Bob Reige: Golden Walleye Fall Days

Published 6:54 pm Wednesday, August 18, 2010


When the leaves start to turn and the cold north wind starts to blow, you know it is time to pack up a few tools for fall walleyes. The best tools that any angler can use are location, presentation, organization, and versatility.

Walleyes are a structure oriented fish, most of the time. You might find large schools on some Great Lakes that don’t relate to specific structure, but by and large they seek out structure. These walleyes will be tight to the bottom, lying in the holes between rock and cuts in the bottom. They may be feeding, or waiting in ambush to find an easy meal that comes their way. When fishing structure, you have to be able to stay tight to the structure or your lure presentation will not be in the strike zone of the fish. Move just a boat length away and you will be out of luck

Email newsletter signup

It is important to understand that subtle changes in water temperature, oxygen, bottom structure, shadow lines, and similar factors make a significant difference in locating fish. Fish tend to locate along transitional zones. The bottom may change from sand to rock or from mud to weeds; a drop-off may occur or slope into deep water; or water in one sector may be a slightly different color. The most important transition zones are the weeds. The weeds or vegetation may be the key to successful angling.

Many anglers think of rocks, sand, drop-offs, and deep water when walleye fishing. But walleye chasers are missing some good fishing if they aren’t poking around in the weeds when they’re after walleyes, especially during the fall months. Walleyes will make extensive use of weed clumps if they’re available, and often the fish that are in the weeds are looking for a meal, making them susceptible to any type of offering.

First of all, what type of weeds will hold walleyes? Coontail will hold a few fish, and on some lakes will be pretty good. But my favorite vegetation, day in and day out, will be cabbage weed. Cabbage is abundant on many bodies of water, and will also be the feeding grounds for bass, northerns, muskies and panfish. I’ve found the best weed beds for walleyes will be located at the edge of a drop-off and extend over the flats into shallower water. At times the fish will be down the drop-off a little, but frequently they will be up on the flat right in the middle of the weeds.

Fish are wary. This helps them survive and can also make them difficult to catch. They utilize their excellent senses of vision and hearing, detect motion with unerring accuracy using their lateral line, and also use their sense of smell. Therefore, a cautious approach is required of an angler.

With either natural bait or artificial lures, the presentation must be realistic. It should appear that the offering is part of the normal food chain. Hunger is certainly a major motivating factor, but fish also respond as predators and strike something that moves. At times, they even exhibit antagonistic behavior when biting an intruder to drive it away.

The object is to find specific structure that seems to be holding fish. With a good depth finder like my Lowrance LMS 110c, I can identify inside turns, rock humps, and edges of weed beds that hold fish.

Backtrolling is something that I really enjoy. Backtrolling will allow you to present your bait right in front of the walleye’s nose. In cold front conditions this is essential. What you’re trying to do is stay on a particular depth, or contour, where it looks like the walleyes are holding. If it’s very windy I use my 15 H.P. Mercury and back into the wind along current breaks. This slows down the bait and gives the walleyes plenty of opportunity to decide if it is something they would like to eat.

If I hook a fish on an inside turn, I quickly throw out a marker buoy and as soon as I am done landing that fish I will move right back to that spot. The thing to remember is if you catch one active walleye in a spot there are probably a dozen or so walleyes in that same spot.

When I am on the water in autumn I tend to look for funneled down areas, because it is a great place to look for walleyes as they pass through in search of food. Necked down areas, saddles between islands and land, narrows, and even break lines are great places to begin looking for active walleyes in the fall. Breaklines are areas where the floor of the lake or river drop-off from shallow water to deeper water. The breakline is a transitional area. Walleyes have a tendency to move up into the shallows on cloudy, windy days or in the evening and then slide back into the depths to rest.

To catch walleyes in a funnel area there are many presentations an angler should consider. Northland Baitfish spinners with a crawler harness, or a live bait rig are two great ways to start to look for walleyes. Minnows are at an all time high in the fall of the year and the offering that you provide for them should be something different. Stick to crawlers and leeches or artificial baits that resemble big minnows. The bigger the minnow bait the more the walleyes will be interested in it. This time of year walleyes want to fatten up for the upcoming winter months and they look for the largest food source they can swallow.

When the particular structure is shallow don’t hesitate to use the slip bobber method. Attach a 1/8 ounce Fireball jig and a minnow to your slip bobber rig and allow the waves and wind to do the vertical jigging for you. If those walleyes are biting short, attach a stinger hook to your jig.

Vertical jigging is very popular, and the key to fishing a jig vertically in current, is boat control. Work these areas over with a controlled drift. The control comes from positioning your boat sideways into the current and using your trolling motors or a “drift sock” to slow down your drift and your presentation.

My favorite approach to fishing these active fish is drifting. I like to drift through them using my motor to slow down the speed of the drift. Many of you who fish rivers and streams, might refer to this approach as slipping the current, or a controlled drift. If I think I am drifting too fast, I simply increase the throttle and slow down my speed. This method is very effective when fishing live bait rigs

Drifting and backtrolling are the most efficient ways to find walleyes on large shallow flats. Drift a jig-and-minnow combination at the level of fish activity, based on a combination of water clarity, wind, and sky conditions. In windswept lakes with dingy water, active fish will be as shallow as 4 to 8 feet, and probing jigs might be less efficient than backtrolling.

The position, where I am in the boat helps me to stay with that school of fish. I like to run a tiller powered boat because it gives me the mobility, control and freedom to follow the school and the structure that they are holding on.

When looking for the fall walleyes keep these tips in mind and you will be enjoying the golden fall walleye along with the brilliant colors of fall.