Changing Tactics For Changing Seasons

After Labor Day, walleyes leave their midlake digs and move toward shore. Here are some tips for finding and catching autumn walleyes.

Scott Fairbairn hauls in a big autumn walleye.
Photo by Ron Hustvedt.

John House puts in numerous days on the water, but if he had to choose one time of year to go walleye fishing, it would be right now.

"I'd pretty much give up my whole year of fishing just to fish the fall bite," he said. "This time of the year brings in the big fish feeding heavily as they get ready for the winter."

Fall fishing is a tough gig for many die-hard anglers because time is at a premium with all the other things to do. After all, these are the seasons for waterfowling, bowhunting, scouting, upland hunting and finishing those outdoor honey-do projects before the long winter sets in.

House is a die-hard hunter, but he has a tough time stowing his fishing gear and winterizing the boat when the walleye action is hot and heavy.

His solution: Mix it up and get in some quality hunting and fishing in the same day and forget the projects.

OUT FOR A TROLL
The fall feeding window stays open longer than it does in summer because walleyes are trying to bulk up with a dwindling food supply. This puts walleyes on the move making trolling a terrific method where it is allowed. Walleyes are feeding heavily on minnows and perch, making crankbaits a deadly presentation.

"Crankbaits give them what they are after and lets you cover a ton of water while you are at it," House said.

Some anglers prefer cruising the shallows, while others like probing the depths, but the good news is that walleyes can be found in both locations.

"If anything has changed in the world of walleyes it's that we don't try to pigeonhole techniques to a specific location or season. You just need to follow an active group of fish and let them tell you what they want the most," said Gary Parsons, a three-time Professional Walleyes Tour angler of the year.

On reservoirs and natural lakes, Parsons said walleyes tend to abandon the basin and relate to shoreline structures from the deep breaks all the way up to the top. Weedlines are another location along both the deep and shallow edges. On those bodies of water where trolling is restricted, casting to those locations can work just as well.

SHALLOW-WATER TROLLING
Once the water cools to the 50s, House prepares to go shallow. He knows the action is going to be good and only get better.

"As the water cools to the mid-40s, the big fish come up in droves closer to shore along rock reefs and weed edges. You can catch them all the way to ice-up if you are lucky," House said.

Trolling in the range of 1.7 to 1.9 miles per hour is always a good rule of thumb. House said that early in the fall if the fish aren't biting, he speeds up before he slows down. Later in the fall, he'll drop the speed all the way down to less than a mile per hour.

Long-lining with the lure 100 to 150 feet behind the boat can be effective in calm and clear conditions. As is often the case in the fall, the weather is either windy, overcast or both. House usually trolls back 75 feet but in heavy waves holds tight with 40 to 50 feet of line. If you want the lure to tick the bottom or weed tips, use a superline. House said monofilament is ideal for keeping a lure running shallower but shouldn't be used long-lining.

Trolling boards are also effective this time of year, especially on larger structures. With other anglers fishing the same body of water, boards can get in the way.

"I prefer to fish with a little wave action meaning you don't need the boards so much," House said.

CRANKBAIT CASTING
Terry Tuma has given hundreds of fall walleye fishing seminars over the years and does plenty of fall crankbait fishing. He is a fan of trolling but has had a lot of success casting the same locations he trolls as well as on weedflats.

"Find the cabbage and coontail patches that are still green and lush -- the best areas seem to be near the breakline," he said.

Trolling seems to work better in the evening and at night, while the casting pattern seems to be best in the morning. Lipless crankbaits work well but so do shallow-running lures like the X-Rap or jointed Rapala.

DEEPER TROLLING
Parsons helped revolutionize the concept of contour trolling, and it's a deadly technique for those walleyes that remain deep.

"In a lot of places we fish I can have a higher catch rate trolling crankbaits on lead core than other guys can with rigs and jigs," he said.

The reason, he explained, is that although rigs and jigs are a more precise and efficient method of covering a specific location, it's not exactly what the walleyes are looking for right now.

"Let's say there's a group of walleyes in 40 feet of water on a deep-water point adjacent to the lake basin. You could get those fish with a jig or rig by sitting on their heads and being in the fish 100 percent of the time --or you could contour troll and spend most of your time repositioning your boat."

Parsons continued, "You might be spending more time repositioning your boat to stay on active fish, but we find that these fall fish prefer crankbaits and you could be catching them five to one over those other anglers using jigs and rigs."

Tuma also fishes rivers in the fall and tends to find them holding in the depths of big pools. A heavily weighted three-way swivel rig with a 2- to 3-ounce weight and a 6- to 8-foot snell tipped with a crankbait is a deadly setup. "You don't need a lot of line out, just enough to get it down to where you need it. Keep the rod tip at a 45-degree angle and as soon as you feel something, set the hook," Tuma said.

CRANKBAIT DETAILS
Crankbait selection seems to be less of an issue in the fall compared with earlier in the year, Parsons said.

"Those walleyes are aggressively feeding all the way until ice-up, so they are less selective."

Because some of the best fall fishing comes during the nighttime, House likes lures with a lot of texture.

"I'll throw on a rattling Rogue because when you fish the twilight or moonlight that texture flips back a reflection like fish scales do," he said. His other l

ure choices include Bombers and Excaliburs.

JIGS AND RIGS
As you troll or cast an area covering plenty of water, be sure to mark those locations where you catch fish," House said. "If you see those walleyes close together, you can go back and work it with jigs or live-bait rigs to pick up a few bonus fish,"

Tuma said a larger profile jigging setup is often the best, especially when there's an aggressive bite. He uses a plain jig most of the year, but in the fall, he prefers jigs with dressings for a larger profile. Experiment with different colors, which can make a big difference.

Lift-and-drop jigging can be productive, he said, but so can the technique where you drop the jig a few inches and then hold it steady. Jigging works great in deeper water, and getting down into the depths quickly means using a heavy jig for the job --up to half an ounce when the walleyes are at their deepest. Crawlers and leeches work, but minnows are best.

Larger minnows, such as redtails, are great in the fall, but don't forget to upgrade your hook size, Tuma said.

Tuma likes using Fireline Crystal when jigging because he is usually fishing deeper and needs to be able to detect the slightest strikes. If he finds himself missing strikes, he switches to monofilament because the stretch allows for a delayed hookset.

TIMING IS EVERYTHING
House's favorite period for fall fishing is during the new moon when the sky is dark.

"I like the full moon as well, but that's when everybody is going -- over the years my biggest fish have come during the new moon," he said.

Fronts seem to be less of an issue in the fall, probably because there are so many this time of year. While steady weather patterns are hoped for most of the year, a steady wind direction is most desirable in the fall. "Cold fronts don't seem to be as much of a deterrent as they are in the summertime," Tuma said.

PLASTICS FOR PERCH & MORE
On those mornings when the grouse came easy and there's some time to kill before the evening bite gets going, House takes the kids and fan-casts rockpiles, gravel flats and bulrush edges with 2-inch or smaller tubes and twister tails on 3/32- to 1/8-ounce jigs. The perch are up feeding in depths from 1 to 3 feet deep. The food chain being what it is, don't be surprised if you catch a big pike or bonus walleyes up there to feed on the perch.

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