Fall is big-fish time, particularly for walleyes. Gone are the uncomfortably warm surface temperatures and fussy feeding attitudes of summer. Cooling water triggers walleyes to instinctually chow down in earnest in preparation for a long cold winter and an arduous spring spawn. Gone too are the summer angling and boating crowds. Quiet and solitude above the surface contrast with feeding ferocity below. It’s a great time to be on the water.
Walleyes follow another instinctual calling, and often are drawn to areas of a lake or reservoir where feeding structures plummet chasmlike into the main basin. Contrast this with summer, where walleyes hunt along the drop-offs bordering extensive flats of relatively shallow and consistent depth. Or where walleyes tend to suspend at uniform levels above the thermocline, which basically limits how deep they can go. In essence, walleyes generally behave somewhat horizontally in summer. Establish a depth preference, and have at them.
But in fall, the playing field tilts drastically. Rapid drops to deep water become focal points of walleye activity, and you must think vertically in order to catch fish.
Why the difference? After fall turnover, the thermocline has dissipated, returning oxygen to the depths. A lake or reservoir is of relatively uniform temperature from top to bottom. No barriers prevent up-down fish movement, other than the time it takes fish to adjust to pressure changes. As a result, the fish show more of a tendency to move rapidly up and down along steep structures, rather than patrolling consistent depths along their perimeters. Structures breaking quickly into deep water typically become key to fall trophy success.
This simple premise can steer you toward an area of a reservoir, or from one side of a lake to the other. Where are the steep-breaking structures? If one side of a lake is relatively shallow and sloping, while the other side features shorter structures that drop quickly into the basin, that’s your answer. Think steep and deep.
In a reservoir, the lower and deeper end of the impoundment often hosts the most fish in winter. This is particularly true if the reservoir is shallow — little or no basin area exceeding 40 feet in depth. Everything is relative, however. In a gigantic plateau reservoir with an abundance of deep (100-foot-plus) water, perhaps the deep major creek arms are sufficiently deep to draw fish.
Look at the terrain or examine the lake map. Is one shoreline of the creek arm or impoundment steeper than the other? If so, focus your initial attempts on structures along the visibly steeper side. Oddswise, that’s where most of the walleyes should be. Do deep, submerged river or creek channels swing up against short and steep shoreline points? Dynamite places to start. Take the plunge.
How about midlake structures like humps, reefs, and sunken islands? Once again, do they adjoin deep water? Do at least portions of their edges plummet into the basin or adjoin a deep river channel? If so, concentrate your efforts along those sections, pretty much ignoring portions that taper more slowly into the depths. Percentagewise, sharper drop-offs draw more fish in fall.
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