So why is the walleye in Northwest Ontario bite so much better in the fall? After all, walleyes must feed actively during the summer, to fuel a cold water metabolism turbocharged by warm waters. The answer may be as simple as the fish having too many choices in the summer, which is generally a time of plenty when the number of bait fish and other edibles are at their highest on most northern lakes. The big fish just don’t feel the same sense of urgency they do later during autumn, when things start winding down for the leanest time of the year. In the fall, walleye tend to congregate in more predictable locations.
So why don’t more anglers take advantage of the fall walleye bite? Sometimes, I suspect the angler is no brighter than the people who put on last years Super-Bowl half-time show.
In most cottage country, thousands visit each year for a chance at a trophy walleye. True, they catch walleyes, but the really smart fishermen hit the water in the fall. They may not always catch more fish, but they certainly catch more big fish.
During the months of September, October and November; in the Upper United States and Canada, patterns develop that may land you your biggest/best walleye of the year. If you follow the progression of the season, you may catch big hog walleye up until the ice forms.
September is a time of transition, and the best thing you can hope for is a week of steady weather with mild days and cool nights. The dwindling sunlight spells the end of weed growth for the year and the thick mats of vegetation that were difficult to fish during the summer have now died and are in a much more workable condition.
The secret it so look for the few green leaves in an area of brown dying leaves. Green marks an oxygen-rich oasis in a bottom that is consuming more oxygen as it decomposes. Since all life requires oxygen, hat makes for a lot of oxygen-dependent walleye forage in a relatively confined and well-defined space.
For a variety of different reasons, it is recommended that you fish cabbage weeds, partly because they are resilient and also because you can pull a jig head through with out gathering enough vegetation to make a salad. Try fishing a jig through most other weeds, and it ends up looking more like a muskie buck tail.
Secondly, cabbage weeds grow with more space between their stalks, which suits the walleyes just fine. Largemouth Bass, another notorious weed lurker, are much more cover oriented. They prefer to hold in the thick slop, waiting for a quick and easy ambush. Pickerel don’t mind swimming a few feet for their food.
At last, cabbage is a broad-leafed weed and can easily be seen form depths of 7 feet. You can pick out these green plant much easier than most other water weeds.
All of the standard weed-fishing techniques still work at this time of year, but for simplicities sake it is better off sticking to one or two.
Start by idling until you find a green path worth fishing. Toss in a marker buoy to pinpoint the location of the weeds, then I retreat back a distance an anchor, or you could use the trolling motor to keep you a good cast distance away. Cast a floating minnow crankbait just past the weeds and retrieve with a jerk-and-pause motion. The most active walleye are usually on the outer edge of the weeds, start there and work in toward the lushest, healthiest weed growth.
A suspending bait (such as a Rapala Husky Jerk) is hard to beat for this fishing pattern. It can cast a country mile and then moves very naturally in the water. Let it sit in place longer than you think it should, and pay attention to the line as the lure hangs in the water column. It is often easer to see a hit then to feel on on a slack line.
If no fish bite on the long distance casts, drift, paddle or use the electric motor to move closer and lob jigs directly into the weed edges. Despite the reduced vegetation, snag-less jigs still make sense, even in late autumn. Bucktails in black, mottled brown and classic yellow are also logical choices.
For a change of pace, use Krazy Glue to secure Power Bait or Exude plastic body to the jig. If forced to only pick one, I’d choose a white paddle tail.
As the October harvest moon approaches, it is time to switch from the submerged weeds to the cattails, and bull rushes. This unlikely location shines thanks to a certain prey species walleye are not usually associated with: frogs.
Each fall, usually during the last warm and rainy nights of September or early October, frogs head to the mud to call it a long night. Species like northern leopard frogs settle nicely on the lake bottom, in relatively deep water where they won’t be frozen in the ice. They typically settle in beside a log or other debris.
Walleye are at least as smart as bass, and they recognize this easy meal when they see it, positioning themselves near the mud flats that attract frogs. Look for Cattails and bull rushes near the shore line, and walleyes are likely to be near by.
Peak frog movement occurs during rainy or high humidity days or evenings. Fishing a live frog hooked through the nose is one obvious approach which definitely works. However, it can be pretty tough to find frogs this time of year, since most bait shops don’t stock them after the tourist fishing season ends.
Just remember to fish deep enough, where the water does not freeze solid in the winter. Some frogs have antifreeze-like chemicals in side them that let them survive being frozen during the winter, but most don’t.
The walleye may be there for frogs, but thankfully, the walleye still respond to other presentations and lures.To slip in on Walleye, start with what was most effective earlier in the year. A simple slip-sinker-live-bait rig with a big minnow should do the job; a wire bottom-bouncer gives the best “feel” when fishing in the muck.
November is probably the best month to catch true trophy walleyes in the open water in Northwest Ontario. As the fall rains cool and raise the water levels, mature walleye concentrate in yet another area: the rivers they spawned in 6 or 7 months ago. Attracted by increased water flow and temperatures similar to what they experienced in the spring, these big walleyes flood the river on a false run that often lasts until ice up.
Look for this migration to start happening a day or two after a heavy rain. If the lake level is controlled for navigation or flood abatement, wait for the dam gates to be opened. Walleyes typically start showing up a day or two after the flow increases.
A popular method is to use an anchor or trolling motor to hover above the deepest part of a river and then fish a jig tipped with a shiner. The greatest depth in many tributary streams may be 15-feet. Some rivers can have holes more than 70 feet deep, cut by a receding waterfall over the last 10,000 years.
In water less than 20 feet deep pretty much any rod and reel combo will do, but when you start getting into deeper holes, it pays to fish with gear tailored to the conditions, and that’s a sensitive jigging rod with a little extra hook-setting power in the butt. The reel should have numerous checkpoints in the anti-reverse mechanism. Self-centering bails are great for casting, but can turn backwards too far on a hookset, reducing the momentum.
Those venerable mitchell 300 reels with almost twenty checks in the anti-revers almost totally eliminate that problem. This old warhorse underwent a redesign in honor of its 50th birthday a few years back, making in lighter and more refined piece of equipment.
Spool it with on of the low-stretch super lines like Fireline. Because of water depth and current, you may be fishing with jigs heavier than you use for walleyes at any other time of the year, jigs that can stretch the feel and hookset right out of the monofilament. Also, a super line’s thin diameter means less drag which helps you keep the jig down on bottom, where it’s supposed to be. Connect a 3-foot leader of fluorocarbon with a small black swivel, and you are in business. Not only does the lighter fluorocarbon disguise the offering, if you snag up and break off(make that WHEN you snag up and break off) you only leave a few feet in the river bed and don’t risk breaking a rod or cutting a finger trying to snap the super-tough Fireline.
Despite all of the specialize jig head styles available today, the humble round head still suits just fine. It gets down in the current well and is readily available in all baitshops and even gas stations across walleye country. For deeper holes, you want to use at least a 3/8-oz jig, and when the current is up and the fish are a long ways down, don’t be afraid to try a 1-oz jig you’d normally use for jigging lake trout up from 50- feet through the ice.
Tip with a minnow hooked through the nose or through the mouth and out the spine if you are losing bait. Subtle stinger hooks can help your chances.
Present with a controlled methodical lift and drop, giving a fish plenty of time to suck a hook into its mouth. This late in the season, walleyes hit soft so react whenever you think you just picked up a piece of weed or a bit of debris.
If you face really fast and deep water you may want to switch to a 3-way rig. Tie your main line to the 3 way swivel. Then add a 2 or 3 foot length of line to which you attach a big bell sinker. The third eye of the swivel gets the fluorocarbon leader and bait. You can present a minnow on a bait hook, but it may end up spiraling in the current if you don’t hook it perfectly. I prefer to use a small jig that doubles as a keel.
A depth finder is your best friend when searching out fall walleyes, since the best locations show up on quality screens.
Pinpointing weeds may still require polarized glasses, but the graph gives you a good starting point. That thick block of pixels extending up to within a few feet of the surface is probably weeds. Mud for frogs shows up as a thick black mass at the base of the screen, sort of like it does at the bottom of the lake. You get the best image when the unit is set for manual operation and the sensitivity or gain is fairly high.
In the river, look for deep holes. The outside turn in a river bend is usually the deepest, so use that as a starting point. Fish these locations around the time of the full moon from September to November, and you may learn the true meaning of the autumn harvest moon.