Lake Erie's Fall Walleye Bonanza

Bud Riser

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Lake Erie Walleye Magazine

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Each autumn signals an anticipated flurry of walleye action in Lake Erie’s central and western basins. Late September or early October finds dozens of savvy ‘eye hunters prowling waters from the east side of Cleveland to the Bass Islands.  These anglers are tuned in to daytime and nocturnal walleye feeding action.  

Lake Erie’s central and western basin schools make what I call a "pre-spawn staging movement" each fall. Schools of big fish move in off their respective spawning areas and "stage" or rest, after putting on a feeding binge, fattening up for the spring spawn.

Thousands of central basin walleye move toward the shoreline dropoffs in search of young-of-the-year gizzard shad and other baitfish, drawn by warmer waters.   They’re often located close to the first or second deepwater drops and move into shoeline shallows to surface feed at night.

 The most popular areas for the past 2 years have been west of Lorain, OH with the bulk of the activity taking place off Vermilion and Huron.   I believe one reason for this is the big sandbar between Lorain and Vermilion.   It provides fish with an underwater pathway leading to the western Vermilion area shoreline and offshore waters.  The shallow sandbar holds a large variety of baitfish, thus providing an underwater grocery store for walleye and other fish species.

I expect this to be a good fall season based on the numbers of good catches reported from the sandbar waters this summer.   Many consistent limit catches came in from lat/longs ranging from 13 & 29 (Middle GPS co-ordinates) off Lorain to 23 & 34 off Ruggles Beach and points in between.  Schools of fish ranged in various sizes with many 18 to 22 inch fish present, although a number of walleye from 25 to 30 inches were also caught.

Techniques are fairly straightforward, with trollers taking good catches one day, while spinner and worm guys score bigger casting on others.  Generally, trollers switch from spoons to rattling crankbaits or worm harnesses as lake waters cool down in October and November.   Trolling speeds slow down too, with 1 1/2 to 2 mph most effective in water below 50 degrees. My favorite colors generally remain the same and include silver, gold, firetiger and perch patterns.

Sweep casting with weight forward spinners and crawler rigs takes plenty of fish in the 25 to 45 foot depths.  One day will find ‘eyes hitting half-way down and suspended while other days may dictate use of bottom bouncing rigs.

 Don’t rule out jigging on humps or where fish are concentrated heavily.  Even this time of year finds me rigging one rod with a favorite chartreuse or fluorescent orange jig.

Check out the new ones from Northland Tackle.  The Buck-Shot Rattle Spin has been taking a lot of bass and walleyes for me as well as Northland’s new Thumper Spin Jig. Everybody knows that fish love to hit a dropping bait and these two jigs occupy a regular spot in my arsenal of leadheads.

 The Night Bite

The legendary night bite of the late l980’s off the Huron pier started an entirely new breed of walleye anglers—nightstalkers.    My first experience on Lake Erie was back in the 50’s for blue pike.  Boy, has that changed!

Marblehead and Kelley’s Island were my first island shots at night ‘eyes.   Shoreline casters were flinging rattletraps and other shad-bodied baits from every available pier and dock with fair success.   Colors went the entire spectrum and tackle boxes looked like the Glidden Paint chart.

A couple of enterprising charter captains even anchored or drifted crews in nearby sheltered bays and coves.   Word spread about the night bite and docks and piers soon filled up in Huron, Lorain and E. 72nd St. in Cleveland eastward to Neff Rd. and the Grand River at Painesville.   Both of Huron’s piers got so crowded that standing room became impossible.  

At this point, I began wading for night feeding fish. It got me away from the insanity of the pier melee and I could enjoy a little solitude again...that is, until a school of hungry walleyes thrashed and splashed in 3 to 4 inch water around my ankles.  They actually chased a school of baitfish past me and nearly on the sand!   WOW!

 I believe it was that November night in 1991 or therabouts that I saw nearly a 1/2 ton of walleyes caught from the Huron pier.   Do the math!  100 anglers on the Huron pier and about 40 on the east Nickel Plate pier.

Figuring the fish were averaging about 6 to 8 pounds and many anglers had limit catches, you can see how it could happen.

Then the boats showed up! 
Ho Boy!

Night trollers catch good numbers of fish too...and hopefully they’ll be thoughtful of the anglers on shore.   DON’T BUZZ THE PIER CASTERS, PLEASE!  Here’s the best night trolling info I can share with you.    Rattling crankbaits generally outfish the quiet ones 2 to 1.   Electric trolling motors outfish the gas motors 2 to 1.   Sideplaners outfish flatlines 2 to 1.

I like to use light sticks on my in-line planer boards.  If the light disappears, I’ve got a fish on...just like a lighted bobber. Northland Tackle has an assortment of FireLight Sticks in all your favorite color choices.

Most activity generally takes place in the period from 3 days before the 1/2 moon to 3 days after the full moon, but don’t rule out the dark periods either.  Some big fish have been caught then too.

One interesting thing I noticed ...night anglers at the islands, Marblehead and Huron used nothing but Rattletrap type of lure.  Cleveland Anglers wouldn’t go out without a magnum Rapala.  Lorain anglers used both.

Lately the Rapala Husky Jerk has been the luredujour in blue/silver and orange chin pattern.  Last year on the Huron pier, a young man told me I needed that bait or I wouldn’t catch ‘em!

I had a Storm deep-diving Lil Mac on my rod that took the only 3 walleyes out of 50 guys for the first couple hours.   Apparently it dove down just deep enough to clear the boat turbulence while the other baits ran a couple feet higher...go figure!   I could’ve sold that plug for 25 bucks!

Keep one thing in mind.   As the water temperatures cool, slow your presentation.   Take a flashlight with you but you don’t need a lantern.   ...and remember, Murphy’s law goes double when you’re fishing at night.   Fish careful and fish smart!