Going fishing is a great thing to do anytime, but walleye fishing is at its best two seasons of the year.
One time is spring when big egg-laden females mass in big schools and food is scarce before forage fish spawn. But frankly, that’s also the time when the most boats are on the water.
The second time is during autumn. As many boats are stored and hunting gear is prepared for deer season, big walleyes move to the shallows in search of food. They’re on a search and destroy mission to store enough fat to make it through the winter. And that makes them vulnerable to big baits, such as super-sized chubs.
During summer, the big girls roamed open water chasing suspended and plentiful baitfish, making them hard to find and hard to catch. If they moved onto structure, they generally show up after dark long after most anglers head for home.
But the pattern changes again when larger walleyes follow the food back to structure as temperatures cool and daylight shortens in fall. Roaming walleyes move to shoreline structures with the sharpest breaks to deep water. Look for drops where a boat length can see water plummet as much as 15 feet from bow to stern. Fish can be deep during the daytime. Windy spots with gravel, boulders or other cover are best. Pinpoint transition areas where mud and gravel meet.
In reservoir systems, walleyes will stage on points and other structures that intercept river channels near the mouths of rivers they’ll use to spawn in spring. Some may begin their migration upriver. In natural lakes, baitfish and walleyes move out to deeper breaks as weeds begin to die. Finding fish becomes far more predictable. Walleyes are more likely to bite as well because their food sources are scarcer after summer.
As a result, real monsters can wind up in the net several times a day — or night — with many truly nice fish in between to keep the adrenaline up if you’re at the right place at the right time. No wonder many dedicated walleye fishermen are on the water well into the fall and long after their buddies have donned their camouflage, taken up their bows and headed to the woods to hunt whitetails. Some of the best fishing of the year is still to come!
Give Them a Meal, Not a Snack
Nature works on simple principles. One is that living things must take in more energy than they use or they will die. One reason big fish get that way is they eat far more calories than they use hunting it. They conserve energy where they can. So it’s obvious why big bait works best when trophy walleyes are given the option of doing the same work for small baitfish or a large one. It may not work in all circumstances, such as after severe a cold front, but in fall remember this: big bait equals big fish! A 5-inch redtail chub or creek chub are not too large!
The downside is that big bait generally means less action. Smaller fish know their place and will leave a big chub alone. But, when any one of those two or three bites a day wind up as a 10-, 11-, or even 12-pound trophy depending on what body of water you fish, less action is a trade off for the 5-minute fight of a lifetime!
Another nice aspect of fall trophy fishing is that you don’t need an over-sized tackle box full of gear or special equipment. Lindy Rigging is as basic as it gets.
A 7-foot medium-action St.Croix Legend Tournament Lindy-Rigging rod with 8-pound-test Gamma line on a spinning reel is plenty. Use standard Lindy slip sinkers or Lindy NO-SNAGG sinkers in places with lots of rock or wood. Three-eighths to 1/2-ounce is usually enough weight, but switching to a 1-ounce weight will improve bottom contact especially in the wind or when fishing deep.
Start with a 30-inch snell, and adjust if necessary. Don’t scrimp on the hook. It needs to be large enough to drive a hook point into the tough mouth of a 10-pound fish as it eats a big piece of meat. Use a No. 2 or No. 1 size hook for a 4- to 6-inch chub, which must be able to do all the work to attract big walleyes. They must be lively. Be careful not to damage them as you carefully hook them behind their dorsal fins. In that way, the chubs will appear wounded and frantic as they struggle hard to escape. When a trophy fish approaches, the bait will become so frenzied you’ll feel it through the rod. Get ready to set the hook. Hooking chubs through just the upper lip is also a good option.
Keep Line Vertical Over The Bait
Use the electric motor to move slowly along the breaklines while staying vertical over the bait as much as possible. If you have a tendency to move too fast, downsize the weight to force you to creep forward while maintaining bottom contact. You want the chub to swim, not drag it along.
Admittedly, setting the hook on the first fish of the day can involve a little guess work. Some walleyes will smash the chub. They leave no doubt. Others seem to need time to take it, turn it and inhale it. Give it a few moments while pulling up slightly on the bait. They won’t let go and the feel that the bait may get away could trigger the final assault.
Walleyes migrate ever deeper to find warmer water and baitfish as autumn changes to winter. Anchoring a boat over deep rock bars using slip-bobber rigs can be deadly. “Mr. Slipbobber,” Greg Bohn, recommends up-sizing his standard slip-bobber rig consisting of a slip knot, glass bead, Thill Pro Series slip bobber, rubber core sinker, and a red glass bead above a No. 2 bleeding bait hook. Big whole night crawlers also will work in addition to big chubs at this time of year. Jigging with big jigs also can do the trick.
Dress warmly, make sure all equipment is working properly and take every safety precaution, including wearing life vests and letting someone know where you will be and when you plan to be home. Hypothermia becomes a real possibility if something goes terribly wrong. Other boats are scarce out there, and you could be on your own.
But try keeping the boat out a little longer this year and increase the size of your live bait. You might just catch the trophy of a lifetime. Take pictures, release the monster to spawn again in spring and have a graphite replica made. Memories of that special autumn on the water will keep you warm for years to come!
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