Though it can get cold – make that, very cold – during the fall, you don’t need rocks in your head to chase late-season walleyes. Even more than spring, autumn can be the best time to hook the trophy of a lifetime. The fish are big and hungry and unlike spring when they are spawning, eating is the only thing on their minds in fall as they fatten up for winter. Weather and water levels can also be more stable later in the season than earlier in the year.
But, whether we’re targeting rivers or lakes in fall, we certainly should have rocks on our minds. The biggest walleyes (and highest concentrations) will be schooled around places with hard bottoms. Take the time to find rocks, then locate the spot-on-the-spot and hold onto your rod. That chill in the air just might signal the hottest bite you’ve seen all year.
Many walleye fishermen will head to Wawang Lake in spring when the spawning instinct sends huge numbers of walleyes and saugers to their regular, shallow spawing beds. But the savviest walleye anglers know the spawning migration actually begins in fall. The fish that were scattered and hard to find all summer begin schooling and traveling toward hard-bottom spots where they’ll spawn when the combination of temperature, daylight and current is right, come springtime. Conditions can be better in August to November than they are in May and June.
You’re also not dealing with the crowds you see earlier in the year. By this time, many anglers have set aside fishing rods and picked up their guns or bows to hunt deer. If they head to the water, it’s only to down geese or ducks. Points and where current strength lessens offers fish places to rest, are key. But where inside bends were best in spring, outside bends may hold fish in fall. Check for places where hard bottom areas feature gravel and clam shells.
Hard-bottom areas at the mouths of bays and narrows are also key spots. As colder nights lower the water temperature and kill vegetation in the shallows, baitfish move toward the main lake. Predators station themselves at the openings and make a killing – literally. The mouths of creeks or inlets offer the same scenario.
Keep it simple. Slip jig with a Fuzz-E-Grub jig just heavy enough to maintain bottom contact. Lindy’s new X-Change jigheads allow you to change the weight to match the depth, current and other factors like wind. They also let you change up colors to see if walleye show a preference, and they often do. Use braided line to increase sensitivity, so you can feel transition areas from mud to rocks. Turn up the gain on your sonar. When you see a double bottom (‘second echo’) appear on the screen, you know the bottom is hard.
Pull three-way rigs as an alternative. Use a Lindy NO-SNAGG sinker with a dropper and enough weight to keep the line at a 45-degree angle while slowly moving or hovering with your trolling motor. Use a floating shallow diving crankbait or plain hook tipped with a lively minnow. Add color with a bead or a floating jig.
Shoreline points and islands that feature fast drops to deep water are key spots on Wawang Lake. Walleyes in areas like that can hold in deeper water for security and swim to shallower water to feed without much effort. Use Lindy Rigs with big chubs and NO-SNAGG sinkers to move up and down the dropoffs. Keep your bait fresh and tail hook it so it struggles to attract nearby walleyes. Try using 10-pound braided line, like Power Pro, for your main line, with a fluorocarbon leader on a rod rated for 8- to 14-pound-test line. The rod must have enough backbone for good hooksets in deep water but have a limber enough tip to vibrate when the forage reacts to an approaching walleye. Be ready when the chub starts to struggle a walleye is close by.
A soft tip also lets the rod absorb the shock of a big fish, a must when using no-stretch braided line. Don’t overlook rock piles. But, it’s important to realize the impact of turnover on fish location. Lakes stratify in summer with walleyes and other fish trapped in the water above the thermocline when oxygen content below it drops too low to support life. But that changes when water temperature drops down into the low 50s F. Water becomes heavier at that point and the water on top sinks and allows oxygen to mix at all depths again. Fish are free to travel downward as water near the surface dips below their comfort zones.
As a result, rock piles at ever-increasing depths start to hold walleyes. If you aren’t catching fish on rock piles that held walleyes in the warm months, go deeper.
It’s not all about hard bottoms in autumn. Walleyes will converge on mud flats if an insect hatch occurs. But at the same time, turn up the gain on the sonar and watch for places where a double bottom appears, signaling a transition to harder bottom. Travel around the area slowly. You might stumble across a peak (slightly higher point) in the rocks, where walleyes are gathered as if they were invited to dinner. Just because it’s cold and deer season is open doesn’t mean that fishing in autumn requires rocks in your head. But, you sure should have rocks on your mind.
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