Riege: Fall fishing for the win

Published 10:08 am Thursday, August 18, 2011

By Bob and Ginny Riege

Guest Columnists

Humpty Dumpty had a great fall and so can you. But unlike the nursery rhyme tale, your fall fishing can be put back together again if you fish the humps or sunken islands of some larger lakes.

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Walleyes are a structure-oriented fish, most of the time. These walleyes will be tight to the bottom, lying in the holes between rock and cuts. 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.

One of the very first places I look and concentrate my efforts is on the flats. Flats are the least interesting types of structure in a lake. There are no breaks, holes, edges, just flat bottom. But seemingly featureless flats hold most of the active walleyes during most yearly periods. With that definition there is always an exception.

The exception in this case are the mud flats of Mille Lacs. They are mud plateaus that rise up from the floor of the lake and they have edges, holes, and inside turns, but on the top they have the qualities of a defined flat. Most anglers believe that the bigger fish move to the shoreline in the fall, but the mud flats of Mille Lacs hold fish all year around and these big fish stay and feed during the fall months.

On the flats, the weather has less of an impact than it does in shallow water. Fish favor stability. Relatively constant water temperature, water quality, weather, and abundance of prey let fish live predictably. Good fishing often accompanies stable conditions, but sometimes when weather is poor fishing is the best on the flats. Flats are the major food-producing regions of most lakes. Walleyes forage over flats. Therefore, the flats are the home of walleyes.

It’s easy to identify productive flats. Some prime flats drop off steeply into the deepest areas of the lake. Walleyes that use flats typically move shallower at night to feed on a variety of prey species. Baitfish such as cisco and shad move shallower at dusk. The depth of a good flat can very from only a few feet to over 20, depending upon the lake and the season. Flats with a fairly soft or sandy bottom carpeted with low weeds, with patches of coontail or cabbage rising above the carpet, attract walleyes. Submerged weeds develop as the water warms in the summer. Weedy flats hold baitfish that attract walleyes at night. In fall, weeds decline and small fish are flushed from cover. Walleyes feed aggressively throughout this period. Walleyes can feed in dim light. They have a feeding advantage over most prey species after dark.

When fishing these humps I rely on my depthfinder to tell me if anyone is home on these humps. I usually like to look for a good shelf that comes out from an island that has boulders on it. This is the structure that many walleye key in on to rest and ambush their prey as they slide back and forth from the hump to deep water. These are transition areas where the fish come to feed. These humps provide a structure for baitfish that have moved out into deep water as schools, and are looking for a place to rest. Naturally, what attracts the baitfish also attracts the walleye.

The other thing that my Lowrance depthfinder unit, with structure scan, allows me to see is how active these fish are. Many times you can go over the hump and you will see that the walleyes are moving up to the top portion of the hump, this signifies that they are in a positive mood and within minutes you should be landing a nice plump walleye in your boat.

Big fish become vulnerable for longer periods in the fall because they move into areas where baitfish are staging, some remaining in the general area through winter. To catch walleyes during fall transition and early fall consider the tendency for walleyes to move up.

During daylight, if you can’t fish during perfect conditions, it is usually better to concentrate on deep fish, rather than shallow fish. You should look for fish holding areas where wind crashes against a barrier or where the wind churns up the water rather than fishing where it is calm. Concentrate on dark water lakes that have a high percentage of fish caught during the day. Sometimes in dark mucky waters, high bright sun filled days trigger a feeding frenzy because the sunlight gets all the tiny critters moving and in the cycle of fishing the end of the food chain will be the bigger fish.

Constant bottom contact is essential even though it increases the potential for snags. Use a small jig head with a wide hook gap, like a Northland Vegas jig or Eye-Ball jig, to deliver the bait in wavy conditions. Leeches are an outstanding rock bait because they can take the pounding.

Holding on top of a hump on a windy day is a way to catch trophy walleyes. The tackle is simple and the methods are easy to learn. First, use jigs tipped with a crawler, leech or minnow. The size of the jig should be just enough so you have contact with the bottom.

Whenever you must fish in adverse conditions, being either bright sunny days or changing weather conditions, there should be a two step approach. One way is to slow down your presentation. Go slow, use the Motor Guide trolling motor and make your presentation very slow. Maybe even put on a single hook with split shot rather than a walking sinker and vibrating blades. Or the second approach is to go fast. Use fast trolling speeds with artificial lures and speed troll breaklines to get the fish active enough to bite.

All the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty together again. If you remember these techniques I know you can have a great fall. See you on the water.