Fall Walleyes and
by Ted Takasaki & Scott Richardson
Though it can get cold- make that, very cold Ė during the fall, you
donít need rocks in your head to chase late-season walleyes.
Even more than spring, autumn can be the best
time to hook the trophy of a lifetime. The fish are big and hungry and
unlike spring when they are spawning, eating is the only thing on their
minds in fall as they fatten up for winter.
Weather and water levels can also be more stable later in the season
than earlier in the year.
But, whether weíre targeting rivers or lakes in fall, we certainly
should have rocks on our minds. The biggest walleyes (and highest
concentrations) will be schooled around places with hard bottoms. Take
the time to find rocks, then locate the spot-on-the-spot and hold onto
your rod. That chill in the air just might signal the hottest bite
youíve seen all year.
Many walleye fishermen head to places like the Mississippi or the
Illinois River in spring when the spawning instinct sends huge numbers
of walleyes and saugers upstream. But the savviest walleye anglers know
the spawning migration actually begins in fall. The fish that were
scattered and hard to find all summer begin schooling and traveling
toward hard-bottom spots where theyíll spawn when the combination of
temperature, daylight and current is right, come springtime.
Conditions can be better in October through December than they are in
March and April, too. Rivers are the most consistent where youíre not
dealing with erratic water levels and floods.
Youíre also not dealing with the crowds you see earlier in the year.
By this time, many anglers have set aside fishing rods and picked up
their guns or bows to hunt deer. If they head to the water, itís only to
down geese or ducks.
River bends, where current strength lessens and offers fish places to
rest, are key. But where inside bends were best in spring, outside bends
may hold fish in fall. Check for places where moving water and barge
propellers have gouged big, deep holes, especially near hard bottom
areas that feature gravel and clam shells. Fish will be looking for ways
to escape moving water where they must burn precious energy just to stay
Hard-bottom areas at the mouths of backwaters are also key spots. As
colder nights lower the water temperature and kill vegetation in the
shallows, baitfish move toward the main river. Predators station
themselves at the openings and make a killing Ė literally. The mouths of
creeks offer the same scenario.
Keep it simple. Slip jig downstream with a Fuzz-E-Grub jig just heavy
enough to maintain bottom contact. Lindyís new X-Change jigheads allow
you to change the weight to match the depth, current and other factors
like wind. They also let you change up colors to see if walleyes and
sauger show a preference, and they often do. Use braided line to
increase sensitivity, so you can feel transition areas from mud to
rocks. Turn up the gain on your sonar. When you see a double bottom
(Ďsecond echoí) appear on the screen, you know the bottom is hard.
Pull three-way rigs upstream as an alternative. Use a Lindy NO-SNAGG
sinker with a dropper and enough weight to keep the line at a 45-degree
angle while slowly moving upstream or hovering with your bow-mounted
trolling motor. Use a floating shallow diving crankbait or plain hook
tipped with a lively minnow. Add color with a bead or a floating jig.
In rivers like the Mississippi, fish will also station themselves on
wingdams near the backwaters.
Experience tells us not all wingdams are alike. Often, the ones
positioned near bends hold the most fish. Usually, if the first dam and
the last dam in a series donít hold walleyes, move on. Look for
wingdams where current has blown holes through the face. These holes are
often the spot on the spot.
Try anchoring upstream from the face of the wingdam and cast light
jigs on 10-pound line. The combination of a light jig and heavy line
creates a bow in the line that will allow you to work the jig up to the
face of the dam where the current flow creates an area of slack water.
The slack water allows feeding walleyes to ambush forage while not
having to expend a lot of energy to stay put. Use a 7-foot rod with a
light-action tip. Watch your line carefully, as you often wonít even
feel the hit.
The main dams halt forward progress of the fall walleye migration.
Donít overlook eddies located on each side or the deep holes just
downstream. Check state laws to be certain fishing near dams is legal.
Some states have placed the area off limits because so many fish stack
there, catching is easy, but the water is so deep, releasing fish
unharmed is not.
Another tip: look for neckdown areas with rocks. They will often
produce killer night bites, whether you target a river or lake. Check
them during daylight, too.
Shoreline points and islands that feature fast drops to deep water
are key spots on lakes. Walleyes in areas like that can hold in deeper
water for security and swim to shallower water to feed without much
effort. Use Lindy Rigs with big chubs and NO-SNAGG sinkers to move up
and down the dropoffs. Keep your bait fresh and tail hook it so it
struggles to attract nearby walleyes. Try using 10-pound braided line,
like Power Pro, for your main line, with a fluorocarbon leader on a rod
rated for 8- to 14-pound-test line. The rod must have enough backbone
for good hooksets in deep water but have a limber enough tip to vibrate
when the forage reacts to an approaching walleye. Be ready when the
chub starts to struggleÖ a walleye is close by.
A soft tip also lets the rod absorb the shock of a big fish, a must
when using no-stretch braided line.
Donít overlook rock piles. But, itís important to realize the impact
of turnover on fish location. Lakes stratify in summer with walleyes
and other fish trapped in the water above the thermocline when oxygen
content below it drops too low to support life. But that changes when
water temperature drops down into the low 50s F. Water becomes heavier
at that point and the water on top sinks and allows oxygen to mix at all
depths again. Fish are free to travel downward as water near the surface
dips below their comfort zones.
As a result, rock piles at ever-increasing depths start to hold
walleyes. If you arenít catching fish on rock piles that held walleyes
in the warm months, go deeper.
Itís not all about hard bottoms in autumn. Walleyes will converge on
mud flats if an insect hatch occurs. But at the same time, turn up the
gain on the sonar and watch for places where a double bottom appears,
signaling a transition to harder bottom. Travel around the area slowly.
You might stumble across a peak (slightly higher point) in the rocks,
where walleyes are gathered as if they were invited to Thanksgiving
Just because itís cold and deer season is open doesnít mean that
fishing in autumn requires rocks in your head. But, you sure should have
rocks on your mind.