Q: What are some of the ways you use to look for spots that aren’t visible to the naked eye?

A: Before fishing a new area I’m going to use Google Earth for shallow regions, and charts like Navionics and Humminbird’s latest stuff for deeper areas. Another super tool are books by Wayne Young covering the region you are going to fish. His books show structure, give history, and grid coordinates on structure. Once I’m on the water, Humminbird MEGA side-imaging is invaluable for spotting underwater structure that isn’t visible to the eye.

Q: How do you know when the timing is right to fish the shallows versus deeper areas?

A: In spring and fall water temperature is the key thing for me. In spring when I see 50 degrees I will start fishing shallow. I key on days with sun, and afternoons are usually more productive. I like points with a big cove nearby, with sun-warmed water coming out and flowing over a point with a trough of 4’ to 8’ of depth. Many times this situation can see a water temp difference of five to eight degrees from the water in the main-stem Bay. The bigger the difference the better. In the fall when temps drop below 50 degrees shallow life seems to disappear. Bait rolls out to deep water and so do the fish.

Q: Open mic time—is there anything we haven’t discussed that shallow water anglers need to know?

A: One thing which comes to mind is what drives me to fish one region over another. Conditions are the driving factor. Wind direction and speed, tide prediction, and once I’m on-site the water clarity. I don’t care where fish were yesterday if today’s conditions aren’t conducive to fish the area again. Trying to push a square block through a circular hole just doesn't work, so the existing conditions are what rule my location game.

Thank you, Capt. Pete!