You’re missing some of the year’s best fall walleye fishing if you put away the boat before autumn’s leaves start turning. As waters cool, walleyes forage heavily to fatten up before winter locks its grip on reservoirs, rivers and natural lakes. To take advantage of fall’s marble-eye bounty, listen up as three top guides reveal their fall walleye fishing secrets.
“As fall progresses, reservoir walleyes migrate to deeper water,” says Joel Vasek, whose clients boat dozens of autumn ‘eyes weighing more than 10 pounds each year. “That’s where the baitfish go. In September and October, the food steadily moves deeper, and walleyes follow. Rocks really hold walleyes now, because that’s where the baitfish are.
“When water temperatures are 56 degrees or below, you want a nice calm and sunny day. Earlier in the fall, when water temperatures are in the higher 50s or above, you’re better off on a cloudy day with a little chop,” advises Vasek. “But in later fall, I really prefer those bluebird days.”
Vasek fishes deep water in fall, usually toward the dam/downstream end of a big reservoir. “I look for anywhere from 28 to 40 or so feet of water,” he says, “with a nearby drop to even deeper water. I always look for sharp dropoffs, steep banks and rocky points. You always want very deep water adjacent to these rocky spots.”
Vasek preaches versatility for fall reservoir walleyes. “Vertical jigging is effective,” he says, “especially on bluebird days.” He recommends a 3/8- to 1/2-ounce jig, tipped with a shiner or 3- to 4-inch sucker minnow. That’s a heavy jig, but the water is deep. “I recommend 6-pound-test Fireline for better feel,” he says. “You can also use a 4-inch white twister tail. White imitates gizzard shad, primary forage for reservoir walleyes.”
Use a Lindy rig with fatheads when there’s a little chop and you need to move around to locate active fish.
“You also need to be able to run crankbaits,” advises Vasek, especially when it’s choppy. “Use lead-core line to get down to where the fish are, and troll.”
He recommends Reef Runners, Shad Raps and Wally Divers to mimic shad or other walleye baitfish. “You want a 4- or 5-inch-long bait with a rattle,” he adds.
Vasek believes in quality electronics, and plenty of them. He likes his Humminbird 1197s (yes, two of them) with side imaging. “You need good technology to really see the fish,” he says. “It cuts your search factor in half.”
Here’s his top fall reservoir secret. “People fish too shallow for fall reservoir walleyes,” he points out. “As October progresses, the fish go deeper and deeper. I’ll start at 25 to 30 feet, and then get down as far as 38 to 40 feet. Walleyes relate to that deep water now. That’s where the forage is.”
“In October, river walleyes pull out of their shallow summer haunts,” says Tim Hutchison, a self-described river rat who also is a topnotch walleye guide and owner of Hutch Fishing Tackle. “Walleyes spent their summers in the backwaters, feasting on bluegills, shad, crayfish and frogs. In fall, they’re heading out to the main channel, where they use wing dams, rock piles, riprap — any kind of current break — as they fatten up for winter.
“On the river, I like a cloudy day with a 5 to 10 mph wind,” says Hutchison. “A wind against the current creates riffles to expose a wing dam’s location. A wind with the current makes it harder to locate the structure.”
Hutchison focuses on wing dams in fall. “The fish will pull into the inside (shore side) of the wing dams first. As fall progresses, they’ll move out toward the main channel.
“Active walleyes hold in the trough in front of a wing dam,” he explains, “but the most aggressive fish are on the very top of the structure, exposed, in 2, 3, or 4 feet of water. The food is there, but the fish are easily spooked. Walleyes sitting in the trough pocket in front are the ones to target.
“Cast jigs tipped with plastic, such as ringworms, ringers, twister tails or shad bodies,” Hutchison says. Anchor upstream of a wing dam and throw to its top. Work the jig into the current, down the wing dam’s face, and into the trough in front.
“I also like crankbaits such as Bombers and Rebel Crawdads,” says Hutchison. “On the inside portion of a wing dam, run them 4 to 6 feet down. On the outside portion, run them at 6 to 10 feet.”
But don’t troll, he says, that spooks active fish. “Instead, hover upstream of the wing dam and work back and forth, casting the crankbaits.
“If walleyes won’t hit plastics or cranks,” he says, “I’ll break out a 3-way rig and bait up with a crawler.
“Use a 6- to 7 1/2-foot medium-light rod for pitching jigs,” he says. “Use a super line such as Suffix or Power Pro. It’s very sensitive to soft pickups. I also like hi-visibility line. It doesn’t bother the fish in murky river water, and you can see hits when the line moves.
“Use a baitcasting outfit for throwing the cranks,” he advises. “Get a long rod (7 feet or more) with a soft tip, so you can make long casts.”
Here’s his top secret for fall walleye fishing on rivers: “Dealing with river flow is hard, details like how much water is flowing, and its depth. I’m not worried about fronts, but increased flow can change everything; it takes too much energy for the fish to forage. Under stable water conditions, the wing dams are a smorgasbord for active fish.”
“Walleyes in natural lakes are hungry now, getting ready for winter,” says Jim Trombley, a successful walleye fishing guide with decades of experience and thousands of walleyes to his credit. “In natural lakes, as the water cools, baitfish head toward shore where there are still a few weeds for cover, and the water warms up during the day. Walleyes follow.”
Shiners, perch, bluegills and suckers are the primary forage and the ones you want your lures to imitate.
“I like just a little wind, and a little overcast, in fall,” Trombley
continues. “That’s ideal. But you can smack ‘em on sunny days, too. The fish are bunching up and feeding hard.”
Trombley likes shorelines in autumn, especially shallow weed lines. “By late September and certainly October,” he says, “walleyes have transitioned off summer mid-lake humps and reefs, and moved toward shore. That is where I go, in 5 to 10 feet of water.
“I like to jig fish,” the guide explains. “You need a little wind, preferably blowing down a shoreline to give you a little drift.” Tip the jig with a soft plastic, or a shiner or sucker minnow. Slightly choppy water obscures your boat and silhouette in shallow, clear fall water.
“If the wind is clipping along some, use a drift sock to slow down. If the wind really dies, I’ll go to a Lindy rig with a 4 to 6 foot snell and a crawler. Troll or back-troll slowly along the weed edges.
“I also like to run crankbaits in fall,” he says. “My favorites are Salmo Hornets. They are phenomenal. Their shaking and rattling really attracts fall walleyes. Run them 50 to 100 feet back in 5 to 10 feet of water at speeds from 1.8 to 3 mph.”
Use 10- to 14-pound Fireline, and use a soft, light, 7- to 8-foot rod for jigging.
“You need that light presentation and touch to feel a soft pickup from a finicky fall fish,” says Trombley.
For crankbaits, Trombley advises No. 4 and No. 5 sizes, and the following Salmo colors: Viking (a gold bottom with a purple tiger top, that is hot), perch and blue dance. Try to mimic the natural fall forage that walleyes are used to.
Here’s his best tip for fall walleye fishing on natural lakes: “Walleyes know it’s time to fatten up. They’re predators. They follow the food toward shorelines where the water is a little warmer and the conditions favorable. You have to follow. It’s that simple.”