Early Fall Transitional Walleyes

by John Campbell

As predator fish begin their fall feeding habits, their focus centers on large forage. Young of the year Perch, Cisco, River Shiners and Chubs, along with other forage, such as frogs, crawfish and even their own off-spring will be targeted. Successful trophy hunters will match the hatch, almost scientifically, at this time of year. Imitation of the forage base is very critical and a key to productivity during the summer feeding binge!

Feeding forays are anything but mysterious! The fish have to eat a lot as summer activity increases. The perdition cycle is in high gear on reefs, large points and adjacent flats, and in neck down flowage areas. Veteran anglers can predict these movements, and position themselves for hot late summer or early fall action on the biggest fish of the year.

Big walleyes will swim into the shallow waters to go on a feeding spree. If you are in the shallows when this takes place hang onto the rod, you are about to catch some of the largest walleyes of your life. As they get full they may slide down to deeper parts of the lake, but again remember they have to eat and one of the places to start looking for big walleyes is shallow. How shallow? Sometimes it maybe six inches of water, just enough to cover them.

On lakes and rivers early fall patterns find big walleyes moving shallow enough for some fisherman to actually see the walleyes. The shallow water stays cool enough for big walleyes through the summer. If the walleyes can find boulders or other shallow water cover to provide shade, they may spend the summer at depths of 10 feet or less. If this is the case, most anglers fish too deep.

In the fall big fish like big baits. In fact, that is never truer than prior to ice-up. The water is cooling down rapidly and those fish won’t expend a great deal of energy on a snack. They want something substantial.

If the water is cooling off, the fish are slowing down. They become sluggish and don’t want to chase all over the lake for food. They want something easy and a lot of it. The anglers must also slow down their presentation to match the mood of the fish. Walleyes can’t resist the slow wobble of a Rattlin’ Fat Rap, or the wide sweep of the thick Jointed Rapala. These large fat baits pulled slowly using long-line trolling techniques or casting into the shallows produce fish.

Don’t overlook a plump nightcrawler or a jumbo leech pulled behind a Hatchet Harness Spinner. Just because the bait is big and plump doesn’t mean that your hooks have to be gigantic either. A small hook allows a walleye to swallow the bait without feeling anything unusual. And a small hook will not break or pull out. Most big walleyes are hooked under snag-free conditions, so if you take your time and do not attempt to horse the fish, light line will do the job. Many times I will scale down my line from 6lb. test original Stren to a 4lb. test clear blue Stren, just to get a better feel and allow the big walleye as little resistance as possible.

Walleyes love live bait, especially in the fall, and there's no more practical way to present live bait than behind a slip sinker slowly dragged along the bottom. Rigging allows an angler to comb a lot of water quickly. It's a great way to search for walleye schools that are scattered along a drop-off.

The key to live-bait rigging is a slow, meticulous presentation. Terminal tackle for a live bait rig usually includes a walking sinker threaded onto the line on top of a barrel swivel. Keep the sinker weight as light as possible, yet heavy enough to let you feel the weight along the bottom. Usually 1/4 to 1/2-ounce sinkers should be adequate for early fall fishing.

From the opposite end of the swivel I run a 2 to 4 foot snell of 6 to 8 pound test monofilament. Adjust the distance of your live-bait rig from the bottom according to water clarity. In stained water the fish will be tight to the bottom so the rig should run closer to the bottom. Just the opposite frequently holds true in clear water.

I prefer to use the Lindy Rig in this case because it allows me the versatility of getting the live bait right in the face of suspended walleyes. A plain VMC, hook or the colored hooks are great, usually number 6 or number 8 finishes off the rig except for the bait.

Let the fish show you, which form of live bait to use. A general rule is to use smaller minnows in the spring and larger minnows in the fall, with leeches and nightcrawlers being most productive in the warmer months of summer. However, I've found that walleyes don't always adhere to the rules. I like to have a complete selection of bait in the boat with me whenever I go fishing. I've had plenty of experiences that saw mid-summer walleyes attacking minnows and early spring walleyes showing a preference to crawlers.

Walleyes often take minnows lightly, and will sometimes nibble at the tail of the night crawler like a small perch does. These slow biters have to be given time to get the bait into their mouths so that the hook can do it’s job.

That's the reason for the Lindy slip sinker, it allows you to feed line to the fish. Most anglers use open-face Shimano spinning reels for live bait rigging. They backtroll, with the bail open and the line caught under the index finger of their rod hand. When they feel a bite, they simultaneously point the rod tip back toward the fish and straighten their finger, allowing line to run freely off the spool. After anywhere from 3 to 30 seconds depending on how aggressive the fish are, reel up the slack line quickly until they feel the weight of the fish. They then snap the rod back with authority and hoist another walleye into the boat.

This is the time of the year walleyes are feeding up for the winter months. All you have to do is be on the water when they decide to feed and you will get some trophy walleyes. For more information or to discuss your presentations drop me a line at www.walleye.info I hope to hear from you soon!

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