Fall Tactics for Walleyes

by 
Ted Takasaki and Scott Richardson

A BOAT LOAD of useful walleye information in each issue from seasoned tournament fishermen and Lake Erie fishing experts.

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Too bad for the fair-weather fishermen who have already put their boats away. Some of the best fishing of the year is just ahead. The shorter days and cooler water of late fall mean gamefish, like walleyes, go on a last feeding binge before freeze up when their metabolism slows for winter. Feeding fish are vulnerable fish. As a result, late fall can be the best time of the year to catch a trophy.

Walleyes begin moving to deep-water structure as the water cools down. Fish can be as far down as 25 to 50 feet or more on the steep, hard-bottom drop-offs next to points, humps and islands. Often, they can be found on the spots-on-a-spot that are the sharpest breaks nearest the deepest water available.

As always, start with the fastest tactic that works to nab active walleyes. Donít rule out trolling crankbaits as a tactic even though water is cold. Trolling is still the best way to cover water fast to locate active pods of fish. Tournament anglers have shown time and time again it works even when itís cold enough to snow. Once a school is located, rig or jig to catch even more fish that may be in a neutral mood at the time.

Cold-water trolling

Many trollers resort to snap weights in the summer to take crankbaits deeper than they are designed to go. But, leadcore is more common in spring and fall to accomplish the same goal. Thereís no need in cold water to spread lines with planer boards to search for widely scattered walleyes as you do in warm water. Fish gather in schools tighter to structure in cold water. By long-line trolling with leadcore, you can get lures down deep and right behind the boats which will allow you to follow the breaklines more precisely. Crankbaits are in the strike zone more as a result, and that equals more fish. In addition, cranks behind leadcore have a more subtle action, which works better in cold water than snap weights.

Start with a longer, medium-action rod to help absorb some of the shock of a strike on no-stretch, leadcore. Use 18-pound test leadcore line. Strip the Dacron back from the lead core middle and tie on a small #12 barrel swivel. Add an 8 to 10 foot leader of 10 to 12 pound monofilament, like Strenís Super Tough. Some people prefer to use no-stretch braided line for the leader. But, if you do that, make certain you set your drag very loosely. Fish can tear free from hooks if you donít allow some "give" in your tackle somewhere. Tie on a snap or ball-bearing snap swivel and you are set to go.

Ask at local bait shops to find areas of the lake that are producing. Donít be surprised if the best locations are in deep water near the mouths of feeder rivers and creeks that the walleyes will migrate up to spawn in spring.

Check the lake map for sharper drop-offs at the right depth that are likely to produce. Travel to one, and chart the break by following the contour and graphing it on your GPS. Or, drop marker buoys on the fingers extending from the structure and the inside turns were fish might lurk. Look for schools of baitfish and even larger marks that might signal walleyes below. Use an Aqua-Vu fish cam to confirm the presence of walleyes.

Try a variety of lures to start. Bomber 24Aís are a good start. Shad Raps and Lindy Shadlings are likely to produce. Try Thundersticks if you have them. Remember, itís the leadcore that takes the crankbait to the bottom, not the crankbaitís design. That means you can use anything you think might work, and that even includes shallow running floaters.

Stick with subtle wobblers in colder water instead of the more erratic ones. Keep in mind, larger profiled lures may be best because baitfish have grown bigger by this time and the fish are looking to fatten up for the winter. Use metallic colors for bright sunny days. Try bright, fluorescent colors like firetiger and chartreuse for dingy water. Change up often until you find something that works.

When you are ready, go to the beginning of the trolling pass you have laid out, lower the bait so it travels just off the bottom and use the gasoline kicker motor to move slowly ahead, 1.5- to 2 mph. Vary the speed to see what the fish want. But, remember, leadcore has greater water resistance than monofilament. The faster you go, the higher the bait rises. The slower you go, the deeper it dives. Stay in the strike zone as you follow the shape of the breakline as precisely as you can. Watch the end of your rod tip. Check your bait for hooks fouled with debris when you see the tip stop vibrating.

Mark the location with your GPS when you connect with active walleyes. Stay with the trolling tactic as long as it works. Youíll cover more water and catch more fish by concentrating on the active ones. When the action slows down, change tactics by slowing down your presentation by resorting to Lindy rigging or jigging.

Rigging for fall

Livebait often works when nothing else will do. Lindy rigs or NO-SNAGG rigs are the most natural way to reach deep fish.  Weight can be changed to reach various depths. Use enough lead to keep a 45-degree angle between your line and the waterís surface while staying in touch with the bottom.  Use a Lindy Rattling NO-SNAGG rig to help walleyes find the bait in deep water where light is dim or when water clarity is poor.

Try 8-pound MagnaThin to the swivel. Start with a 4-foot leader. Lengthen it or try lighter line for finicky fish. Other modifications can be made to adapt live-bait rigs to conditions. For example, shorten the leader and/or switch to a NO-SNAGG hook to decrease hang-ups. Add a colored bead above the hook as an attractor. Try a colored hook. Vary presentations with your partner to let the fish tell you what they want.

Return to those spots where you caught fish while trolling. Focus on the transition areas between hard and soft bottoms on sharp breaks that drop to deep water.

Use big bait for the same reason as before - baitfish have had a season to grow. Imitate them by using big chubs up to 5 inches long. Hook them through the mouth to move along the bottom faster. To provoke strikes, try tail-hooking them to cause the bait to struggle more. But, move more slowly when you present the bait in that way.

Use the bottom-tracking, or zoom, feature of your electronics to target specific fish that you will hover over.

Jigging in autumn

Vertical jigging is another effective way to target walleyes holding tight to deep structure. A 3/8th-ounce Fuzz-E-Grub will reach down to 30 feet and more when the wind isnít blowing. Youíll need more weight than that in order to go deeper than that. A 5/8th-ounce Jumbo Fuzz-E-Grub, or even a 1-ounce, is a good choice. Bigger jigs may be good to try even in shallower water because they imitate the bigger profiles of big baitfish. Larger profiles provoke strikes from big walleyes looking for an easy meal.

Experiment with colors like white, smoke, orange/yellow, and glow. Let fish tell you what they want.

The Fuzz-E-Grub comes with a plastic body that sports a marabou tail that holds scent products longer. Donít be afraid to change them out to try twister tails and even plastic lizards.

Resort to stinger hooks when necessary. Cold water equals short bites at times. A stinger also helps to get a hook into a fishís mouth when you use the heavier jigs a walleye canít inhale easily.

If state law allows, jig with one rod and put a dead stick in the rod holder using a NO-SNAGG sinker, a NO-SNAGG hook and a big chub.

Fishing heats up as fall turns to winter. Bundle up and try for a trophy.