The changes are subtle, but walleye are moving! As summer winds down days are shorter and nights are colder which means walleye will begin to think about leaving summer haunts and moving to get ready for fall. Lance will cover what is happening to the water and the fish, where they are moving to and how to catch them!
by: Captain Lance Valentine
Fall…if you are a walleye fisherman you thoughts turn to cooling water temps, falling leaves and trophy walleye schooled up and hungry! The fall is one of my favorite times to chase walleye, especially giants. Fish are feeding heavily for winter, fish are usually in groups of several dozen or more fish, and fish are usually suspended in open water making them easy to find on our Lowrance HDS sonar units and fall walleye LOVE crankbaits.
Crankbaits account for more trophy fall walleye than any other method of fishing, especially in the Great Lakes region where I live and guide. But what crankbaits are best? In general, here are a few characteristics to look for when picking out productive cold water crankbaits. Look for long, skinny baits in the 4-8” range. Choose lures that have a good action, even at slow speeds. Having multiple sizes, shapes and styles is important, since each one has a unique profile, action, sound and diving angle that can make one better than all the others on a given day.
For ease of filling a tackle box, break fall walleye crankbaits into 3 categories:
Deep Divers (Nose Down Runners)—lures that run “nose down” usually achieve target depth with less line out and have a “wide” tail action, even at slow speeds. Wide bills and line ties placed away from the lure body create a superb action that cold water walleye like. Some examples of Deep Divers include Reef Runner 300, 600, 800 series, Deep Walleye Bandits, Smithwick Top 20 and Rapala Tail Dancers (I like the TDD series in size 9 or 11).
Deep Divers (Flat Runners)—deep diving lures that run “flat” have a tendency to need more line to reach a specific depth and have more of a “roll” action than a wide tail action. These baits work great at slow to medium speeds and the faster you go the “tighter” and faster the action becomes, a trigger some days, especially in clear, calm water. Some “flat” runners to include in your tackle box are Rapala Deep Husky Jerks (size 12 and 14) and Smithwick Deep Rattlin Rogues.
Shallow Divers—since most fall walleye in open water are caught at depths of 15-40’, many anglers neglect to stock some shallow diving crankbaits, and this can be a huge mistake. Some days a shallow diving lure will out fish a deeper diving lure because of the difference in action. Because of the smaller bill surface on shallow divers they have a wider tail action like deep divers but combine it with a tight roll. Most shallow divers need some sort of weight to achieve the desired depth and my favorite in fall is a 2 oz. inline weight about 4’ above the lure. Some shallow divers to stock up on include the Reef Runner 700 and 900 series, Shallow Walleye Bandits, Storm Thundersticks, and no tackle box for fall walleye is complete without a few Smithwick Perfect 10 crankbaits.
I am a detailed record keeper, and over the past 10 seasons or so I have collected and analyzed LOTS of data from my boat and the boats of angling friends. From all that data and hundreds of hours of on the water experience, some patterns concerning lure color have emerged. Here are some guidelines that we know work:
Four colors stand out as the most consistent producers in the fall. Purple, red, orange and pink (PROP). It is very rare that I fish a bait without one of these colors somewhere on the bottom of the lure. Remember, fish are looking UP at your lure…the color on the bottom catches fish, the color on the top catches fishermen!
Have some baits with white, grey or bone colored bodies. These shine, especially in very cold water.
Have some baits with black, dark purple or dark red bodies.
Finish your selection with some clear bodied baits. Can be very good in clear water and I always have one in my spread. Spots, stripes and bars seem to make a lure more effective in cold water.
Specific color choice is obviously a personal preference, but here are my favorites. I am listing the Reef Runner color since they are readily available to view online. Here are the 10 colors I would not be without in the fall (in no particular order)…
Purple Barely Naked
Red Hot Tiger
Baby Blue Minnow
Building a good selection of fall crankbaits is a fairly easy task. Be sure to have a few lures from each of the 3 categories listed above and work from there. You are better to have several different lure styles in one or two colors than to have a lot of colors in only one lure style. Get out there, find some fish on your sonar, put your baits 4-10’ above them and hang on…the next fish you catch could easily be the fish of a lifetime!
If you have never experienced great fall fishing, join us each fall on Lake Erie. You can book a charter with Captain Lance or attend our 4 day Walleye Education Weekend with a large group of anglers. Our Walleye Education Weekends combine on the water fishing, information sharing, nightly seminars, workshops, lodging and meals for one low price.
by: Captain Lance Valentine
“Fall is my favorite time to fish. Fish are concentrated, usually easy to catch and there is little boat traffic”, says Clark, who has spent over 30 years chasing walleye, and is one of the most respected guides in Michigan. “Add in the fact that fish are hungry and you have everything you need for great fishing.”
While most fall fishing is centered around trolling crankbaits, Clark takes a different approach. “I love fishing with a rod in my hand, feeling the bite. Trolling is fun and effective, but given the opportunity I would much rather fish with a jig, spoon or jigging lure”. Baits that keep bottom contact well, especially in deeper water are Clark’s favorite. His number one choice is a Northland Tackle Puppet Minnow in Glo. “Fall fish are near the bottom on structure, and jigging lures are the best way I have found to catch fish of all species.”
While jigging lures are effective all season, Clark relies on this technique in the fall more than any other time of year. Many factors lead to quality fishing in the fall, including colder water temps, fish feeding heavily for fall and fish being concentrated, but Clark points to one factor that he believes triggers great fall fishing, “Bait, or lack of it, is what drives great fall fishing, especially on deeper structure.” Fall turnover is the traditional trigger of good fall fishing and Clark keys on that in the lakes he fishes. “Turnover brings oxygen back to deeper water”, he said, “this allows fish to use deeper structure to hunt bait. I am using my Lowrance sonar looking for fish that are on, or moving down toward the bottom. Finding them before I fish is key.”
The search for fall walleye begins on the edges of deeper “basin” areas, sometimes as deep as 70 feet. Starting in the middle of the deepest areas in the lake, Clark will use his Lowrance sonar to search up the sides of the depression, looking for small pieces of fish holding structure like points, inside corners, humps and bottom composition changes. Taking the time to find good spots before fishing is a key to Clark’s success. “If fish aren’t there you can’t catch them! Be patient, the fish are somewhere.” While fish can be anywhere on the basin edge, there is a definite preference for steeper sloping drop offs as the water gets colder, so moving and looking shouldn’t be overlooked. “Inside corners and small points are fish magnets in the fall. They hold fish everywhere I have tried this technique and are the first things I look for.”
Most anglers think of the Great Lakes when it comes to great fall fishing, but Clark has other thoughts. “I have used this technique for guiding and tournament fishing all over, including the Great Lakes, but my favorite places in fall are the Northern Michigan natural lakes. Places like Burt and Mullet Lakes, White and Muskegon Lakes, Lakes Leelanau, Hubbard and Lake Margarethe. These lakes are loaded with nice walleye and are virtually never fished. Fall can bring rough weather and big waves, causing cancellations of Great Lakes trips. On these inland lakes I can usually hide from the wind and fish every day.”
Once Clark finds the fish, it’s time to get after them. Spinning gear is preferred by Clark for fishing jigging lures, especially with clients who may not have experience with baitcasting gear. Spinning rods around 7’ are favorites, with Clark’s go-to rod being the Okuma Dead Eye in 7’ medium action. “I really like stiffer, 1-piece rods for this fishing,” said Clark. “Just like jigging on the Detroit River, you need to feel the lure, and a stiff, 1-piece rod does that best.” Team a high quality 7’ rod with a spinning reel like the Okuma Ceymar 30 that Clark prefers, and you have a deadly combo for fishing jigging lures and spoons. Like all jigging presentations, a no stretch line is critical to success and Clark uses 6 lb. Glow Green Berkley Fireline. “I love the feel I get from the no stretch line, and the bright green color is critical to spotting strikes, especially if fish are hitting as the lure is falling back to the bottom. Tie direct to the lure with a good knot and let’s go fishing”.
Now that the fish have been found and the rods rigged, Clark is ready to teach his clients the proper way to fish jigging baits. “The technique is pretty simple” says Clark, “but paying attention to your line is crucial.” The presentation starts with a short cast, around 60-70 feet from the boat, for better feel and control. Keeping the bail of the reel open, Clark watches his Glow Green line for a strike (indicated by a slight movement in the line), or for the line to go slack, indicating the lure has hit the bottom. “Not watching the line on the initial fall is a mistake I see a lot of anglers make. Lots of times the first cast into an area is the best; watch your line and be ready!” If the lure makes it to the bottom without being hit, simply engage the reel and point your rod tip down and toward the lure. At this point Clark likes to start his “retrieve” with a very aggressive “SNAP” up with the rod to move the lure quickly off the bottom. “You are trying to imitate a dead or dying baitfish. Making the lure quickly dart off the bottom, then quickly fall back looks like an injured baitfish and in the fall walleye can’t turn down an easy meal.”
After the aggressive snap, be sure to follow the lure back to the bottom with the rod tip keeping a taut line. Remember, ALWAYS keep your eyes on the line looking for any indication that a fish has sucked in your lure. Repeat this process 3-4 times bringing the bait to the side of the boat. Before reeling the lure in be sure to finish the retrieve with a few quick vertical jigs close to the boat. When finished, reel the lure in and cast again.
While minnow style jigging lures like Clark’s favorite Northland Tackle Puppet Minnow, Rapala Jigging Rap, Moonshine Shiver Minnow, and K & E Sitka Yukon Shiner are great in the fall, Clark is sure to test multiple jigging lures and spoons every day to find what the fish want. “Remember, each jigging lure and spoon style moves off the bottom differently and falls to the bottom differently. I have my favorites, but they all have their place. Be sure to experiment each day to find the best presentation.” Along with Clark’s favorite jigging lures, he also fishes with Hopkins jigging spoons, the Luna Bait made by White River Tackle and other jigging spoons. Clark will try gold and silver finishes on smooth or hammered spoons to find the best option for the day. “Spoons can work great,” Clark said “but day in and day out in the fall give me a jigging lure, especially a 3-3.5” Northland Puppet Minnow and I can catch some fish.” Clark will fish several styles of jigging lures in the fall, but he wastes no words when it comes to his favorite color, “If it glows, it goes!”
Fall walleye are easy to catch most of the time, but like most fishermen fall anglers can get into a rut of just trolling crankbaits. This fall try something different. Look for fish close to the bottom and try jigging lures and jigging spoons. Walleye in all bodies of water, including rivers, can be caught on this technique and some days it is your best option. It doesn’t take a big tackle box to be ready, but it may take a big cooler to get your catch home!