September 24, 2010
These tactics are sure to improve your catch of fall walleyes, no matter where you fish for them.
If you want to catch lots of walleyes on crankbaits this fall, then you ought to start thinking more like a Type A bass angler. This is the time of year when walleyes offer anglers a chance to enjoy some great cranking action if the anglers know where to look and how to fish. Thinking "bass" isn't as important for the former as it is the latter.
Walleyes begin moving shallow, away from their deeper summer haunts, and they're keying on baitfish as their "feed-up" to winter begins. This is where the concept of thinking like a Type A bass angler enters the picture.
You find the Type A anglers mostly fishing tournaments. Their goals are simple -- they cover a lot of water and use baits that will trigger reactionary strikes from the most aggressive fish. Once they've located fish and/or identified a specific pattern, these anglers often slow down and fish more thoroughly. This is especially true after they have a limit of fish in the livewell. From there, they start trying to improve the quality of that limit by replacing the smallest fish with larger ones.
At first read, that probably doesn't sound like anything a walleye angler would think about; at least, not a casual one who doesn't fish tournaments. In the fall, however, that kind of mindset can prove very effective, especially for crankbait fans.
Adapting that approach from bass to walleyes is simple. You should start out covering water and likely holding spots, either with a run-and-gun approach or by trolling. As you begin catching walleyes, pay attention to the kinds of places you're picking up fish. Soon, you'll begin to understand where the walleyes are holding in your favorite spots, and you can focus more intently on fishing the places where walleyes have bunched up.
Use rods of at least 6 feet; 7-footers are even better because the longer rods enable you to make longer casts. Remember, you want to cover a lot of water as you begin searching for fall walleyes with your crankbaits.
For me, 10-pound monofilament is a good choice. In general, lines with the diameter of 10-pound mono will suit you well. There are modern lines with higher breaking points than 10 pounds that offer the line diameter in the 8- to 10-pound range. Any of them should serve you well -- with one exception.
River trolling may require you to incorporate lead core to get baits down and working in currents that can be deceivingly swift. Some anglers will use leaders made from lead core to help get baits down and working in rivers. Others will just troll with reels loaded with lead core. Your goal is to get your crankbaits into the strike zone and keep them there as you troll. If you haven't done much trolling, you may need to experiment some to find the combination that works best for you.
Some may disagree with this, but I offer it based on personal experience covering many outings where I trolled for walleyes and other species. My goal with trolling speed always was to get the bait(s) I was using to move just fast enough for their "natural action" to prevail. Often, that speed is slower than you might imagine. Your rod tip will show you when trolled baits start working. When you achieve that speed, hold it.
Crankbaits that offer tight action are great bets for walleye fishing. My personal favorite style is a stick bait, and there are a number of options in that design. Among the best are the Storm ThunderStick, the Reef Runner 800 series, the Rebel series of minnow stick baits and those from Rapala.
These lures are effective when trolled or cast and cranked. Fall is a time when walleyes are moving shallower, as noted earlier, and so shallow-running models are good choices. Using lead core line when trolling, as noted earlier, will give you the ability to get these baits deeper while not affecting their inherent action.
Other minnow imitations, like the No. 7 Rapala Shad Rap, also are effective, as is the original Storm Hot-N-Tot, which is one of the most well known and "catchingest" walleye baits of all time.
Picking a style of walleye crankbait these days often is easier than settling on color patterns because there are so many different colors available. However, there are some basic considerations to keep in mind.
If you're fishing mostly clear water, natural colors that offer some flash are very effective. Blue over silver, for example, is a great choice. In periods of low light or in off-color water, the venerable fire tiger pattern is tough to beat.
On lakes of any size, rocky structure and areas with submerged structure are great places to start cranking for fall walleyes. Main-lake points are among the best areas, as are coves with feeder creeks.
One of the keys to success in the fall involves making long casts and covering water before you disturb it by moving your boat through the area. This will be especially important if a hot, dry summer has led to lower lake levels with fairly clear water. It's not unusual to encounter those conditions now.
An outing on a small lake many years ago taught me that very important lesson. Coming out of one of the hottest, driest summers on record, the lake in question was very low and as clear as I'd ever seen it. There was one cove on that lake that was known to produce good walleye action in the fall. On that day, however, the cove was half its normal size and almost crystal clear.
Moving into it slowly, my fishing partner and I shared the front of the boat and were casting stick baits ahead of the boat along the creek channel and to shoreline structure. We caught walleyes -- including one of almost 28 inches that weighed more than 6 pounds -- but only before we had to move into the cove to reach its back end.
At that point, we could see walleyes almost everywhere in the shallow, gin-clear water. But once the boat got into the cove far enough to begin disturbing things slightly, the walleyes shut down.
Long casts toward prime structures are your keys to lake fishing success now. Just remember that covering a lot of water, in this case, doesn't mean you have to fish super fast. Use a normal retrieve -- only fast enough to get your bait down to its intended working depth, and to get it to start wobbling and move the way it's supposed to.
On rivers, trolling will enable you to cover water as you try to locate walleyes. Once you've picked up a few fish, you should begin to understand where they're holding amid the flow. They could be on current edges in slack water. They could be downstrea
m of bridges or holding on flats.
When you've figured that out, it could be best to abandon the trolling for a while to fish these kinds of spots more thoroughly. Doing so will let you work groups of walleyes that have bunched up.
Night-fishing in the fall also can pay off with plenty of walleyes. Unless you have really good knowledge of the waters you'll be fishing, and can navigate potential hazards after dark, it's better to err on the side of caution and fish from shore.
Focus your efforts on rocky structure, including the riprap along dams and around bridge pilings. And if you know of coves with streams feeding them, try to get in position to cast across the mouths of those streams and around the main and secondary points. All of these spots can provide consistent night action for walleyes.