Shallow Lakes for Fall Walleyes

By Adam Walton - October 1, 2013
Cool days, dropping water temps and dissipating weed cover, all signs that Fall is finally in the air! With many of the best fishing days laying ahead, anglers are itching for the jet skis and wakeboarders to get off the water so they can at last enjoy some uninterrupted, quality walleye fishing. There are many articles detailing techniques for catching fall walleyes in lakes with deep water, but what about the often overlooked shallow waterbodies that also hold good fish? And when I say shallow, I'm talking about lakes that average six feet or less. With just a little tweaking of tactics, these areas can provide just as much action as deeper lakes.
Fall is the time when walleyes living in deep lakes make their move to breaks and drop off areas, suspending in waters 15 feet or deeper. Just like years before, they follow the baitfish, which have moved out of dying weed cover and into the abyss. On shallow water lakes however, walleyes obviously don't have the option of retreating to deep breaks and drop offs. Although they still follow baitfish leaving the dying weed cover, walleyes have no other choice but to roam the shallows as they did in the warmer months. In the fall however, there are some behavior changes to be aware of.

Many walleyes tend to school up tighter in the fall and hold on certain areas for longer periods of time. Locate spots that have a changing bottom composition. Focus on finding sand bottom changing to mud, or rocks changing to sand. These areas will consistently hold fish. Areas with stump cover, which are found in many shallow water flowages, will also hold plenty of fish. On shallow lakes, wind can easily push roaming baitfish away from normally productive spots. If steady wind conditions are present and fish aren't holding to windward or mid-lake cover, try the leeward side of the lake. Many times baitfish are located here, with hungry walleyes lingering nearby.

Another factor to consider when fall walleye fishing is their active feeding window. Many of the shallow waters we fish are heavily stained and therefore the low light conditions that walleyes use to ambush prey exist long into daylight hours. In fact, as the days become shorter, there are many times where the bite begins around 8:00am and will continue until 3:00pm because of the right combination of low light and water warming from the sun's rays. Cooler temps reduce walleye aggressiveness, therefore slowing down your presentation, coupled with fishing when waters are warmest during the day (but yet are not too bright) can be extremely effective. As the season moves on, weeds and algae die off even further and many stained lakes clear up slightly. When this occurs, walleyes will again bite into the night, and consistent daytime action can decrease.

Late season presentations that often entice shallow water walleyes into biting include slow bottom bouncing and dragging of jigs. It is also important to remember that fall walleyes are looking to bulk up for the coming winter months. Fish are looking for an easy, large meal and therefore bigger profile baits often trigger more action. Kalin's ¼ oz to ½ oz Roundhead Jigs or Northland Tackle "Rock It" jigs up to 1 oz work well for this application. Since most shallow water is stained, yellow, chartreuse, and white colored jigs typically work well. Tip the jigs with full live crawlers or 7" Uncle Josh Meat Canadian crawlers until the water dips below 60 degrees. After the water cools below 60 degrees, try switching to live Blacktail chubs, Uncle Josh "Meat" Minnows, or Northland Tackle "Impulse" minnows. Again, don't hesitate to use big profile baits. I've caught numerous small walleyes on 1 oz jigs tipped with 7" artificial minnows. Another trick is to enhance the tail of an Uncle Josh Pork Minnow by cutting an even deeper fork. This small variation has made the difference between fish and no fish. Another go-to lure for jigging is the Vibrations Tackle's "Echo Tail". These lures are a combination of a weighted blade with an interchangeable soft tail. Tipped with a Kalin's Grub or Uncle Josh "Meat" Minnow, slowly bottom bouncing these lures can be deadly. Offered in many sizes and colors, there are numerous "Echo Tail" combinations to try, however, bright 1 oz lures have produced best in stained water. Many times fish will change their feeding preferences midday and go from slamming live baits to hammering artificial ones. The key to switching between live and artificial baits is to be versatile. Let the fish tell you what they want and don't get stuck fishing the same bait with poor results.

Although jigging produces great numbers during the fall, trolling shallow water still has its place. Especially in large lakes, fish can be difficult to locate and trolling will help pin point their locations. Once fish are located, switch to jigging tactics previously discussed. When trolling, try pulling bigger, brighter lures at speeds between 1.0 to 1.8 mph. Flicker Shads (#7), Rapala Deep Tail Dancers, and large Salmo Hornets ticking along the bottom have all worked well, but experimenting never hurts. There's obviously a greater chance of spooking fish in shallow water, so implementing trolling planner boards will help tremendously in this scenario. The solidly made "Off Shore Tackle" planner boards work great and they seem to handle wind conditions better than other brands. Hit "mark" immediately on your GPS when a fish strikes - any delay in "marking" fish on the GPS can make it a struggle finding the exact spot where fish were located when returning to jig the area. Being off just a few feet can make a huge difference.

Easily my favorite time of year, nothing beats a cool autumn day on the water…especially when fish are biting. As other anglers travel to search the depths this fall, you will find me on the less pressured shallow lakes, hopefully with a bow in my rod! Remember to go bigger, go slower, and go longer for walleyes this fall. Tight lines and good luck.

Author Adam Walton
Adam Walton
Adam is the owner of Pike Pole Fishing Guide Service, located in Southern Wisconsin. He holds a United States Coast Guard Charter Captain license and enjoys taking clients out on a variety of waters from the Wisconsin state-line to Green Bay. As well as guiding, Adam also works as a firefighter paramedic and CPR / First Aid Instructor. He specializes in year round multi-species fishing, but walleye and pan fish are his favorite. Adam enjoys the opportunity to share and learn fishing knowledge by speaking at seminars, writing articles for an assortment of outdoor media agencies, and helping with sponsor promotions at various venues. For more information on Pike Pole Fishing Guide Service, check them out on Facebook or on-line at www.pikepolefishing.com.

Adam is currently a pro staff member with Crestliner Boats, Mercury Marine Motors, Northland Tackle, and Hard & Soft Fishing. He also a member of the Pure Fishing Select Angler Program and St Croix Guide Program.