The Late Season Walleye Trolling Bite
Gary Parsons & Keith Kavajecz
undauntedly approaches, those of us that chase walleyes across the northern
range are beginning to get a sense of just how limited our open water fishing
opportunities are these days. Some have
already changed focus from fishing to hunting pursuits, but there are many of us
that choose to hang on to these last few chances remaining at good angling
opportunities right to the bitterly cold end. For some, it’s the chance to have
their favorite lake virtually all to themselves, while others are hunting their
last chance at a true trophy for the season. What ever your motivation, there is
still plenty of great fishing left before ice takes over the lakes in walleyedom,
and trolling crankbaits could be the best way to cash in on the last vestige of
this season’s walleye bite.
good walleye waters offer great fall fishing, but when it comes to trolling up a
chance at a true trophy, the Great Lakes offer the best chances. Places like
Lake Erie near Huron, Ohio, the upper reaches of Lake Michigan, specifically
Little and Big Bay De Noc, and the waters off Sturgeon Bay, Lake Ontario’s Bay
of Quinte and Saginaw Bay of Lake Huron are all known walleye meccas in late
fall and into the earliest days of winter.
All these waters
have one thing in common; their vast expanses of fishing areas and plenty of big
walleyes. But the fishes’ location is the key to success. On all these bodies of
water there’s a seasonal migration that plays out ; walleyes moving from the
open water basins where they’ve spent the summer to more “near-shore” breaks and
structures. The reason is food. Walleyes are in pursuit of large schools of
baitfish that will sustain them for the upcoming winter months. While it wasn’t
unusual to target walleyes suspended over fifty feet of water or more a few
months ago, now the fish are apt to be more bottom oriented with popular depths
from as shallow as 6 feet (at night) to 50 feet during the day. That’s not to
say there won’t be some fish suspended, but check your graph and we’ll bet that
most of the time your odds tend to be better fishing lures near the bottom.
You’re looking for fish relating to structure, be that main lake flats, reef
systems, or primary shoreline breaks with access to deep water. During the peak
of summer, you may have had to run 20 miles or more off shore to locate schools
of walleyes in the basins. Now you may only need to travel two or three miles
from the launch to contact fish (great news for those looking for walleyes that
won’t cost them dearly at the gas pumps!). Follow the baitfish movements, and
you can stay on fish right up to ice-up.
techniques for trolling up fall walleyes on these big waters is not much
different from the tactics used in summer. Crankbaits rule. What may surprise
you however is the style of crank that becomes the top producer this time of
year. Conventional thinking would have you looking at the cooling water
temperatures and consider lures with a subtle, rolling action. But remember
what’s first and foremost on the minds of the walleyes this time of year … food.
That tends to put these fish in an aggressive mood. Lures that match their
aggressive attitude and the size of the forage in late fall will get more
attention. Large, deep diving, high-action baits can be deadly in the early part
of the fall. Then as the water temps cool, you may need to switch over to the
more subtle action baits.
Although this is
Great Lakes walleye trolling, you need to change your mind-set a bit from the
tactics used for covering the openness of the main lake basin in summer.
Trolling boards like Off Shore Tackle’s OR-12 Side Planers are still useful if
you find the fish in open water flats, but if you’re targeting walleyes relating
more to structure (reefs or shoreline), you don’t want to be letting those
boards way out away from the boat. Keep your spreads tighter, or maybe only run
one board line out over the open water away from the break to see if there are a
few suspended stragglers lurking out there.
One word of
caution regarding fishing these big bodies of water this late in the season,
bundle up and lean toward the side of safety. The winds of November can blow
cold and blustery on The Great Lakes. If you’re going to fish effectively you’ve
got to hit the water prepared. Insulated clothing, plenty of layers and quality
rain gear like the Bass Pro Shops 100 MPH rain suit are a must. It’s a “dressed
for success” combination that will keep out the cold, wind and wetness that
could quickly put a real damper on an otherwise great day on the water.
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