Baiting Fall Walleyes

Days on the water with Tony Roach are well spent. Even the tough days. Like today. We fished from mid morning to mid afternoon, which many anglers would say is courting disaster for walleyes to begin with. We caught 4 or 5 walleyes and a bunch of smallmouths. And the guys who fish only during low-light periods and at night are all nodding their heads.

One fair day on the water proves nothing either way. History has the last laugh and Tony has a long history of catching midday fall walleyes. So do I, for that matter. A hot bite for walleyes can happen any time of day, especially in fall when peak activity periods begin to expand. Which touches the real problem: Fall refuses to happen these days.

Historically, September was a time for mid-month cold fronts that sometimes sprouted snow squalls, forcing even the old Scandinavians around here into long johns. The past several years, they've been wearing Bermudas into October. Even though lows last night dipped under 30°F in some areas, the surface temperature on the lake today was 65°F by the time we left the water — way warmer than those past years when real men were wearing fur-lined bomber hats.

When summer lingers, Tony said it's not unusual for the fish to be on-a-day, off-a-day. Exceptions happen. Sometimes they're off longer than a day. Dropping water temperatures drive the bite in fall. When summer lingers, fish languish. We touched this topic last year in this space — only the subject of the discussion was smallmouth bass behavior. Which is basically the same, with respect to lingering and languishing.

"You want to be on the water when it hits 55°F," Tony said. "It's a great time to pitch cranks for walleyes." Ditto for smallmouths. But today, we used livebait.  Tony didn't compromise on technique, though: Power jigging. In the past he's told me he rarely buys livebait in August. "I use artificials almost exclusively in summer," he said. A lingering summer, on the other hand, is a different animal.

Most of his fish in the past week or so have hit Jigging Rapalas, and we caught at least two fish with a natural perch pattern Jigging Rap today.  We cruised around over rocky spots in 10 to 20 feet of water and looked for individual fish, pitching back to a spot just beyond where the boat was when we marked a good one. As soon as the Rap hits bottom, we pop it. When it hits bottom again, we repeat, snapping the bait 3 to 5 feet off bottom.

Power jigging with shiners is a little different. Normally Tony tips jigs with plastics. Today we were running the hook into the mouth and out the back of shiners on 3/8-ounce Northland Tackle Slurp! Jigs and Fire Balls. With shiners, the lifts were a little less extreme, and made with less force, but it was practically the same technique.

We missed a number of fish, too — mostly with livebait. When bait rules, pay homage.

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