It won’t be long before late fall delivers a left-right-left combination that knocks many anglers onto the sofa in front of a warm fire, perfectly content to quit rather than fight.
“Fishing?” they ask when you call on one of those frosty, overcast mornings. “Have you spent too much time in the sun this summer?”
Undeterred, there are those of us who will keep on fishing even after the early ducks are long gone, and there’s a fresh deer in the freezer. As long as the boat landings can be used, there are fish that can be caught, and the fewer opportunities that remain, the more determined we become not to waste any of them.
Cold and ugly aren’t in our vocabulary when visions of big, brawny walleyes are dancing in our heads. However, it pays to be as efficient as possible and have a solid game plan in place before embarking on these late-season adventures.
Since there will be days when nobody wants to tag along, make sure somebody knows where you have gone and what time you plan to be home. Most of the time, cellphones enable us to keep our family and friends abreast of any complications that might develop, but they aren’t foolproof, either. Dead batteries, poor signal strength or a drop in the drink could leave you stranded in a dangerous situation if you haven’t left word with somebody regarding your intentions and whereabouts.
It also pays to be prepared for icy ramps or even a blizzard. Some items that could save the day include a shovel, a bag of sand (for traction), a bag of ice-melt, a towing strap and a small, portable heater in case you break down or slide off the road and get stuck in the middle of nowhere. Try to choose a ramp as close to the area you plan to fish as possible to avoid long boat rides that expose you to severe wind chills.
Dress in layers. It’s easy to remove clothing if you become too warm. It’s impossible to add clothing if you don’t have any more. Choose a wind-resistant fabric for your outer shell. Take extra gloves in case one pair gets wet.
Make sure your boat batteries are fully charged. I’ve never had a cold-weather problem with the Optima batteries in my Triton 215X boat.
On the water, another set of issues come to light. Late-season fishing means a constant series of weather fronts that affect fish behavior and location, although not nearly to the extent they do in the spring and summer. In fact, it seems like walleyes become almost immune to all but the most drastic changes in barometric pressure. Since the water temperature is already in the 40s, a cold front isn’t going to change that much. And since a walleye’s mission in life in the days before freeze-up is to eat as much and as often as possible, wind and overcast skies work to an angler’s advantage.
On lakes and reservoirs, seek out wind-blown points and rocky shorelines. Two effective presentations are casting crankbaits like Normark’s Shad Raps or Countdown Rapalas or pitching Lindy Max-Gap jigs that can be tipped with minnows or plastic. In many situations, plastic is a better choice because of the buoyancy it adds to a jig. The slower it falls in shallow water, the better shot a walleye has to see it and eat it.
There will always be a population of walleyes that is content to remain in the deeper water feeding on other species of baitfish, but they can be caught by slowing down with live-bait rigs. One of my favorite ways to fish is to Lindy-rig a redtail chub around deep structure. When you feel that chub begin to get excited at the end of your line, get ready! It’s often the last thing the chub does before being inhaled by a walleye.
Another factor to consider when fishing these cold-front fish in deep water is that the more severe the front, the tighter walleyes seem to position themselves to the steepest parts of the structure. Fish that were scattered around the area during periods of milder weather may stack up on one small spot when the temperature plunges.
If you have trouble locating and catching walleyes on lakes and reservoirs during those nasty November fronts, try a local river. For a number of reasons, these walleyes are even less affected by the late-season weather.
Look for them on shallow flats early and late in the day during low-light periods and throw big plastic at them like the four-inch Thumpin’ Grub or Thumpin’ Ringworm in Lindy’s line of Munchies soft plastic baits.
When that bite dies off, the tailwaters below the dam are a good place to work. Slow-troll the breaklines or edges of the flats and scour holes with three-way rigs tipped with minnows or with Original Floating Rapalas. Work them upstream in this fashion, then jig back down the breaks. If it turns out to be a calm, sunny afternoon, head for the shallows. Rock absorbs sunlight and warms that water which, in turn, attracts baitfish and predators. Pitch jigs or crankbaits to catch these fish.
Late fall is a great time of year to fish. It produces some of the most consistent catches and some of the biggest walleyes of the season. Let your friends and neighbors enjoy that crackling fire. You’ll be dropping walleye fillets in a pan of crackling hot oil if you get out there and do a little front-end damage.