Cool nights, football games, and long pants usually mean the start of prime walleye fishing in most parts of the walleye world. As the waters cool, these fish know to strap on the feedbag in order to help eggs develop or put on some extra fluff to get through the winter slowdown. It’s at this time that they get a little easier to catch and a whole lot bigger when you do. Fall is my favorite time to chase my favorite fish. Here are three ways to target big fall walleyes no matter where you live.
Trolling for Fall Walleyes On any lake or reservoir hosting walleyes, open water trolling is often the most effective tactic for finding them. The ability to fish multiple rods (where legal) and cover large swaths of water without too much effort is flat-out efficient.
Start by looking to mark these fish on your sonar while running the boat on plane. This helps your efficiency by eliminating water faster than you could ever fish it. Depending on the system and water temperature, look for fish to be holding fairly deep in the water column, but don’t be surprised to see suspended fish. The higher the fish are in the water column, the more likely they are to pounce on your lures. Walleye at this time of year will move substantially to chase schools of baitfish that constantly adjust in the water column as temperature and light penetration change.
Deep-diving crankbaits like the Northland Rumble Stick trolled behind planer boards is usually my most productive tactic. Don’t be afraid to use large lures at this time of year. Baitfish that have survived the season are larger and walleyes are looking for big easy meals. An added benefit is that longer lures often get deeper with ease.
In locations where multiple rods are legal, look to use planer boards to spread out your lines. This allows you to cover more water and get lines away from the boat to avoid spooking fish. It also makes it easier to fish at a variety of depths at once to more quickly locate the active zone.
If additional diving depth is needed to reach active fish, a snap weight or even switching to a small diameter braided line is a simple way to gain additional depth without a lot of extra effort or gear.
Casting for Fall Walleyes Trolling works great when fish are either suspended or spread out over open water, but doesn’t work as well when fish are isolated. In the fall, walleyes may congregate on rock piles, river mouths, current breaks, or deep humps and be active enough to mark on sonar. When this is the case, look to cast at them with a glidebait like the Clam Tikka minnow or Northland Puppet. These lures, also known as jigging raps, can be cast and worked back to the boat aggressively or jigged vertically to watch like a video game on your electronics.
If fish become too inactive, it may be time to switch to the old reliable, the jig and minnow. A shiner hooked through the mouth, out its gill and just nicked into its back is a lethal method when water temps drop and walleye become fussy. Look for a jig with a large gap and long shank such as the Northland Long Shank Fireball.
While this style of fishing has been going on for decades, it is definitely all the rage right now due to the developments in live sonar technology such as Humminbird’s Mega Live technology. The real-time sonar is almost like a 3D flasher and allows you to see exactly where the fish are located in the water column and in relation to your transducer. Just as important is the ability to see how the fish are reacting to your lure or how you are presenting it. Using this technology is truly mindblowing, but it can also be frustrating to see just how many fish actually look at your bait and move on. What it does do is immediately let you know if you need to change something in your presentation or location in the water column.
I know many will say that it’s too much to learn or too much money, but this technology is here to stay and it will make you a better fisherman instantly. Another added benefit I’ve seen from the live sonar in my boat is that it seems to keep younger or new anglers engaged longer, even if fish aren’t jumping right into the boat.
Night Fishing for Fall Walleyes Grampa use to say nothing good happens after 10 p.m., but he never was much of a walleye fisherman. The late shift in the fall on many bodies of water is the absolute best bite of the year because the fish actively feed in more predictable areas and the traffic is next to nothing.
Look for shallow, rocky areas that will allow walleyes to corral baitfish or where a current or wind break appears. Areas that have light near the water tend to attract baitfish and subsequently walleyes as well. Wind pushing onto flats can be some of the easiest places to locate high percentage night fishing walleyes.
Take caution to avoid making lots of noise and shining lights in the water. As active as these night-hunting walleye can be, they are quick to spook when they sense company. If fishing from a boat, ease in to areas and use an electric engine. In all reality, this is one of the few times of the year that you can catch walleyes from shore just as effectively as you can from a boat. Piers, docks, and shoreline riprap are all key areas to target.
The primary weapon is casting stick baits such as the Northland Rumble B. The Rumble B has a unique rattle and gets slightly deeper than other stick baits, which both can be crucial. A smaller stickbait like the 13 Fishing Whipper Snapper may be helpful for picky fish. On many nights the most aggressive fish will be up shallower, but fish that remain suspended out over deeper water don’t see many lures. It’s at this time that a lipless crank like a Northland Rippin’ Shad or Rapala Rippin’ Rap can be ideal. Just understand that with lipless cranks, you usually go home with fewer than you started with. Hopefully you go home with more walleyes than you started with though. That seems like a fair trade to me.
Feature image via Bill Lindner.