Suspended Fall Walleyes

Mark Martin

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In fall, walleyes can be an where—say, six inches under the surface in 80 feet of water or tight to bottom in 10 feet. Sound challenging? It can be, unless you know how walleyes drift off of structure and suspend in the vicinity of bait. Finding them is a looking game with quality electronics; catchingthem is a straining game with planer boards, spinners and crankbaits. The pattern holds true wherever you are, from Great Lakes to inland waters, and wherever walleyes are chasing baitfish. Which, it turns out, is everywhere.

The bait connection betrays the walleye’s presence. In fall, when walleyes ramp up their feeding before winter, the fish will never be far from food. On the Great Lakes, you might see enormous pods of one- to three-inch gizzard shad skittering on the surface or as big blobs on a locator. Shiners and the like herd up as well on inland waters, and predators are never far behind.

How do you find them? Start looking for structure on a map and then with electronics. Points, humps and weed edges are all fair game. But when you look with a quality locator that pinpoints fish and bait, such as Lowrance’s LCX 15MT, the key is to veer away from the structure and look over open water. If you’ve seen fish on structure at a certain level—15 feet, for instance—you can bet they’ll be at that same depth over open water, from hundreds of yards to half a mile away from the structure. Walleyes will do this day and night. The most important thing to remember is not to glue yourself to structure—the walleyes will wander away from it if bait is present.

The best way to enter into search mode is to start trolling. This way you can cover water and zigzag to find fish. It would be far too time-consuming to jig or live-bait rig. Trolling, on the other hand, spreads lines to the sides of the boat and behind it—the better to cover a swath of water at different depths.

I always try to maximize my efforts with the most rods possible and the greatest coverage. Enter planer boards, the handy devices that veer lines away from the boat. With them, you can run more rods without tangling and pull lures through more territory. My new favorites for boards are from Church Tackle, which now makes smaller, more manageable models that still track well away from the boat. The TX-6, which is about the size of a deck of cards, is great for pulling crankbaits or spinners with snap weights of up to one ounce. Anything heavier will sink the board. Even small fish or a piece of weed will sink it, which is a big help when you’re trying to keep your lures clean. A large fish will sink the little board like a bobber—something I love to see. With the TX-12, which is twice the size of the TX-6, you can get away with weight to two ounces, which you might need for deep spinnering.

Which brings us to my two favorite offerings in fall. While few people fish spinners after summertime, the reliable crawler harness keeps working through October and even into November. You can boost up a size or two with your spinners in fall to tempt more big fish. If, for instance, you were using No. 2 blades in summer, you now might want to try Nos. 4 and 5. The heavier thrum is often just what the walleyes want when they’re starting to feed with gusto before winter. And since baitfish, more than bugs, are the main course of fall walleyes, try Northland’s holographic blades. They come in silver shiner, gold shiner, golden perch and more colors to mimic baitfish.

By November, though, I normally start switching to crankbaits. You can move them faster and ......

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