When the leaves start to change colors, so does a walleye’s attitudes. It’s at this time that fish can be seemingly less picky when you locate them. Locating them, however, can be easier said than done. As a walleye guide, I like to use the word tricky because the “right spot” one day could mean less than 5 feet of water, and hugging bottom in more than 40 feet the next.
Here are three places to look on your next trophy hunt.
It’s no secret that walleyes like rock piles, but many anglers seem to forget to check out these spots in the fall. On lakes that experience a turnover or deal with oxygen depletion, shallow rock piles are a go-to, particularly when they are wind-blown.
While electronics have come a long way, don’t over-rely on them to indicate there are fish there. When fish are pinned to the bottom between boulders, even the best units might not pick them up. Shallow fish are there to feed and often reveal themselves quickly. Instead, use technology such as Side Imaging or Mega 360 Imaging to see how the structure actually plays out and locate individual targets you can cast to without getting so close that you spook them.
Shallow is a relative term, but water as shallow as a few feet can be a primetime location. Traditional methods like a jig and minnow will work but getting snagged up is a frequent occurrence. Instead, rig a slip bobber or cast a deep-diving crankbait. A crankbait that is designed to run much deeper than the water you are fishing pounds the bottom to triggers bites. It actually will snag up less often than a small lipped lure as it deflects off of the rocks.
It could be the face of a shoal or a main lake shoreline, regardless steep breaks or contours are favored by fall walleyes. Inactive walleye are often marked at or near the base in deeper water. More active schools of walleyes typically suspend shallower and push baitfish against the “walls” of steep breaks, almost like herding cattle.
While those deep walleyes on steep structures don’t always bite, it’s a great way to learn where the fish are located for a return visit later. An even more productive method, however, is to drive the boat on plane off the edge of the structure where suspended walleyes are likely located. It is very common for these “resting” fish to slide out off of the structure and then slide back up when they are going to feed. Pay very close attention to the depth of water the walleyes are suspending in, since it’s frequently the same depth of water, the fish will be near the structure when they are most active.
While the most productive method to actually catch these walleyes will vary, trolling crankbaits in and out of various depths adjacent to the break is often the most efficient approach. Using planer boards along the break side of the boat to spread multiple lines will allow you to cover more water and effectively ply different spots of the contour without the spooking the fish. Later in the fall when temps really start to drop, walleyes are often found grouped tightly together and are susceptible to anglers casting rattlebaits.
On a majority of the big-name walleye lakes, the biggest fish in the system tend to be pelagic. These open water roamers chase large schools of bait that clump together as the water temps drop. Fishing large, open water is very intimidating to many anglers, but it really is the easiest way to fish once you learn a few simple tricks.
Marking fish with traditional 2D sonar while running the boat as fast as 30 mph is a great way to eliminate unproductive water quickly. Ironically, in the fall I find it easier to locate the bait, once you locate the food, the walleyes won’t be far behind. Aside from eliminating water quickly, running at speed and marking fish allows you to see fish higher in the water column that often spook out from under the boat at idle speeds.
Once located, trolling crankbaits behind planer boards allows anglers to spread lines out, covering more real estate and multiple depths to determine the pattern. That’s easily the most efficient and easiest way to fish when walleyes are loosely grouped and spread out at different depths.
Inversely, when walleyes are grouped tightly or bottom-oriented, casting or vertical jigging with spoons or horizontal jigs, such as a Rapala Jigging Rap, is very effective at quickly getting up and down on active fish.
There certainly are more than three places walleyes will hide this fall, but if you spend time digging into the three types I listed above, you’re certain to have a tasty walleye dinner soon.
*Ross Robertson, BigwaterFishing.com