Overlooked Fall and Winter Fishing Options
By Lance Valentine
When fall rolls in here “Up North” fisherman start to get excited. Thoughts turn to trophy walleye for most of us in the Great Lakes region, but here and all throughout the “walleye belt” there are other often overlooked options for great fishing, most on smaller inland lakes that can be fished on days the Great Lakes are too rough to get on. Here are a few of my favorite non-walleye species to chase in the fall and early winter.
1. Cisco/Whitefish – a fish that is both predator and prey (more on that in a minute), cisco and whitefish are easy to find, fun to catch on light tackle and pretty good when smoked. Fall is spawning time for cisco and whitefish and they start to head toward shallow rock and gravel to lay their eggs, mostly at night. During the day they will drop deeper and rest on the bottom or in open water at the same depth as their spawning grounds. Cisco and whitefish are often in large schools and are easy to see on sonar. Jigs from ¼ to 1.5 ounces with plastic bodies (usually light colored) excel at catching these fall fish. Jigging spoons, glide baits and small to medium crankbaits will also get strikes from shallow fish.
2. Lake Trout/Splake – here is where cisco go from predator to prey! Lake Trout and Splake (a lake trout/brook trout hybrid) are available in many deeper inland lakes in the Midwest and are usually willing biters. They spawn in the fall on the same areas that are used by cisco and whitefish!! You may be surprised how big these fish will get, even in smaller lakes. Like cisco they tend to school in the fall in key spawning areas and are usually found close to their food-cisco and whitefish!! Big jigs with light colored plastics, spoons, spinners and crankbaits all are effective presentations for fall lake trout and splake.
3. Northern Pike – fall is BIG pike time and there is no better place to chase them than in lakes that have cold water spawning bait fish (cisco and whitefish!). Pike get fat when eating a high protein diet of soft rayed bait, and this is the time of year they are most available to anglers in smaller lakes. Look for cisco spawning areas, distinct inside corners on steep drop off and hard spots on sand bottoms. Typical fall pike presentations include jigs with plastics, big spoon, big crankbaits, spinners and even dead bait on the bottom if you have the patience. Be ready for the fish of a lifetime!!
4. Steelhead – Probably the toughest of these to catch since they are harder to find, fall and winter steelhead fishing is quickly becoming one of my favorite things to do. Beautiful fish that pull HARD, steelhead are an amazing game fish. Most cold weather fishing is drifting spawn, beads or jigs and bait under floats from either a boat, from shore or while wading. A little investment in gear and time is needed to catch steelhead, but trust me, after your first one you will want another one! On the Great Lakes there is also a near shore trolling bite for fall and winter steelhead at the mouths of the rivers they use for spawning and migrating.
This fall grab a buddy or two and try something different. You are probably going to have the lake to yourself and you just may discover a new favorite spot and species for cold weather fishing!