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The Fall Bite by Dan Vinovich

Over the last year, I have fished all over Illinois.  I still think the Illinois River is your best bet for consistency on sauger and walleye.  A lot of people have trouble when they first start fishing the Illinois river.  Unlike the Mississippi, the Illinois river seems to be lacking in fish holding structure readily seen by the eye.  The Illinois river has no real quantity of wing dams, closing dams or long stretches of rip rap shore lines.  To find fish holding structure, you have to use your electronics and your maps.  Sit down before you put your boat in the water and mark classic fish holding areas.  Some classic areas I look for when fishing any river are:

 1. Dams
 2. Bridges
 3. Bends in the river
 4. Creek mouths
 5. Shallow flats near the channel
 6. Barge loading facilities
 7. Clam beds

Fishing Hot Spots Maps  make an excellent map covering the Starved Rock Dam to the Hennepin bridge.  I also have a corps map.  One thing you have to remember when using a map is it will only put you in the general area you want to go.  You have to use your electronics to pinpoint the spot.  The river changes all of the time.  Floods, current speed and barge traffic all change the locations of eddies, holes, sand bars, etc.  When I get to an area, I like to start 200 to 300 yards downstream of the spot I am looking for.  I then work the Tracker Boats Targa 2000 upstream, sliding in and out, using my Lowrance Electronics the walleye pro's choice 350 to pinpoint the areas I think would hold fish.  In the Illinois river, I can usually use a mark on the shore as a reference point.  On larger rivers or lakes, the G.P.S. unit is a must to mark areas for later reference. 

Now that I have stated the areas I would look for, let’s put these areas together with the fall movements of sauger and walleye to further increase our odds of filling our limits.  As late November  and December arrive, water temperatures drop into the 50 degree range.  This drop in water temperature seems to merge the smaller schools of fish into large wolf packs interested in one thing, eating!  Fall, in my judgment, is one of the best times to catch full stringers of big fish.  Locating these packs of hungry walleye and sauger is fairly simple.  When you find the food, you find the fish.  Shad is the main forage base in many of our midwest lakes and rivers.  In the fall, millions of shad move onto shallow mud flats to feed on the remaining invertebrates in the water column.  As the invertebrates in the water column start to deplete, the shad start sifting through the silt on these flats for the remaining food, much like the American Indians followed the buffalo across the plains.  The walleye and sauger follow the shad, stopping to gorge themselves on the plentiful food supply before moving into deeper holes to hold up during winter.  So for fantastic fall river fishing, look for shallow flats in the 10 to 12 foot depth range. 

This fall bite can be aggravating at times because the fish are so stuffed on shad they may not readily hit your offerings.  There are a couple different presentations I would try on these sluggish fish.  The first is trolling small crankbaits at hyper speeds.  Remember the walleye is an intense predator.  By trolling at above normal speeds, we reach into the very instinct of the fish.  Use these predatory instincts to produce a reaction strike.  The bait runs past the fish so fast they don’t have a chance to decide if they want the bait or not.  They just react.  For this type of presentation, I have found that the small CD5 Walleye Diver will reach targeted depths easily, and it tracks incredibly true at high speeds.  I do make one minor adjustment to the hook since the fish is reacting on the bait instead of inhaling it.  Good hooks are a must.  I replace all of my hooks with the Kahil style Eagle Claw hook.  These hooks are incredibly sharp and have an added advantage over the standard round bend trebles in fish hooking and holding capabilities.  A must in this style of trolling is tuning your crankbaits.  The bait must track true or your presentation is doomed before you get started.  Depending on the size of the flat you are trolling, I do recommend using planer boards to spread you baits over a greater area.  Using planer boards in the fall can be a nightmare.  White bass and leaves can foul baits without you knowing.  That is why I use the Off Shore Tackle and Trolling products for serious walleye fisherman Tackle Planer Boards with the Tattle Tail Flag modification.  The Tattle Tail is a spring loaded flag that lays back when any added weight is added to the bait enabling the angler to know when a pesky white bass or debris has fouled  the bait.  This is a must if you plan to use planer boards in the fall.  The second of these presentations moves to the other end of the spectrum.  Your boat speed slows to a crawl and your choice of baits is a jig.  This is a force feeding presentation.  You lightly bounce the jig in front of the fish until it decides to eat it.  This presentation works well when we have a year such as the fall of 2000.  Water levels are at rock bottom.  With the lack of current, these fish don’t have to move much.  They just lay belly to the bottom and feed.

Seasonal migrations in the fall can produce some of the largest stringers of walleye and sauger you will get in the course of a years fishing.  So, don’t put away those boats just yet .Cool temperatures and stable water conditions should make the fall of 2000 a good one. 

See ya’ on the water,

Dan Vinovich

For guided trips call Dan Vinovich at Predator Guide Service, 309-347-1728 
e-mail - trolling@mtco.co

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