October 01, 2021
By Ross Robertson
As summer fades to fall, it typically leads to a difficult walleye fishing. On my home body of water, Lake Erie, most anglers switch to catching perch, or sighting in their deer guns or bows. Wacky weather plays a large role in this tough period of fishing: one day its 100 degrees, the next day you need long underwear. Ironically, it’s the temperature below the surface that can make things difficult.
Lake Erie’s surface temperature is often near 80 degrees at the start of this period, and it needs to drop about thirty degrees to trigger the fall migration and binge-feeding season. Read on if you wish to beat the difficult weather and catch more bigger walleyes.
Early in this seasonal transition the water temps are so warm that many of the fish are on bottom near the cooler water. Shortly after, on larger deeper bodies of water like Lake Erie, you will actually see a thermocline develop in the deeper water and a slight temperature break in the shallower basins.
Today’s electronics are great for spotting these temperature breaks as they appear as a fuzzy skinny line across the screen. Simply turning up the gain or sensitivity from your normal settings a touch is all you need to do to see it. These minor temperature breaks are a big deal and can cause baitfish—and walleyes—to congregate in specific portions of the water column. You almost always want to put your lures at or just above the baitfish and this usually means just above the thermocline or temperature break.
When this is the case, your best friend is a Fish Hawk. This speed and temp probe sees regular use in my boat this time of year. The ability to see how the current is affecting your lures speed is a huge bonus.
Some lakes will experience turnover, and this can further complicate things. In layman’s terms: lake turnover is when the warm water on the surface begins to cool and sinks down due to density. When this happens, it causes the water to mix. You know a lake has turned over when the surface and bottom temps are nearly identical.
When this happens baitfish and gamefish move around in the water column very unpredictably, to say they could be anywhere is no exaggeration, but deep is often where to look.
Anglers are often very intimidated with fishing deep, but with a few tweaks it’s not as difficult as some may believe. Here are three ways to get deep for late summer and early fall deep walleyes.
1. Dipsy Diver
Dipsy Divers get deep quickly and can be spread out to reduce tangling to cover more water. With a little practice you can easily troll three per side of the boat. On the back of the dipsy, it has a dial that reads from 0 to 3 on the left and right. Zero has no planning action and will run straight below the boat, whereas the three setting angles away from the boat. Running a spread of 0, 1.5 and 3 is a good way to get additional lines in the water and a wider coverage.
When running Dipsy Divers, it’s best to use braided line to get additional diving depth, but primarily to allow the trip mechanism to function easier. Lines like monofilament have a lot more stretch and can act like a rubber band when attempting to “trip” the mechanism on small fish or when moving from spot to spot.
When it comes to tackle, just about any shallow diving lure can be used on a Dipsy, with flutter spoons, shallow stick baits and even crawler harness’s being the most popular. This is one of the easiest ways to get very small lures deep both quickly and efficiently.
2. Snap Weights
Trolling crankbaits on monofilament flat lined or with planer boards is an extremely popular method to easily cover water and catch walleyes. The issue becomes most of the popular walleye-size crankbaits won’t dive much more than 20 feet without a little extra help.
The addition of a 1- to 3-ounce snap weight makes getting this extra depth very easy. Simply clip the weight in front of the lure anywhere from a rod length to as much as 50 feet. When fish are extremely deep and a little more active, look to run a lead as short as a rod length in order to gain extra depth and then avoid removing the weight when netting.
Routinely, guides use a 20- to 30-foot lead as an all-around compromise. When fishing clear or pressured water, or the need for a less aggressive action, a lead of 50 feet is just right. The longer leads don’t impart as much direction action to the lure. Rough dive charts can be found all over the net, but the old hit bottom and check the counter for your given speed helps you get dialed in quickly.
When using snap weights, the addition of a small swivel on your main line 3 to 5 feet up from the lure is a simple way to eliminate twist that a small fish or a hard turn can cause.
3. Line Swap
Dipsy Divers and snap weights are easy to use and require little equipment modifications, but you always have the option to replace standard monofilament line for planer board or flat line trolling use. It’s difficult to discredit lines like stranded wire, copper or simply braid for their effectiveness, but they do require more gear. Once you start using a rod for copper or wire line it will develop grooves that are fine for wire, but it can then no longer be used for anything else.
Much like a reel that has leadcore loaded on it, you have what you have when using it on planer boards. Charter Captains will have many reels dedicated with 300 or 400 feet of ether wire or copper line that are meant for a specific depth. This type of dedication and equipment purchasing isn’t likely for the casual fisherman.
Unlike wire or copper line you can replace your standard monofilament trolling line with a very thin braided line to get additional depth. Something like a 4-pound diameter braided line still has as much breaking strength as your previous monofilament line, but the reduced drag of the smaller diameter can often get as many as 8 feet of additional depth.
GI Joe taught us as kids that “knowing is half the battle” and that’s definitely the case when it comes to late-summer/early-fall walleyes and changing water temperatures. If you pay attention to how the water temperatures change and the layers created in the water column then employ tactics to fish deep, you’ll catch walleyes when others aren’t even gutsy enough to fish for them.