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Fatting Up For Winter
By John Campbell

As predator fish begin their fall feeding habits, their focus centers on large forage. Young of the year Perch, Cisco, River Shiners and Chubs, along with other forage, such as frogs, crawfish and even their own off-spring will be targeted.   Successful trophy hunters will match the hatch, almost scientifically, at this time of year. Imitation of the forage base is very critical and a key to productivity during the fall feeding binge! 
Feeding forays are anything but mysterious! The fish have to eat a lot as summer activity increases.  The perdition cycle is in high gear on reefs, large points and adjacent flats, and in neck down flowage areas. Veteran anglers can predict these movements, and position themselves for hot late summer or early fall action on the biggest fish of the year.
Walleyes love live bait, especially in the fall, and there's no more practical way to present live bait than behind a slip sinker slowly dragged along the bottom.  Rigging allows an angler to comb a lot of water quickly.  It's a great way to search for walleye schools that are scattered along a drop-off.
Fish activity is also different at this time of year.  Largemouth bass begin to form larger schools and start feeding voraciously.  Northern pike move in from larger schools where they were feeding in deep open-water locations, and actively cruise weed flats.  And walleyes shake off their summer lethargy and begin to enter shallower feeding waters.
This sets the stage for all kinds of fishing.  These fish are in a process of transition also.  These conditions work together to create one of the year's peak fishing times.  It's as if the game fish suddenly realize the long winter is approaching and know they have to chow down in preparation for the hard times ahead.  The most important aspect is that all of this will occur before the colors really form on the trees.
This period is not identifiable with a specific weather occurrence.  This time of the year comes as the trees start to show a sign of ending of the summer and just before the major frost starts to blanket the ground.  The dramatic changes are going on under water, but on the land the clues are much more subtle.
The best example of how I stumbled onto this was on a late October evening.  Fishing had been poor for about three weeks and it didn't seem this evening would be any different than the previous ones.  

Lowrance X-15MT
Lowrance’s new X-15
As I motored across the lake I noticed from my Lowrance depth finder that the water temperature had fallen from the low 60's to the mid 50's.  I didn't give it much thought, but what I didn't realize is that this was enough to start the fish on their fall transitional patterns.  I motored over to a small point where I had caught a few walleyes during the summer months and I cast out my  Lindy Rig tipped with a minnow.  
As the splash subsided I felt that familiar tug on the line and I quickly set the hook.  I reeled in a nice two pound walleye.  Since the fishing hadn't been fast and furious over the last two weeks and the family was interested in eating a few fish before winter set in I decided to keep this walleye.  I unhooked the walleye and put him in my livewell.  I hooked up the minnow again, because it wasn't too badly destroyed and cast to the exact same spot.  Just like the first cast as the splash subsided I hooked another walleye.
In the next fifteen minutes I caught 10 walleyes in this exact same spot releasing all but four for dinner.  These fish were aggressive, if one walleye got off another latched onto the bait and I used the same minnow two or three times.   It really didn't seem to matter what condition the minnow was in; they just kept hammering the jig and minnow combination.  The key here is I added bulk and live bait to my jig approach.
The subtle difference was the water temperature and the structure that they related to.  The fish congregated in this area to feed and fatten up for the beginning of the autumn season.  They came together to hunt in schools and possibly to move into deeper water as the season started to progress.
Just because this time of year offers excellent fishing, that doesn't mean you're going to succeed every time.  First of all you have to find the fish and an excellent tool for that is the live bait rig.
The key to live-bait rigging is a slow, meticulous presentation.  Terminal tackle for a live bait rig usually includes a walking sinker threaded onto the line on top of a barrel swivel.  Keep the sinker weight as light as possible, yet heavy enough to let you feel the weight along the bottom.  Usually 1/4 to 1/2-ounce sinkers should be adequate for early-season fishing. 
From the opposite end of the swivel I run a 2 to 4 foot snell of 6 to 8 pound test monofilament.  Adjust the distance of your live-bait rig from the bottom according to water clarity.  In stained water the fish will be tight to the bottom so the rig should run closer to the bottom.  Just the opposite frequently holds true in clear water.  
Original Lindy Rig
Orignal Lindy rig
I prefer to use the Lindy Rig in this case because it allows me the versatility of getting the live bait right in the face of suspended walleyes.  A plain VMC, hook or the colored hooks are great, usually number 6 or number 8 finishes off the rig except for the bait. 
Let the fish show you, which form of live bait to use.  A general rule is to use smaller minnows in the spring and larger minnows in the fall, with leeches and nightcrawlers being most productive in the warmer months of summer.  However, I've found that walleyes don't always adhere to the rules.  I like to have a complete selection of bait in the boat with me whenever I go fishing. 
I've had plenty of experiences that saw mid-summer walleyes attacking minnows and early spring walleyes showing a preference to crawlers.
Walleyes often take minnows lightly, and will sometimes nibble at the tail of the night crawler like a small perch does.  These slow biters have to be given time to get the bait into their mouths so that the hook can do it’s job.
That's the reason for the Lindy slip sinker, it allows you to feed line to the fish.  Most anglers use open-face Shimano spinning reels for live bait rigging.  They backtroll, with the bail open and the line caught under the index finger of their rod hand.  When they feel a bite, they simultaneously point the rod tip back toward the fish and straighten their finger, allowing line to run freely off the spool.  After anywhere from 3 to 30 seconds depending on how aggressive the fish are, reel up the slack line quickly until they feel the weight of the fish.  They then snap the rod back with authority and hoist another walleye into the boat.
This is the time of the year walleyes are feeding up for the winter months.  All you have to do is be on the water when they decide to feed and you will get some trophy walleyes.  For more information about fall fishing cast me a line on the web at www.walleye.info and we can share even more secrets.

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