I fished out of the south marina on Friday and I worked everything from right next to the rocks out to over 16' deep. I could not find fish on sonar or get any hits in water less than about 10' deep. Most of the fish I saw on my sonar display were in 11 to 13 feet...with some out in the deeper water...but suspended at mid depth. Almost all of the hits I got were on either side of 12'...well off the shoreline.
I watched a lot of boats trolling back and forth along the dikes on Friday...and a few that were casting various lures as they moved slowly down the rocks. I did not see anybody catch anything near shore.
The water levels are dropping and the water temps are getting higher. That combination definitely moves the walleyes out away from the rocks and into deeper water. The other species seem to be following. There are still cats to be caught out of the rocks because some are still spawning in them. And some guys reported catching walleyes on worm rigs in water shallower than 12 feet. It's all a matter of finding the small areas that the fish find attractive...for their own reasons.
There are some guys who have fished it for years and hit it at least a couple of times a week almost all year long. Even the best Willardologist doesn't load up on every trip. Anybody who claims to be able to catch a lot of fish on Willard every trip out will lie about other things too.
But...and a big but (not butt)...like most lakes Willard can almost always produce fish if you can find them...and if they are active. It is no different than most waters. On any given "bad" day for most anglers there will be SOMEBODY who finds the fish and finds what they want and catches a bunch. If you find fish but they won't bite, you have to keep looking for active fish or come up with some way to create a reaction bite.
Most of the downers at Willard are weather related. It has been hot and windy recently. Water temps are climbing and water levels are dropping. All of that combines to move the food (baby shad) around the lake where they concentrate in different areas...and the predators follow. When wind directions change it can totally relocate the best fishing zones quickly. Where you were catching fish yesterday...or earlier the same day...can suddenly go fishless.
We all have our favorite spots on the lake and can usually figure on finding at least something at one of them. But that ain't always the case. Ditto for the lures we use and way we fish them. Anybody that fishes the same areas the same way on every trip is setting themselves up for some disappointment.
One of the best examples is lure size. Once the wipers and walleyes start patterning on the little 1" shad they seem to not be as susceptible to the larger cranks being trolled at mach 6 by most anglers. There are several lure manufacturers that make "bitty bite" cranks that work very well at this time of year. Trolling them slower and nearer the surface sometimes draw the only strikes you will get in a day of fishing. I usually do pretty well through the summer tossing small tube jigs in white or in blue/clear sparkle. And I know guys that catch quite a few large wipers by trolling small plastics too.
On any given day you can probably find a dozen different reasons (excuses) why you didn't catch a lot of fish on Willard. It can be a tough one and no excuses should be necessary. Just saying "I fished Willard today and didn't catch much." is self explanatory. On the days when it all comes together and you catch fish on your favorite lures and in your favorite areas...you are golden. Enjoy it when you can.
I like to get there early. On the days when I show up between 5 and 5:30, both gates are closed. If I get there a few minutes before 6...to wait for the opening...one or both gates are open and there are already several boats launched before I get to the ramp. In other words, it is hard to know what you are going to find. As a general rule you are more likely to find an open gate during the week than on a weekend.
I have caught 20 wipers before noon, and 14 walleye in two hours in the evening before, but that was a while ago. Only fished it once so far this year, but it was too early for trolling.