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Big and Bulky for Fall Walleyes
By Sam Anderson

For most anglers, the spring and early summer constitutes the bulk of the fishing season.  Their excitement and motivation runs high before the "opener," but by the time late August rolls around they are ready to throw in the towel.  And that's to bad because late fall and early autumn can provide some of the best fishing of the year.
 The late summer then, is a time of transition.  In the Upper Midwest, that transition usually occurs toward the end of September or the beginning of October.  The days become noticeably shorter, the nights cooler and the first hint of fall is in the air.  In our natural lakes, a corresponding process has begun.  Weedbeds have begun to die off, water temperatures are cooler, food production has slowed dramatically and the little remaining forage is eagerly sought by predators.
 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.  
Lindy little Joe Fuzzy Grubs one of my personal choices
Lindy's Fuzzy Grubs
I motored over to a small point where I had caught a few walleyes during the summer months and I cast out my 1/8 Lindy Fuzzy Grub jig 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.
The shape of your bait might be determined by the type of fish that you are trying to catch.  If you are fishing for bass you will want a short or fat bait like a Fat Rap.  The reason is the bass usually feed on shad or even bluegills that are short and fat.  
The Original floating Rapala
Original Rapala
The shape of the fish that you are catching dictates the shape you need to offer in a lure form.  For example the long slim baits such as the Shad Rap or the Floating Rapala are ideal for long slim fish.  Walleyes, Northern Pike and Muskies are attracted to this type of bait.
Sound is another sense that the fish use to locate and identify food.  Water conditions and specie of fish will determine the sounds that you would like to imitate.  All fish have an organ along the side of their heads and bodies called a lateral line that enables them to detect subtle vibrations in the water.  If you are fishing for bass or northern pike a noisy lure is the answer.  Likewise, if you are fishing in stained water then you want the walleye to be able to hear your bait.  Rattling Rapalas are a good example of a noisy bait that will take a variety of fish under these conditions.  If you are fishing in a clear lake quiet baits that produce wobble and vibration are what you want to use.
 For northern pike I troll and cast crankbaits across the shallows on the flats.  Again I want to cover water quickly looking for the active fish, so I will use a #7 Shad Rap or a shallow running Husky Minnow.  I check the drop off areas and cruise the flats using a zigzag pattern.
 For walleyes I switch from the traditional night crawler to a jig and minnow combination.  The minnows are not as plentiful during this period of time so the walleyes tend to go after this offering.  I might also use a shallow running Rapala in the shallows by long lining them across the flats. 
Walleyes will frequently spread out over shallow flats or on points.  When they do so, try front-trolling at a fairly quick clip.  Tie on a jig and plastic trailer heavy enough to stay near the bottom as the boat moves along.  As the trolling pass is made, sweep the rod so the bait jumps, then falls back to the bottom.  A six foot medium heavy action spinning rod with eight to ten pound test XT line will be about right.
 At times, walleyes can be found over the tops of cabbage weeds, especially during low-light periods.  At other times they'll suspend along the deep edge of the cabbage.  These are the times when eighth ounce heads come into play.  Especially the bullet shaped heads, because they tend to slide through the weeds and can be ripped when they become stuck, triggering a strike from a fish.  Swim the jig and the tail combo over the tops of the weeds, then let it fall along the deep edge.  This technique can be very productive.
 Plastic lures are another way to bulk up your offering, and they play an important part in three way rigging on rivers. The common three way or Wolf River rig is one of the oldest and most effective means of keeping a bait near the bottom while trolling upstream.  Comprised of six pound test XT main line and leader, a small three way swivel, a lead sinker and an assortment of super sharp hooks, upstream rigging is very popular on large rivers like the Mississippi, Illinois, St. Croix, and Missouri.
 Plastic grubs or Power Baits can also be easily added to a Wolf River rig. I prefer to add the smaller panfish style curly tail grubs to floating jig heads to give them more action and added color.  Dressing up a #1 or #2 Aberdeen worm hook with a three or four-inch twister tail is another excellent way to add plastic to your 3-way rig.
Berkley Power Grub
Berkley Power Grub
Power Grubs and Power Worms, especially the “ Tournament Strength” are good examples of plastic baits with action tails that are extremely productive.  The three and four inch sizes are the best for walleyes, although two inch Grubs can be good with fish that are finicky.
Go with the larger baits when a slow fall is desired or when the walleyes are active.With the cool weather and the beginning of school, we all know that fall is not far behind.  The leaves are beginning to turn colors and the birds and ducks are on the wing.  The call of the fields and the woods are sirens to many an outdoorsman.  
 The angling pressure is no longer present and the fish must feed in order to store fat for the winter.  The boat should remain out and ready for the warm, "Indian summer days" to come.  
 If you add that extra bulk or make the wobble a little larger the walleyes have to attack your offer.  If you want to talk more about this technique or other fall fish strategies then contact me on the web at  www.samanderson.com.

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