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Back Tracking Late Season Walleyes
by Ron Anlauf

By late season most walleye anglers have already thrown in the towel, and who could blame them? Tough fishing is hard to take, especially trip after trip. When you keep coming up empty you start to think of other things you could be doing, but it doesn’t have to be that way. What many anglers don't know is that there's still some good action left to be had, if only they knew where to look.

Back tracking is how you get started and it would be a good idea to give areas that have already turned on and turned off another try. When the word gets out hot spots get pounded and the action can quickly grind to a halt, that is until the horde of anglers race to the next hot spot and beat it to death, and so on, and so on. Once all of the commotion has come and gone and the dust settles a lot of burned out hot spots can rekindle and heat up again. The only thing is there's usually nobody there to take advantage of it, except for maybe a sneaky few that keep the good news all to themselves.

Quite often fish will re-group and re-position themselves back where they started, and can include the usual areas like deep humps, points, inside turns, etc. It doesn't take all that long for the process to take place, but giving a burnt out spot a week or two to settle down might be in order. From there you can look even further and head for shallower rocky bars and reefs, especially late in the season when deep layers of snow have started to melt off.

Although active fish might be back where they started, you may still have to deal with a fish that's not all that wound up. Presentations that attract without chasing away are what the situation calls for and that still includes a good dose of jigging spoons. But instead of the heavier thrashers, lighter slow falling baits like Northland Tackle's Fire-Eye Minnow tipped with a minnow head can be the big ticket. The bait has a slow falling fluttering action that can draw fish in and may be too much for walleyes to resist. Earlier in the season a hard snap can trigger active fish, but things have probably changed. By now you might be better off using a softer lift followed by short periods of a dead stop, or maybe a quiver of the rod tip from side to side. The idea is to give the bait some action without overpowering it and spooking potential candidates.

With the spoon and a depth finder like the Marcum LX-5, you'll get a good idea if you're in the right area because they will show themselves, even if they don't bite. The LX-5 does a superb job of marking fish that are holding close to the bottom which can be extremely important when trying to determine if you’re in the right neighborhood. No fish means no fish, at least not now. Those that are coming in for a look and passing up what you're selling may be looking for something more sedentary, like a minnow rigged on a light jig below a slip bobber or a tip-up. A light jig will help keep your minnow pinned to the bottom where it belongs, and restrict it from swimming up and out of the fish zone. When you set the depth you’ll probably want to keep it close to but not on the bottom, and the LX-5 can make it nice and easy. When you drop the minnow down the hole you’ll see it on the depth finder and can then set it at the desired depth.

One you’ve determined a depth for your tip-up you might try snapping on a Bad Bead from Dr. Drop and marking the line which will allow you to quickly re-set the rig to the same position after a bait check, or after you’ve iced a fish. The Bad Bead will snap on and grip the line and stay put but can still be moved up or down with a firm pull and yet won’t damage the line.

Tip-ups are a great tool for covering water and locating fish, and the more you can legally set up the better.That doesn't mean you should give up on the spoon however, as there’s never really a wrong time to have a spoon rod in your hand, except maybe when you’re chasing down a flag.

If you’re still seeing fish but not catching it could simply be a timing issue. Prime time typically revolves around the last hour or so of daylight, so don't leave too soon or you could miss the boat. Fish that we’re showing up earlier in the day (but not responding) could suddenly turn on as the sun starts to set and if you’re in the right place you can ice a lot of nice ’eyes in short order.

This offer has no guarantees but there is a good chance there’s quite a few walleyes still waiting for somebody to show up and offer them something they can’t refuse. It could just as well be me and you.  See you on the ice.