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 .......

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