Ask seriouswalleye anglers their favorite time to fish and many inevitably say fall. Fall can be great for numbers and big fish as waters cool and fish move from summer patterns into colder conditions. Although fish metabolism starts slowing in cooler waters, they do go on feeding binges. One of the best things about fall walleye fishing is fish moving into shallower waters during evening and night hours, which opens up opportunities for anglers without boats to catch fish casting from the shore or wearing a pair of waders.
But first, let’s talk options for walleyes during the day in the fall. From the Dakotas to the Great Lakes states to Minnesota, many of these techniques are universal and can apply to wherever you fish. Although guides talk specifics on their home region, try their approaches on your waters. What works one place might work just as well in another.
JIG RAPPIN’ BRIDGES: DEVILS LAKE, N.D.
Over years of guiding, Johnnie Candle, a walleye ace based in Devils Lake, N.D., has learned lots about walleyes. One of his go-to fall tactics is targeting bridges with areas of current between various lobes of Devils Lake and its many bays by ripping No. 9 Jigging Raps.
Candle keeps his rod tip at 9, 10 or 11 o’clock, making smaller rips to keep the bait in the strike zone while letting it fall on slack line. His go-to setup is 15-pound braid with several feet of 15-pound fluorocarbon leader attached with a small barrel swivel. He prefers a 7-foot fast- or extra-fast-action rod when fishing braid and fluorocarbon.
Bait color choice all depends on water clarity, which can vary tremendously on Devils Lake due to algae.
“When the sun is penetrating the algae, I’ll go with a chrome Jigging Rap,” Candle said. “On a dead-calm day with no sun penetration under the algae or it’s cloudy overhead, I’ll go with UV green for the low-light situation.”
He mentioned the key is working the Jigging Rap with a quick rip and maintaining slack line on the drop.
“One of the biggest problems is clients not letting their baits fall on slack line,” he said. “About 20 percent will pin their bait to the bottom, and 10 percent will actually feel the hit on the lift or somewhere else in the cadence. [Most] fish you won’t even feel hit, they’ll just be there on the lift.”
DEEP-WATER BLADE BAIT BITE: MICHIGAN WATERS
In the glacially formed waters around the Great Lakes, another fall technique performs. Pro angler David Rose of Traverse City, Mich., said walleyes in his area want to move shallow to feed on minnows, but once the algae begin to clear up, water clarity and sunlight keep fish deep during the day.
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“About a week after turnover, everything settles down and walleyes will go out to 35, 45 or 50 feet of water and just kind of belly up down there,” Rose said. “This is when blade baits really start working, especially as water temperatures start to get back down into the 50s and high 40s.”
Rose’s program consists of baits like Heddon Sonars and Reef Runner Cicadas cast far on 8- to 10-pound Seaguar superline with a foot or 2-foot fluorocarbon leader. He’ll sometimes increase the fluorocarbon to stiffer 14- or 15-pound test to keep baits, which often spin in the air, from fouling.
He connects his superline to the fluorocarbon with a ball bearing swivel, and the fluorocarbon terminates in a regular snap that he connects directly to the blade bait. Rose likes the fast action of St. Croix’s AVS66MF 6’6” moderate-power AVID spinning rod for blade baits, as it “telegraphs the vibration of the lure nicely, as well as strikes.”
He recommended letting baits fall to bottom. Then rip up a foot or two and reel in slack to keep taut “as the bait pendulums toward you.” Rose said this triggers some walleyes lying lethargic near bottom around midday.
“But the hit will be light,” he added. “You’re just going to get that walleye tick and you’re going to want to set the hook.”
FALL JIGGING: MINNESOTA
Grand Rapids, Minn., guide Tom Neustrom likes fall because the walleye bite tends to be more consistent. There’s always a chance for big fish, too.
“When that water temperature drops from 70 to 75 degrees after a few cold nights down into the 60s, that gets the walleyes moving,” Neustrom said. “I move back to jig fishing because you’re keying in on pods of fish again, and I think that’s the important thing to know about the transitional period—when the temperature starts to drop, the fish start to feed, so you really need to monitor the water temperature.”
Neustrom likes jigging in fall because he can cover water quickly and key in on active fish. In spring, Neustrom moves shallow during the day. In fall, the opposite is true. He said he looks for fish in 25 to 35 feet during daytime in the fall, as well as “edges of deep water to shallower water, say 12 to 20 feet of water.”
In fall, he said to also target edges of breaks, edges of dropoffs and edges plainly visible on electronics. When looking at LakeMaster or other maps, he also suggested hitting “points off of shore.” Not so much mid-lake sunken islands, he said, but points that “dip out into deeper water” because “the deeper drop is where walleyes will congregate in the fall and then move up on the shelf or break to feed.”
Neustrom uses his Humminbird Down Imaging a lot in fall, not only to locate edges but to “find fish often in better detail than traditional 2D sonar.” His fall jigging setup comprises VMC Moon Eye jigs fished on monofilament unless he’s over 30 feet of water. In those cases, he’ll fish 10-pound Sufix 832 superline with a 10-pound fluorocarbon leader. Although a fan of plastics in spring and summer, he switches to live bait in fall.
“In fall, I’m looking at a jig and minnow bite,” Neustrom said. “I’m really partial to rainbow chubs for bait; shiners are great if you can get them, but if I have a choice of two handfuls of bait, I’m going to take the rainbow chubs every time.”
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Regarding his choice of VMC Moon Eye jigs, Neustrom said he’s a big fan of their relatively fast-sinking pill-shaped head. “I can get away with a 1/4-ounce where I’d normally fish a 3/8-ounce; and I can fish an 1/8-ounce jig where I’d normally use a 1/4 because they sink quicker” he said. “They also have a sharp VMC hook on them and a keeper that I hook down deep enough in the minnow’s throat that it helps keep the bait pinned longer without falling off.”
Neustrom fishes a St. Croix Legend Elite spinning rod with a Daiwa Ballistic 2000 reel. “The rod has a lot of firmness, but the softer tip that telegraphs everything to you,” he said, “it really becomes an extension of your arm and allows me to key in on finesse bites that a lot of guys can’t pick up.”
As turnover and post-turnover approaches, Neustrom works the jig slower. He described it as a lift, drag and drop retrieve, not the popping, snap jigging approach used in warmer water. Water in the 50s and high 40s requires a more deliberate approach as walleyes’ metabolisms slow down and they don’t want to chase as much, he said, and the slower “drift-and-drop routine” results in more fish.
“I tell guys all the time that if it feels like you’re dragging a wet sock on the bottom, that’s usually a pretty good-sized walleye that has a hold of your bait,” Neustrom said. “They’ll pick it up and just move along with you, then all of a sudden you have to tighten up your line and set the hook. Another tip: If you miss a fish, put the jig right back in front of the fish again, don’t reel in. It’s a cat and mouse affair, and many times that walleye will hit the jig again.”
NIGHT MOVES: SHALLOW FROM SHORE
David Rose also likes evening and night-fishing from shore or in waders in fall.
“As soon as the sun starts going down, walleyes will start to transition up over the breaklines,” Rose said. “And about an hour after dark, those fish will have moved into 3, 4 or 5 feet of water. This is when we start using jerkbaits like Rapala Husky Jerks or Smithwick Rogues in the 4- to 5-inch size range.”
Rose prefers longer rods for shore and wade-fishing to maximize cast distances. Make a long cast, reel in about 3 feet to get the lure diving a bit, and just let it sit there keeping your line taut. It might take 30 or 40 seconds—maybe a minute— and then Rose slowly twitches the bait in about a foot at a time, periodically stopping it and letting it rest.
“All of sudden, you’ll feel that tick, and if they’re striking from the opposite direction, it’ll feel more like a bass hit,” Rose said.
Optimal shore setup locations are near weedline edges and almost any kind of point, especially adjacent to deep water. Sandy or rocky bottom areas are often good clues, too.
Rose said some days different sides of the point will be better as a result of wind direction, moon phase, etc., but points adjacent to deep water are “probably the number one areas to fish.”
In Minnesota, Neustrom said he always looks for the mouth of a creek, a river, any place with a bit of current or where wind was blowing in the day before.
“Those are areas where walleyes are going to be,” he said. “You’ve got to find the routes. Sometimes during the day when you’re fishing you find the routes the walleyes are using to go up and down in depth. Those are great places to fish with waders, or just casting from shore if you have the dropoff close enough.
Again, a jig and a minnow will work, as well as Shad Raps, Husky Jerks or shallow-water Rapalas. It’s a great way to catch fish in the evening and at night—and especially if you have some current, it can be really awesome,” Neustrom said.