With the coming of brisk November winds, and cool temps, you might not think of this as a time to be chasing walleyes, but the truth is …. it’s the best time, provided you match the bait “profile”.
It’s well documented that many fish species, and walleyes in particular, put on the feed-bag this time of year in preparation for winter. That means they’re active, and that makes them catchable … especially with crankbaits. That’s not to say you can just toss any ole’ crankbait in the water and expect to catch fish however. There are a few key ingredients to picking the right lure this time of year. Walleyes in late fall are looking for a “Real Meal Deal”, not snacks … and so they tend to be particular about the prey they dine on. They want the most nutrition for energy expended, i.e., big bait … something like a Porterhouse, or a slab of Prime Rib … and finding the right “profile” is what it’s all about.
While most lakes offer walleyes a variety of food choices, there is usually one or two items on the menu that will trigger a response more readily than the rest. On some lakes it might be smelt, on the next it’s Ciscoes or maybe Shad. What ever the case, those baitfish have a particular profile, or shape, that is very recognizable to the walleyes. That’s the profile you want to match when targeting these late season fish.
There are several good methods of finding what forage the walleyes you’re chasing are keying on. Spending time talking to local bait shop owners and other anglers is always a good bet, although by this time of year the vast majority of anglers have stored their boats and taken to more seasonable tasks such as hunting or watching football on weekend afternoons. You’d be surprised how few so-called walleye angling hard-cores are actually out during this potentially “mother-lode” catching season. Usually that means you’re going to have to do the research on your own. Of course, there are hotbeds of activity in certain regions … and in those areas information may be easier to come by, but if you’re looking to find one of those virtually “untouched” fall fisheries … and there are a ton of them out there … prepare to do a little homework. Besides, if a spot is teaming with late fall walleye fishermen, be aware that the best that fishery has to offer has probably already been had.
We’ve seen it time and time again … from Michigan’s Bay De Noc, to the central basin of Lake Erie. While these areas still get plenty of pressure this time of year, the fishing is nothing compared to what it was when the fall bite was first discovered by a handful of hearty guys looking for that last chance to score a bunch of braggin’ size walleyes.
Of course catching a walleye is the best way to find out what his menu preference is … it’s common that when placed in the livewell for a short time, that the evidence will miraculously appear floating around in the water along with the fish … not a pretty picture, but effective. Underwater cameras are compact, easy to use, and are a great tool for finding out what swims below the surface. Typically it’s a matter of cruising a likely area keeping an eye on your locator. On our Lowrance HDS units we look for signs of life, be it the tale-tell arcs of a bigger fish, or more likely the “clouds” of baitfish that will attract walleyes to an area. If you come across an area that shows both baitfish and a few scattered “arcs”, you’ve probably hit pay-dirt! To be sure, this is when you’d lower the lens of the Atlantis into the depths, watching the monitor intensely.
Things happen fast in front of these small camera lenses, so you’ll need to pay close attention. Water clarity will play a big role in how far your field of vision is. What you’re looking for is shape … you don’t really have to see well enough to positively identify the baitfish, but if you can determine the general shape, be it long and slender like a smelt, or the broad profile of a shad, you’ve taken the first step to wiring your late fall pattern. Keep your eyes peeled for any flash of white as well. Infrared lights on an underwater camera makes the white tip on a walleye’s tail glow like a beacon in the night. If you glimpse that “spot” swimming across the screen, you know you’re in the right area.
As stated earlier, crankbaits will be an efficient presentation this time of year. Trolling will cover water quickly and efficiently, and put your baits in front of as many walleyes as possible in a short period of time. Big baits are key this time of year too, with popular models like Berkley Flicker Minnows in size 9 and 11and #9 Flicker Shads accounting for quality catches on many bodies of water. Just keep in mind the bait’s “profile”. Flicker Minnows are long and slender, mimicking smelt, ciscoe and alewife very well. Flicker Shads are good shad imitators.
At times, the cold water of late fall will have walleyes preferring baits with more subtle actions than the deep diving – big lipped baits, so stick baits can be deadly choices.. Getting these shallow diving baits to the depths where the fish are will often take a bit of accessorizing in the form of Off Shore Tackle Snap Weights, or possibly fishing them on leadcore line.
While late season walleyes are aggressive, they can still be spooky, so utilizing Off Shore OR-12 Side Planer in-line boards to spread the lures out away from the boat will increase your chances of contacting the most fish.
Spending time on the water in November in walleye country takes a different breed of walleye angler … one that not only can match the profile of the right bait to use, but one that fits the profile of the “hard-core” walleye fisherman. But when the north wind bites, so do the walleyes, and it’s an adventure that you’ve got to experience to appreciate. Just pull on the long-johns, and fill the thermos with hot coffee, and be prepared for some of the best fishing of the year.