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Strategies for Early Fall Walleyes
by Ron Anlauf


  With the onset of the fall season times will be a changin' and some of it will definitely be for the better.  While the late summer period can be a little tough (Ok, maybe a lot of tough), what follows can provide some of the hottest action of the entire year. 

The changes include an improved attitude in walleyes that have been previously been playing hard to get.  Now it the time to get busy and chow down as much food as possible wherever it is, and put on some extra fat to help get through the tougher conditions of winter.  It’s also a time to start developing eggs which requires plenty of nourishment. What it all adds up to is a very favorable situation for anglers in the know.

Some of the first changes occur early in the fall period and include a renewed interest in shallow areas like rocky bars and reefs as well as weedy flats.   The shallows play an important role in the food chain by providing a relatively safe environment for immature  baitfish, where they can live and grow until they reach an edible size.  Bait fish that have been hiding out in heavy weed growth can become exposed and vulnerable as some of thegreenery starts to lay down and die. 

By late summer weed flats typically begin to thin out, reducing the amount of available cover and creating a new feeding opportunity for hungry ‘eyes. 

With all of that bait reaching a desirable size it won’t take long for ol’ marble eyes to show up.   Being the opportunists that walleyes are, they’ll take advantage of a good situation and scads of fresh meat that is readily accessible is a very good situation.  It also creates a terrific opportunity for anglers who know the ins and outs of cashing in on a peak situation.  

How you approach the situation will depend on a number of factors including the type of structure you happen to be looking for, and the attitude of the fish. 

For example;  If you’re faced with a rocky bar or reef using a crankbait like #7 or # 9 Shad Rap ( either trolled or cast ) may be the ticket.   Trolling is an efficient way to cover a lot of water but it may not be the most effective method for the given conditions, especially if you’ve found a smaller specific area that is holding most of the biters.   In that case you may opt for positioning the boat with a bow mount electric trolling motor like a Minn Kota Maxxum, or dropping the hook and anchoring while casting to the most productive spot.  In either case it’s important to get your bait running close to the bottom and even occasionally banging into it.

If you’re working the edge or right into the middle of a weed flat, a jig or live bait rig may be the way to go.  However that doesn’t mean you can rule crankbaits out, in fact running a Shad Rap along the edge may be the hottest thing going.  

Starting with the crankbait may be your best bet for covering some ground and locating a few active fish.  The key will be running your bait as close to the cover as possible without constantly fouling the it with weeds.   A bait that is fouled won’t reach the appropriate depth or achieve the right action, and will most likely be rejected.  By watching your rod tip you can see if your bait is running clean by the watching the steady vibration.  No vibration indicates a problem that needs to be checked out and is simply part of the program when working the weeds.  To help get the vibration to the tip try using a lower stretch line like Fireline.  A lower stretch line absorbs less of the twitch, twitch, twitch vibration of a properly running crankbait making it easier to see.  

Another key to tip watching is using a rod with the right action, like a seven foot medium light action rod.   A longer rod with a light tip helps to accentuate a cranbait’s action keeping you on top of what’s going on at the business end. 

Once you’ve found a few fish or two with the crankbait it may pay to go back over the area and strain it with a jig like a Northland Tackle Eye-Ball tipped with a fathead or shiner.  Quite often active walleyes will bunch up in tight little areas and straining a spot will increase your odds of putting together a good catch by keeping your bait in a productive area longer. 

To get back on a spot you can drop a marker if you have to, but markers do draw crowds.  A G.P.S. like Humminbird's 937C can be accurate to within three meters of a spot and may eliminate the need to to drop an “ I’m catching fish over here !” sign. 

Early in the fall good rigging options include using crawlers or even  leeches if you can find them, or minnows like fatheads and chubs.   A Redtail Chub is without a doubt your best bet for fall walleyes but they can be a little hard to find, and expensive.  Professional Anlger and full time guide Richie Boggs of Nisswa, Minnesota spends litterally thousands of dollars a year on redtails but feels there are worth the added expense; " Walleyes have a hard time resisting a redtail chub and are a real confidence bait for me.  If I'm on active fish I know they'll  take a  lively chub that's swimming and thrashing around." 

Early fall is an angler’s first opportunity for cashing in on some of the best the late season has to offer.  The problem is the fact that there’s only so much time and you better act now if you’re going to get your share.  See you on the water.