It sounds so cliché’ but it’s true, fall is a time of change. Change in the leaves, in the weather, and most importantly (at least to walleye anglers), a change in walleye mood and location. Summer is gone, and so are the days of super aggressive fish and speed trolling presentations. Now’s the time to bring things down a notch or two, and take a slow boat to walleye success.
We’re not saying that fall walleyes are an unaggressive lot … this time of year they’re known to be actively feeding to build reserves to get them through the winter and into the spawning season. However, they aren’t the “no-holes-barred” kind of aggressive feeders that will chase down a lure zipping by at Mach 3. Their environment is cooling down, and that slows them down. You could say they take on a “passive-aggressiveness” attitude, feeding almost continually, but not willing to work real hard at it.
What all this means to you as a walleye fisherman is you need to think “slow” when you choose baits and presentations this time of year. As with walleye fishing any time of year, it’s best to locate the fish before you start fishing them. Remember, you’re fishing slow, so you’re not covering much water. Concentrate your efforts where “marks and arcs” are seen.
When it comes to choosing the best presentation this time of year, it depends on what type of water you’re fishing. A lot of anglers head for big water looking for big fish in the fall, and for that it’s tough to beat trolling crankbaits. While you may think of crankbait trolling as a “speedy” way to go, in the fall it’s imperative that you stick with sticks … stickbaits that is. These are subtle action baits, perfect for slow trolling autumn walleyes.
Baits such as these are not designed to dive very deep, so in order to get them to depths where the fish are will take some form of weighting system. This is the perfect scenario for Off Shore Snap Weights. A typical set up might go something like this … you’ve marked fish at 20 feet down over 25 feet of water. Run the lure out 50 feet, then attach a 1 ounce Snap Weight. Now let out another 50 feet of “dropper line”, and you’re in business. With the boat moving along at 1 mph, you’ll be putting that crankbait in the 17 to 20 foot depth range … right on target for getting those big walleyes to bite. To cover more water, and run more baits, you can spread your pattern out using Off Shore Side Planer in-line boards. These boards work especially well at these super-slow speeds because they are ballasted. An unballasted board would have the tendency to flop over and not run effectively with the added weight at such speeds.
Trolling speeds will fall somewhere in the area of 1 mph … extremely slow by trolling standards. A kicker motor like the Mercury 4-stroke 9.9 or 15 hp model is essential to get those kinds of speeds. Keep in mind, you will always have better speed and boat control if you set up your trolling passes to go with the wind. Walleyes will tend to be schooled in tight, concentrated packs this time of year, so when you contact fish, pull up, circle around and set up to come through the same area again. A good GPS unit, like the Lowrance GlobalMap 6000 makes this very easy. When you catch a fish, put out an icon (sort of an electronic buoy marker) and then watch the GPS as you circle back. By following the original plot trail laid down by the GPS, you can duplicate the original trolling path exactly, even in open water fisheries like Lake Erie or any of the other Great Lakes famous for their fall fishing.
There will be times when you’ll find fall walleyes to be much shallower, and there won’t be the need to add so much weight to a subtle action lure to get it in the strike zone. For instance, a Storm Jr. ThunderStick will run about 5 feet deep on 120 feet of 10# Trilene XT. Let’s say you’ve located some nice fish in 8 feet of water and you want to run the bait just over the top of them. This is where you can try a technique known as “Pinning” the crankbait. Here, you simply add a medium sized split shot (about a size #7) or two smaller split shot (size #3) about 5 feet up the line in front of the lure. This actually serves two purposes … it does add a little depth to the lure, but more importantly, it changes the attitude, or angle at which the crankbait is running. This helps give a shallow running lure more of a “side-to-side roll”, which is a deadly action for triggering walleyes.
Going slow for fall walleyes doesn’t only pertain to trolling either. Vertical jigging is another dynamite tactic for taking fall fish, especially in rivers. The key is to keep your jigging motion slow and methodical. While a vigorous “Pop and Drop” with a Buck Shot Rattle Jig might be just the ticket with active spring river ‘eyes, a more subtle “Lift, Pause, Lower” cadence will be more apt to entice walleyes this later part of the season.
River location will be different in the fall too. Pinpoint your efforts on the edges of the deeper holes near springtime spawning locations. Walleyes will stage in these areas in the fall and take up residence throughout the winter months until their biological clocks send them to their shallow spawning grounds in the spring.
Fall walleye fishing may call for some serious “slow down” tactics, but by no means is this a period of slow fishing action. The autumn winds may be blowing brisk against your cheeks, but the fishing will be more than enough to keep you toasty, hook-set after hook-set.