Riege: School Up Some Walleyes

Published 8:18 pm Wednesday, August 31, 2011


September marks the opening of school in all of the Upper Midwest. With the beginning of school I start to think about getting out and fishing for schooled up fish. That is right, those fish come together for a variety of reasons, but the most important of these is to feed on the available food source.

Here is a typical situation at this time of the year. You’ve been on the water all day trying to scrounge up a few fish, either walleyes, bass, or crappies. You’ve already worked the shallow and deep weedlines and determined that the fish aren’t there. It’s time to try the deep points and sunken islands. The only reason you haven’t tried the more open water areas already is because the wind is blowing pretty good and holding a boat on the precise spot where the fish are will be difficult.

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Finding a school of active fish would have been ideal if they were shallow or close to the shore. Unfortunately, at this point in September the school can be found out in open water, where the waves may be a little higher and boat control can give even the best angler fits.

When fishing structure that isn’t associated with shoreline or a stationary object in the water, it becomes essential to use a good depth finder. I will run back and forth over an area many times with my eyes glued on my depthfinder until I pinpoint the exact location of the fish on a piece of structure. They might be relating to a small finger extending from a sunken island or to a tiny corner on the point. Once you have located these fish, your presentation and bait selection is very important.

My first and 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. I will even use a method of backtrolling my boat into the waves to slow down my presentation of the lure. 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 such as a Roach Rig, or a Northland Spinner.

My position 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 and freedom to follow the school and the structure that they are holding on.

Sometimes when working a school of fish in open water it is tough to keep your bearings, especially if they are holding on a piece of structure smaller than your bathroom. This is a great time to use a marker buoy. Always throw it shallower than where the fish are located, for two reasons. First, it you throw it directly on the school, it will interfere with the drift. The marker will just get in the way. Secondly, when the fish realizes it’s hooked, it will frequently swim toward deeper water, away from the marker. This reduces the chances of the fish getting tangled up in the buoy line. Throw the marker shallow and keep in mind where it is in relation to the school of fish.

Anchoring is yet another method of staying with these fish. If the wind is really blowing then you might want to anchor above the active fish and let out enough anchor rope so you are in casting range of this school. The Down Deep Tail Dancer is easily fished over fish that are 20 feet down and casting is a very productive way to present this type of lure. Or you might want to let out enough anchor rope to sit right over the top of the school and vertically jig them.

The secret to this type of fishing is staying with the active school. You have to be ready to move or change your presentation as the weather and fish dictate. If you want to catch fish in September or October, remember school up some walleyes this fall.