Catching Lunker Walleye in the Fall
When the season’s first cold snap hits, most anglers have packed away their boats in exchange for the comfort of their living rooms or their tree stands. For those of you that don’t watch football or prefer fishing over hunting, this is good news.
Why? Because that leaves more room on the water for you to catch lunker walleye!
The fall can be a very productive time of year for catching lunker walleye and more often than not, you’ll have the lake, reservoir, or river all to yourself. Another benefit to fall walleye is that the feedbag is usually on. When you find walleye, they’ll likely be aggressive.
However, locating fall walleye can be a challenge. Keep in mind that they are no longer in their summer patterns. They’ve left their shallower summer time haunts for oxygen rich locations created by cooler temperatures and shorter days.
The following tips will help you increase your chances of cashing in on some walleye gold from Thanksgiving through to ice up.
Fish behavior and the colder temperatures
First, it’s important to understand how the shorter and colder days will impact fish behavior. As the temperatures drop in the fall, so do water temperatures. This causes weed growth to die off and in most walleye waters, the annual fall turnover to occur. Fall turnover happens at different times on different lakes.
There are many factors that affect fall turnover, including but not limited to:
- Outside temperature,
- Water depth,
- Wind, and
Most smaller, shallower lakes will turn faster than deeper lakes. So what is the fall turnover and what has it got to do with fishing? Without getting too scientific, the cold air makes the oxygen rich top layer (epilimnion) of the water column heavier and causes it to sink. The sinking oxygen rich water then passes to the bottom of water column (hypolimnion) which is below the thermocline.
The changing water conditions during the turnover causes weed growth to die off and enable fish that were previously limited to shallower locations due to oxygen levels to move to deeper water or scatter.
The bottom line…walleye will have less cover to hide in, which may make it easier to spot them on your fish finder. However the abundance of oxygen levels provides them with a larger environment to prowl as they fatten up for winter and the impending spawn.
Where to find walleye
The fall turnover creates deep, stable habitats that both walleye and baitfish prefer. Where you find baitfish, you will often find walleye. Don’t be surprised to catch other gamefish species in the process. Walleye aren’t the only species putting on the feedbag.
Fall walleye will start to head toward their spring locations. The key is to pay attention to current when trying to figure out where fish are holding.
Walleye will spend the coldest months in relatively deep water, near the places they’ll be spawning in the spring. Key areas to look for when fishing fall walleye include deep narrows below current areas. Walleye must funnel through these narrows in order to get to their spring spawning habitat. Finding current breaks within and around the narrows is key to finding fall walleye. In order to stop in a location, walleye require an opportunity to get out of the current. If some sort of current break is not available, keep moving until you find one.
Fall walleye are making their way into the rivers because they are looking for food. Watch your electronics and do not sit in one spot. The key is to move around until you find fish and or bait. When you get bit or see signs of activity on your electronics you can slow down and fish more methodically. Often, when you find them, fish will be stacked up.
Fall fishing techniques
Vertical jigging is the go-to technique when fishing fall walleye. Be sure to use the lightest weight possible and to play with various jigging presentations until the fish tell you what they want. If the fish are active an aggressive jigging action can be critical. If fish are more lethargic or biting short try using a slower more subtle approach.
Play around with different baits in the fall. Knowing that the fish are bulking up in preparation of winter and the upcoming spawn, do not be afraid to show a larger presentation. The fall season is trophy walleye time and big baits often equal big fish!