It’s good to have options, the more the merrier. Options mean opportunities, and right now there are real opportunities, especially if you’re a serious walleye angler. The season is the reason, and thanks to onset of fall there are more places to find more walleyes than at any other time of the year.
Following the fall turnover solid patterns start to set up that anglers can really take advantage of, that is unless they’ve already given up. In that case they’re just plain out of luck, but looking on the bright side it does leave more for me and you, and is another reason why fall walleye angling is so appealing.
Gone are the flotillas of boats, and all the pressure and commotion that go with them. Now is the time for peace and quiet, just you and the fish. That’s what a quality experience is made of, and why fall angling is so appealing.
Another appealing aspect is the fact that you’re quarry is more apt to be in good mood, and less likely to be turned off with no
hope of getting your pole bent. Come fall the control knob on their activity level is turned wide open, as hungry eyes gorge themselves on whatever happens to get in the way. Most often that’s small perch and minnows like shiners, and could also include immature sunfish and crappies or tullibees or whitefish depending on what’s available.
With that in mind it pays to look for areas that are apt to hold plenty of bait fish, and could include shallow rock piles or even weed flats.
One of the earliest patterns to set up in the fall is a serious weed bite and happens where and when you might least expect it. The fall period is synonymous with fast breaks and hard bottoms but is really only a rule of thumb, and in many cases it just doesn’t hold water, especially early in the fall.
Early in the fall period walleyes can often be found foraging heavily on shallow weed flats, nowhere near anything thought of as classic structure. As un-classic as it may sound weeds can hold plenty of what a growing walleyes need, and that’s food. That food often comes in the form of immature perch, baitfish and minnows, that has been left in a rather precarious position. By late summer and early fall a lot of that weed growth will lay down and die, greatly reducing the number of hiding places and overexposing baitfish and minnows where they are quickly introduced to old marble eyes.
Finding potential weed flats starts by taking a look at a good map and trying to pick out larger flats in the depth range that the weeds are known to grow at. From there it will take a little investigative work with a good graph like the Garmin 178C to find what you’re looking for. The 178C can reveal the presence of weeds, their density, and even weed type when you know what you’re looking for. Another great tool for exploring deep weed lines is an underwater camera like the new VS 560 from Marcum Technologies. The VS 560 has a 360 degree rotating camera that can pan back and forth which allows you to see a lot more of everything. Standard cameras can only view straight ahead and severely limit your ability to take it all in.
How you approach a weed flat will depend on the weed type and density, which may allow you to get right up into the middle of it, or be restricted to working an edge. The heaviest stuff will likely keep you pinned down on the deep edge, where you can either try dragging a minnow behind a live bait rig or a jig tipped with a minnow. Either method can get the job done and it’s a toss up as to what to start with.
If the weeds are sparse enough you might try drifting or trolling a light jig tipped with a minnow. The technique is known a snap jigging and is a combination of a slow troll and quick snap of the rod tip. The idea is to get the jig and minnow to the bottom, slowly move ahead with the boat and then snap the bait forward and let it settle back down before initiating the next snap. The snap and resultant flash of the bait will often trigger reluctant walleyes into striking and can make all the difference in the world.
It’s hard to beat an 1/8 to ¼ oz jig tipped with a medium sized shiner for snap jigging as the bait can provide plenty of flash. The Northland Tackle metallic Eye-Ball Jig is perfect for this presentation as it has an extra wire barb that helps to hold on to soft baits and shiners are plenty soft. If you can’t find shiners use what you can get your hands on but it might be worth driving an extra mile or two to get the “perfect” bait. Other acceptable minnows include larger fatheads and rainbow chubs or dace. The key is balancing the bait to the size of the jig as the really big minnows create too many problems, like a bait that can’t get to the bottom, or a bait the fish can’t easily inhale. The weed and snap jigging pattern has been made popular on lakes like Winnibigoshish and Leech but is a real possibility anywhere you find a combination of weeds and walleyes.
One thing to keep in mind is the fact that a walleye is still a walleye and can still be pretty darn fussy even when active. They can still be spooked so it might pay to be a little stealthy. Also, the active patterns may be closely in tune with dusk and dawn so be prepared to start early or stay late, or you could miss the whole thing. See you on the water.