Trophy Walleye Time Has ArrivedBy Jason Halfen - October 16, 2018
You must have noticed it. Summer's familiar clear blue skies have turned turn angry and gray. Gentle southern winds have evolved into frigid northerly gales. Bright leaves of crimson and gold now hang perilously from branches, and yes, ice scrapers and snow brushes have become must-have equipment to support the morning commute. With all of its bawdiness and urgency, it's obvious autumn has arrived.
Within rapidly cooling waters, primal forces drive walleyes into a fall feeding rampage. Bundled against the elements, anglers cast, jig, troll and drift with live baits and artificial lures, ready to do battle with biggest, baddest, and smartest fish of the season.
Go big or go home. A classic fall technique for oversized daytime walleyes is to fish oversized live baits along deep structure. This is a tried-and-true midday method on classic walleye waters and frequently works best after the fall turnover has occurred. Look for sharp breaklines leading into deep water, deep saddles between points, or offshore humps that top out at 20-30 feet deep.
Gear up with 8 lb test Seaguar InvizX 100% fluorocarbon as your main line. A soft, supple fluorocarbon, InvizX loads on the spool beautifully, and because of its low memory, will not flop off in stiff coils when you're feeding line to a fish. I use a 6-foot leader of Seaguar AbrazX 100% fluorocarbon on the business end of the rig; AbrazX offers double the abrasion resistance of other fluorocarbon lines, and guards against nicks and scrapes from rocks, Zebra mussels, and walleye teeth.
Present this offering using a 7'6" St. Croix Legend Tournament Walleye rod (LTWS76MLXF), which offers extreme sensitivity to feel every nervous wiggle of the bait, long length to move a lot of line on the sweeping hookset, and the power you'll need to drive the hook home into a trophy walleye's bony jaw.
Get your troll on. The cooling waters of fall pull large numbers of stocky walleyes back into shallow water to feast on small perch, shiners, shad, and even bluegills. This annual movement is accompanied by night-shift trollers that target these marauding gamefish using long rods, line counter reels and hard baits. In early fall, shad-bodied baits pulled close to 2 mph will see the lion's share of the action, while late October and November trollers will reduce their speeds and present slender, minnow profile baits like the Yellow Perch Deep Dive or Rainbow Smelt Jerkbait Deep Dive from LIVETARGET. Spool up with 30 lb test Seaguar Smackdown, an ultra-smooth 8-strand braided line, to feel every vibration transmitted by the trolled lure, making it easy to detect small bits of bite-reducing vegetation that may collect on treble hooks. A robust SPRO Twin Lock snap provides insurance against lost lures and broken hearts when a mammoth walleye annihilates your jerkbait.
To reduce tangled messes of line and lures when trolling at night, I carry a library of St. Croix Eyecon trolling rods in the 7 to 10-foot range. When trolling multiple lines with a boat-full of fall walleye anglers, hand the anglers in the front of the boat a 10-footer, and ensure that rod is held straight out to the side; anglers toward the rear of the boat should use shorter rods, and present their lures off the corners of the transom on shorter lines. This array of rod and line lengths, coupled with slow, gentle turns as you troll, will minimize the amount of time spent picking apart a moonlit mess.
Focus on outside weed edges as you start your evening runs, but don't be afraid to fish inside weed edges as the moon gets high. Shoreline rocks and even soft-bottomed flats adjoining expansive weed beds will also produce their fair share of moonlit walleyes. If you've never listened to a World Series game on the radio while battling a trophy walleye under the light of the full moon, you owe it to yourself to try night trolling this fall!
Tie on a 3/8 oz jig head equipped with a wire bait keeper, and dress that jig with a 3-4" soft bait, like the Z-Man MinnowZ in a bright color pattern to offset the turbid waters of fall. An exceptionally robust bait like the MinnowZ combats the tendency of short-striking walleyes and sauger, allowing the cold-water angler to catch large numbers of toothy fish on a single bait. I prefer to jig soft plastics with 20 lb test Seaguar Smackdown as my main line; an ultra-thin 8-strand braid, 20 lb test Smackdown has the same diameter as 6 lb test mono, which means that it cuts fall river current better and provides enhanced lure control. I use a 24" leader of Seaguar AbrazX 100% fluorocarbon to maintain excellent feel and high sensitivity, while dramatically reducing line visibility at the lure.
Spring walleye fishing gets all the press, but the fall bite is truly the most enjoyable time of the year to chase ol' marble-eyes. Pleasant weather, technicolor shorelines, campfire smoke drifting through the air, and big walleyes on the line all go hand-in-hand as nature prepares for a long winter's nap.