Two things happen without fail every September – walleyes become tougher to catch than the last minnow in the baitwell and kids in many states return to school after an extended summer vacation.
It’s a good time for anglers to learn a few new lessons, as well. After all, as some old sage once muttered, “If you aren’t learning, you must be stupid.”
While that might be a bit harsh, it does ring true in some respects.
Most of us have the ABCs of walleye fishing down pat, but we don’t know what to do during that September shutdown when our favorite species and our favorite locations stop producing.
It’s transition time for walleyes in many bodies of water. Cool nights and hot days keep water temperatures rising and falling, which never seems to have a positive effect. Forage is also more abundant than at any time of year, making it that much tougher to coax a walleye into eating jigs, crankbaits and even our traditional live bait offerings.
Many anglers simply give up or turn to other species. They are missing out on an outstanding opportunity to further their own education. Accept the fact that it will be more difficult to catch fish, but don’t accept the notion that they can’t be caught.
Ultimately, it’s all about advancing our angling education. September fishing by conventional means is tough. Our challenge is to crack the secret on our favorite body of water by thinking outside the old tackle box.
If we’re successful, we’ve added one more month of enjoyable and productive open water fishing to the calendar.
If not, we’ve at least learned some new techniques, broadened our horizons and gained a better understanding of how to make the most efficient use of the tools available to us. In turn, that makes us better anglers when the fish are cooperative. And eventually, those lessons will help solve the September mystery.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to the September coursework that will make you a wiser, more successful walleye angler throughout the open-water season and particularly when the going gets tough:
– Elements of literature: Catch up on your reading before you hit the water. Find out what the pros are doing to get September walleyes to bite. Read up on a new technique you haven’t tried or considered and give it a whirl.
– Writing fundamentals: You do keep a log of your days on the water, right? If not, it’s a good time to start one. Take note of water temperature, wind direction and strength, recent and current weather fronts, water levels, moon phases and current flow, if applicable. Record the presentations that didn’t work, the ones (if any) that did, and things you wish you would have tried.
– Physical education 101: How versatile an angler are you? Hung up on trolling crankbaits on lead-core line? Insist on slip-bobber fishing no matter where you go or when you fish? Hooked on jigs? Now’s the time to learn a new skill or perfect one you haven’t used a lot. You might even discover that you enjoy casting cranks or trolling jigs.
– Biology: Understand that rapid and drastic changes in their environment often send walleyes into a funk. React accordingly by trying more subtle and more precise presentations, whether it’s bottom bouncers, three-way rigs or still-fishing with live bait on slip bobbers or Lindy rigs. Know, too, that with the abundance of forage available in September, it’s often prudent to give the fish a look they don’t see every 10 minutes. If there’s one time of year when matching the hatch isn’t always the right approach, it’s September.
– Philosophy: Anglers in general fall for many of the old myths that exist about fishing. Remember when it was said that walleyes couldn’t be caught on nightcrawlers in water less than 50 degrees? Remember when it was widely accepted that crankbaits were worthless in cold water? Remember when we thought summer walleyes were strictly a deep-water fish? Remember when our grandfathers used to tell us that walleyes didn’t bite in August and September because they lost their teeth and their mouths became sore? Every one of those theories has been proven wrong. There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to fishing. Today’s technology boom is the product of anglers who have been willing to try something different and go against the grain.
– Social studies: Unlike our kids, walleyes spend the summer in schools. By now, they’re beginning to disperse. Accept this fact and use it to your advantage. Don’t expect to catch great numbers of walleyes in any one location. Remain mobile and hit multiple spots.
– History: Somewhere during the past 20 years, we’ve lost touch with many methods that produced a lot of fish for our ancestors. When’s the last time you put a piece of crawler on a hook with a split shot or a Lindy No-Snagg sinker and simply drifted a piece of structure? Have you ever taken the time to anchor up on a rockpile and fished with bobbers? How about snap-jigging? Sometimes, taking a step back in time leads to a major step forward.
– Geography: Chances are, experience has shown you a lot of places where September walleyes don’t live. Look at a map and explore areas you wouldn’t normally consider. Maybe you’ve avoided flooded timber because it eats jigs. Now’s the time to learn how to fish it and what can be fished effectively. A Lindy Vegi-Jig has always been a good choice for me. Explore other place you haven’t been, too. As the late summer water begins to cool and oxygen levels improve everywhere, there’s nowhere a walleye won’t go to find an easy meal. There aren’t many places they can’t find one, either, with everything from shad, shiners, chubs, willow cats, minnows and juvenile gamefish to leechs, crawlers, salamanders, crayfish, frogs and grubs available.
– Home economics: Learn to tie a new knot. There’s no question that some knots give a crankbait better action than others. You should know them all and use them accordingly. Expand the menu. If you’ve been hung up on jigs tipped with live bait, give an Uncle Josh Kalin grub or a Sizmic lizard a chance. It might be that something different that triggers a strike. Been content to spool your trolling reels with one of today’s super lines? You’ll get more consistent hook-ups and keep more fish hooked all the way to the boat using a low-stretch line like Yo-Zuri Hybrid. Maybe you’re also reluctant to employ planer boards. Now’s a good time to get comfortable with them and learn what a set of Off-Shore boards can mean to your catch.
– Advanced math: In many states, it’s legal to use more than one hook per line. And if the fish aren’t eating the Lindy Fuzz-E Grub you’ve been bouncing or the Normark Shad Raps you’ve been trolling, try putting them together. Try running two cranks on the same line to see if the difference in action elicits strikes. Try using two markedly different styles of cranks on a three-way rig like a deep-diving Husky Jerk as a dropper and a shallow Shad Rap as the trailer. Try a double-jig combo tipped with either live bait or plastic. Try running spinner and crawler rigs in tandem with a slow-wobbling crank.
– Chemistry: Since the fish aren’t exactly jumping in the boat, try some new formulas. There are a variety of topical scents you can apply to your jigs and crankbaits. Conduct an experiment and see if they make a difference. Even if it doesn’t improve your catch immediately, it could make a major difference at another time in another place. Ditto for plastics.
– Technology today: This course is a must. If you’re like a lot of anglers, you know enough about your Lowrance 113CHD sonar and GPS units, your Mercury four-stroke kicker and your MinnKota bow mount to get by, but you’re not using them to their full capability. Take a few minutes to re-read the Lowrance manual, then go out and learn how to fine-tune your display to fit the present situation or how to store routes and identify icons quickly. Adjust the sensitivity settings for maximum definition of fish with minimum interference. As far as your motors go, when the wind presents an opportunity, learn how to use them together for perfect boat control. I use my Mercury for power and my MinnKota for direction, and it keeps my Triton tracking exactly where I want it. All of these lessons will help you catch more fish.
– Art for anglers: No, it’s not time to paint a mural. It is time to put your imagination to work. We know from experience what doesn’t work, so why not try some things you’ve never tried before. Ever seen a walleye with a banged-up nose and broken teeth? Chances are, they’ve been slamming into rocks trying to dislodge crayfish. What might a crayfish do on the end of your line? Tried a crawler on a regular bait hook with little success? How about giving a half-crawler on a bent hook that wobbles or spins differently in the water a try? Convinced there are walleyes tucked into the boulders on your favorite reef or wingdam or hanging among the branches of submerged timber, but can’t get them to bite? Maybe a precise presentation like drop-shotting is the way to draw them out. Hung up on bouncing round-head jigs and not having any luck with them in September? Switch it up and try a different head style like a stand-up jig that you can slowly inch across the bottom. If you’re stuck on trolling, try adding an in-line spoon as an attractor. If there’s a bug hatch taking place, try trolling with a fly or a couple of flies together.