Fall movements Of Walleyes

By RIVER RAT - September 1, 2001
For most of you fisherman the season has come to a close. From May thru Labor Day the majority of you find that this is your normal fishing season. At this time your thoughts turn to hunting or catching up on other projects you were able to postpone in order to go fishing. Well I can tell you this. You are missing out on some of the best fishing the year has to offer. That's right. The FALL TRANSITION: Shorter days, Cooler nights, leaves changing colors, weed beds dieing off. Theses are tattle- tale signs that marble eyes are about to get motivated. At this time of year hardly anyone is on the lakes at all any more. From now until ice up, the lakes are going through a change and so are the fish in it. This is the time of year that you stand a very good chance of catching Big Fish. While the numbers of fish will increase as well, you will have the bigger fish looking for a fast meal. These are fish you want to target. You will also notice that the food chain has grown smaller in size. This means fish have to feed more often and want a larger meal. They know the winter months are just around the corner and they need to put on the feed sack to fatten up for the long months ahead. Walleyes and other predator fish want a big meal that they don't have to chase far to get. This cool down of the water has super charged the walleyes into schooling- feeding machines, they will school up and hunt down schools of shiners or other bait fish, and I have seen them push those minnows right up into the cattails and just pig out on them. I have also seen this happen on a steep drop coming into the lake that acted as a wall. The walleyes pushed the minnows right up against it. I have also seen this happen below some of the dams that I fish near. They will push the minnows up against any objects that they can to feed on these minnows. You have to be on the water to get these fish!

Ok, so I talked about how to recognize the signs that point to the transition. The next thing is to locate the fish. Where do I need to look? I said this in my Night Bite article and it is true to this one as well, Walleyes are a structure-oriented fish. That means they could be on the flats, they could be in timber along the drops or close to shore in timber or stump fields or rocks below dams or along rip-rap, or under water points. These are a few of the areas they prefer. The picture to the left shows some structure that the walleyes will seek out. The cut, the tree in the water, the log, and one way to find these areas is to walk the shorelines when the water level is down. If you do this you will find lots of areas that will hold walleyes once the water level is back to normal. One thing that is important to remember is that you will need to stay close to cover on the structure, if there is cover and you need to keep your bait in the strike zone as long as you can. I know from all my years fishing walleyes that the first place you should look would be the flats if you were fishing a lake or flowage. Walleye call the flats there home. As I said in my last article the flats hold an abundant food supply most of the time. In fall however the flats hold some of the bigger bait fish, like the white sucker, and shiners, as well as chubs, which the walleyes love. Of course there are other baitfish here as well, such as pan fish, and other minnows of different species. But keep in mind that this is the fall of the year, the water temps have cooled down and the walleyes have become more aggressive and the walleye like other fish, need to feed often to build up their fat for the winter. They can and will become aggressive eaters and if you're in the right place at the right time, you are in for some fantastic fishing.

So I have told you where to look for walleyes in the fall transition in lakes, how about a river system. In a river system connected to a lake or flowage the walleyes will make their move up the river when there food supply is in short demand and the water temps reach the 40's generally speaking. As the walleyes move up river they will feed as often as they can, bulking up for winter. The migration, as lots of folks call it, does not happen all at once. It takes many weeks for the walleyes to move to the wintering areas below dams and creek mouths. These are the same areas that they will generally spawn in come springtime. One thing I want to make clear is the fact that not all the walleyes will move from a lake or flowage to the river system. As the walleyes move into and up the river they will feed on any offering that comes along. They will also travel to areas that offer a break from the river current. This could be in the shape of land points, stump fields, boulders, logs, brush piles, cribs, and a wash out in the bottom, wing dams, large rock piles like those below many dams, anything that restricts the currents force on them. Walleyes are quite content to just hang out and let the food come to them, moving only when a meal presents it self. As the water temps continue to drop the walleyes will really feed heavily. They won't pass up a meal, big or small. They are very aggressive, and want a BIG MEAL NOW!

Ok, now we need to talk about how to catch them. We know there movements, location, and transition areas as well as wintering areas. So how do we catch them? First understand that through predation most of the shiners, and young of year minnows are already depleted. The walleyes want a big meal of live bait. Generally the same methods that you use in the spring you should be using now. I prefer to jig for my walleyes. I'm not going to go into any great detail on the line or the rod. I use a 7' fast taper graphite rod, that has a sensitive tip, and I use 8 lb. Line. Due to the fact that you may be fishing in the rock or the timber or stumps, and you need a heavier line. I will say this, Fire line I have used and it works very well. Ok, so now comes the part, what do I use? Well it's just like in the spring. It's hard to beat a jig and the largest minnows you can get. I prefer mud minnows, and big ones at that. You won't get one that is going to be to big for a walleye to take I can promise you that. I have cleaned walleyes that had 7" chubs in their stomach. Ok, you know about the minnows, now we have to rig a jig. I always hook the minnow just through the top of the mouth and out. I don't turn it back into the gills or the body. How big a jig do you use? I always let the current dictate as to what weight I'll use. Remember this. You need to stay in contact with the bottom at all times. There are so many jigs out there that I'm not about to tell you what I use will work better for you. You have to decide what you want to use, be it a lindy rig, three way, or a simple jig combo. You need to experiment, with different methods, and different colors. I also want to tell you that if your watching your locator and you spot a large fish, then target this fish. Walleyes will lie on the bottom just like a catfish will, work to get this fish as the bigger walleyes will dominate an area of the river, and this may be a dream fish. Land points also offer some very good shore fishing. The slack water side of these points can be a fish magnet if the conditions are right. There has to be slack water off the main current to form an eddy. An eddy will hold baitfish and that's supper for marble eyes. Along most river systems you will see trees in the water that have been tipped over by wind or erosion, and these trees can hold big fish close to shore. You will need to get right into the wood to get these fish. A good weed-less jig is a must. You will also need a med. heavy rod and 10# line with good abrasion resistance to it. Walleyes really like this wood and very few fishermen take the time to fish this wood. Outside turns also will hold walleyes if the current is not too strong. A lot of times the current has under-cut the bank and this exposes the root system, if there are trees present, and these roots will hold fish just waiting for a meal to swim by. I have taken many walleyes from these root systems all along the Wisconsin River in central Wisconsin. I slip these areas as slow as I can to keep my jig right in there face. The minute they hit they will try to get to the roots so you need good equipment if you want to get a HOG out of these roots.

One thing I like to do all year long in a river system is to slip the river using my trolling motor. Many folks have asked me, what is slipping. Slipping is using your trolling motor to match the speed of your boat to the speed of your drifting jig. It is all about keeping your jig VERTICAL in the water, keeping any slack in the line out. Another method is to troll a three-way swivel rig using your trolling motor to cover more water, but you have to keep contact with the bottom. Another method is the old stand by, the anchoring near structure in the current. You want to anchor well ahead of where the structure is located, and let out enough rope to drift you back to it. The fall transition is a great time to be on the water, be it a lake or river. The abundant wildlife, migrating birds, the changing colors are so much prettier viewed from a boat, shared with a fishing partner. Don't wait until next year to get out and enjoy the fall fishing, do it now, as it will only get better right up until ice starts to form .I do have to tell a story here to prove a point. Last year during the rifle deer season, I was hunting an area along the Petenwell flowage and from my stand I watched a fisherman fight off the cold to catch some of the biggest walleyes that I seen the whole year. I'm talking HUGE walleyes. The bad part was he didn't C P R them to spawn again, or perhaps he did when he got to the landing; at least I hope he did. It was snowing and here this guy is braving the cold, and I know why, after seeing those huge fish. He also was a safe angler as he had his life vest on and zipped up. Last, I'd like to say. PLEASE (C P R) THE FEMALES. WE NEED THE SPAWNERS.

Author RIVER RAT
RIVER RAT
River Rat has been fishing the Petenwell Flowage for over 40 years and owns Gone Fishing Guide Service and enjoys primarily fishing for walleyes but is well educated on many other species. He is also a Field Editor for Lake-Link.com as well as other sites and is very knowledgeable on the history and fishing tactics of the Petenwell Flowage and Wisconsin River.