Crankin’ Up Fall Walleyes

Live bait has long been thought of as the best cold water walleye option but it just isn’t so, at least not all the time. More often than not the right crank bait can produce as many fish or more, including some of the largest in a system. You simply have to be willing to give up on what you’ve read or what think you know and be open to a little experimentation. And that doesn’t mean going where no man has gone before and trying to do what hasn’t been done because it has, it’s just that there probably hasn’t been that many.


One of the keys to late season success with crank baits is reaching into the box and grabbing the right bait. Productive late summer baits include the fat and stocky variety, the kind that produce a hard thumping wobble. Somewhere between late summer and early fall things start to change and the chubby head bangers that had been so hot earlier in the season start to lose some of their appeal and the longer more slender baits being to pick up the slack.

Besides the differing profile many of the longer slimmer baits produce an enticing action at slower speeds, and slow is one of the keys to successful fall crankin’. The fatter baits are designed to be run at higher speeds and why they are so effective during much of the summer, but summer is gone and it’s time to slow things down.

Original Floating RapalaBaits like the Original Rapala are a top choice for fall crankin’ and can keep producing an enticing side to side wobble even at a crawl. The Rapala is a balsa wood bait that is extremely light and can put out an action with ‘eye appeal that has yet to be duplicated. Other heavier baits seem to run out of gas at slower speeds and if they don’t have the right wiggle their not going to be picked up.

Somewhere in between the summer and fall baits is the Shad Rap, which has proven to be effective in warm and cold water. It’s not exactly short and fat and it’s not long and slim and is somewhere in the middle. Like the Rapala, it’s a balsa bait which helps to give it the right action even at slower speeds and separates it from other baits with the same shape. A plastic bait that has proven to be extremely effective at all speeds is the Jointed Shad Rap, and stays active throughout the speed range and does it all with built in rattles.

Hot fall trolling patterns include running cranks through and over rocky shoals in natural lakes, and along steep breaks in the outside bends of the old river channel in reservoirs. Rocky shoals will load up with perch in the fall and is a big reason for all of those walleyes showing up. The outside channel bends create shear drop offs and are a perfect place for walleyes to pin schools of bait against and get their fill. In either case you’ll probably want to keep your bait running close to the structure you’re working and is where lead core can really come in handy, especially when you move into deeper water.

If you’ve nailed down a productive depth you can probably get by without the lead, but what if things change and what if you do want to experiment a little and head for deeper water? That’s going to mean a change in baits, or a change in lines, or adding a weight, or letting out so much line that you lose control of the situation. Lead is the perfect choice for working shallow while retaining the ability to move into deeper water at a moments notice.

Another big plus about using lead is the fact that it has little stretch and is a terrific crank bait indicator. That lack of stretch means that the vibrations of a properly running bait will be transferred to your rod tip and you’ll be able to see if your bait is running clean. When you work close to structure sooner or later you’re going to drag the bottom and you’re going to pick up debris. A tiny bit of debris can cause your lure to lose it’s action and be rejected by super finicky walleyes. With the lead you can actually see that change in action in your rod tip which will give you notice to reel it up and clean it off.

Speed can be a critical factor to using cranks late in the open water season and you really need a good handle on productive speeds to be successful. Most speed indicators are relatively ineffective, however the new GPS units with W.A.S.S. like the Raymarine C80 provide excellent speed information that will allow you to fine tune your presentation. The C80 has an eight inch brilliant color screen that can be combined with G.P.S. and High Definition Imaging allowing you to keep track of your speed, position, as well an unmatched view of what’s below.

Sure there will be days when you have to put away the hard baits and grab the rigging or jigging rod. But it might not be as often as you think, and you might surprise yourself by how effective the right crank bait run through the right place can be.