It’s almost like walleye angers want to start going into “panic mode” this time of year. They know that the fall of the year means two things: the walleye bite can be the best it’s been all year and they have only a few precious fishing trips left before winter settles in. So the questions are, “Where to go?” and “What will be the best way to catch ‘em?” Fortunately, fall of the year offers plenty of choices, so no matter what type of walleye water you call “home”, there’s a real opportunity for you to get in on some great fishing right now.
Depending on where you’re located in “Walleye Country”, your home water may be a natural lake, a reservoir or one of the Great Lakes. Which type of lake you fish will play a big part in determining what the best presentation will be for targeting fall walleyes. While rivers also offer great fall opportunities, we’ll leave that discussion for another day.
From the plains of the Dakotas to the eastern reaches of the Ohio Valley, natural lakes abound, and many hold very fishable numbers of walleyes. As the waters cool from their summer peak, walleyes in these lakes begin to congregate in defined areas, often along deep weed edges or on main-lake reef structures. Finesse tactics like live bait rigging, jigging or jig trolling are all good bets. As for bait, larger-than-average sized minnows are often preferred, but that doesn’t mean crawlers won’t trigger plenty of bites as well. True, crawlers can be very tough to find this late in the season, but if you’re lucky enough to have some in reserve, they can be the ticket. One presentation in particular that we’ve been having great success with, in all sorts of livebait rigging situations, is a technique called “Slow Death”. It’s one of those techniques that pros and other anglers “in-the-know” have been utilizing but keeping a bit under wraps for several seasons now. It’s a modification of the bottom bouncer live bait rig that triggers otherwise non-biting walleyes like nothing else.
The secret to Slow Death is in the hook. In the past, we’d take a size #2 Mustad Aberdeen hook and bend it in such a way that it would spin when slowly pulled behind a bouncer. We then dress it with half a nightcrawler, covering the hook right up to the eye and leaving about a half to quarter inch of crawler dangling off the back of the hook. This rig has proved very deadly when you need to cover water but want to do it with a “power finesse” attitude. Mustad has now introduced a hook designed specifically for this tactic, appropriately enough called the Slow Death Hook model 33862. It comes in 3 finishes, red, bronze and gold, and has the perfect bend to give the action needed to make this presentation work.
Cranks can also be a good option for natural lakes in the fall, but it is typically a night-bite scenario. The walleyes that are relating to the deep edges during the day will move up to the top of structure after dark, where slow trolling shallow running stick baits for them can be very effective.
If your home water is, or resembles, one of the western reservoirs like those found across the Dakotas, your approach to catching walleyes will need to be a bit more aggressive. These are expansive lakes, with tons of structure and water to cover in order to locate walleyes staging up for the cold water season. This often a two-pronged approach, trolling crankbaits to locate fish on expansive structure, then if concentrated pods of fish are located you can slow down and pick them off with finesse presentations.
The key is to fish sharp breaking structure. In the fall the walleyes on these waters like to relate to steep breaks, whether that be off the edge of large main-lake flats or large main-lake points. Contour trolling crankbaits with lead core line is a tactic that excels under these conditions. The lead core allows you to fish a variety of depths along the break by varying your trolling speed. Slow down, and the lead core sinks, speed up and the lead core raises the bait. Lead core tolling seems to work best with smaller, shallow running crankbaits like the Berkley Flicker Shads in the 5 cm size.
If you find walleyes bunched up on specific spots like a shelf on a point or in the cups (inside turns of the point), then working them over with a live bait rig of some sort tipped with a large minnow (four to six inch Creek Chubs are a great choice where they’re available) will get you plenty of action.
The Great Lakes:
Fall can be a fabulous time to get in on some real trophy walleye fishing on The Great Lakes. Areas like the central basin of Lake Erie, the Bay de Noc are of Lake Michigan and the Bay of Quinte region of Lake Ontario are all famous for their fall runs of big walleyes. This is open water trolling country, but it’s not the same as the open water trolling done on these waters in the summer months.
These walleyes still migrate toward structure in the fall, but “structure” on The Great Lakes is relative compared to other walleye waters. Where you might have traveled twenty miles off shore to locate schools of Lake Erie walleyes in the summer, this time of year those fish move closer to shore and you may find yourself only venturing a couple miles out to contact fish. They are on the move because they’re migrating toward the areas where they’ll spawn in the spring and on many of these waters the bait fish move to structure to spawn in the fall.
This is the time of year on many of these waters that night fishing is at its peak. Large, shallow running crankbaits trolled over large flats or just off large reef structures can be very productive. Of course night fishing offers a whole new set of challenges. You’ll still want to utilize such trolling accessories as in-line boards like Off Shore Tackle’s OR-12 Side Planers, to spread your lures out and cover water. But at night, seeing and thus reading those boards to see bites can be tough. Adding small disposable lights or glow-sticks to the board’s flag will help by allowing you to see your boards as you troll.
The fall of the year can be a trying time for anyone that loves the outdoors. There are so many things that peak this time of the season … there’s the kid’s school activities, hunting is in full swing, you want to follow your favorite gridiron team and fishing is at a peak for many species. It’s no wonder many of us border on panic and exhaustion trying to fit it all in these few short weeks. But if you’re a hard-core walleye angler, this is the time to be on the water, and chances are you won’t have to go too far to find a good fall walleye bite near you.