W A L L E Y E   H U N T E R
Fishing Articles by Sam Anderson
Staging Transitional Fall Walleyes
By Sam Anderson
The late summer, is a time of transition. In the Upper Midwest, that transition usually starts toward the end of August and goes through 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 and start feeding from their 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. In fact this is the "staging time of year." 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.
The "staging" is not identifiable with a specific weather occurrence. This "staging period" 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.
For example, fishing had been poor for about three weeks and it didn't seem this evening would be any different than the previous ones. 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 "staging" process. I motored over to a small point where I had caught a few walleyes during the summer months and I cast out a 1/8 ounce 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 and released it. 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. 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 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.
Just as during the spring and summer months, the weedbeds will still be a key location for the fish, as long as the weeds are still green. Just as you worked the weedbeds in the summer months, seek out and concentrate on points, turns, pockets, and other changes in the weedline.
Rocks will also attract fish, especially rocky shorelines, as this is where the fall spawning bait fish will spawn. If you find an area where rocks and weeds meet or are intermixed, work it over thoroughly.
Fish like an edge. Fish are not randomly scattered through any body of water, be it a pond, lake, large reservoir, stream, river, ocean, bay or slough. Fish are always found in specific areas. These areas will vary with the species of fish and the environment in which they live, but are based on typical factors that involve every living thing - food, oxygen levels, temperature, pH, light levels, structure and schooling tendencies.
We know that fish and animals use staging areas to migrate from feeding source to a place of resting. When I am on the water in autumn I tend to look for funneled down areas, because it is a great place to look for walleyes as they pass through in search of food. Necked down areas, saddles between island and land, narrows, and even break lines are great places to begin looking for active walleyes in the fall. Breaklines are areas where the floor of the lake or river drop-off from shallow water to deeper water. The breakline is a transitional area. Walleyes have a tendency to move up into the shallows on cloudy, windy days or in the evening and then slide back into the depths to rest.
To catch walleyes in a staging area there are many presentations an angler should consider. Little Joe spinners with a crawler harness, or a Lindy rig are two great ways to start to look for walleyes. Minnows are at an all time high in the fall of the year and the offering that you provide for them should be something different. Stick to crawlers and leeches or artificial baits that resemble big minnows. The bigger the minnow bait the more the walleyes will be interested in it.
This time of year walleyes want to fatten up for the upcoming winter months and they look for the largest food source they can swallow. Minnow baits like Storm Lightin’ Shad have a large body and give off a lot of wobble that transmits to the walleye that this food source is large and lazy. Try also to get these minnow baits in colors that represent the food source the walleyes are feeding on. Shad colored baits and crawdad color baits have been dynamite for me this year.
With the cool weather and the beginning of school around the corner 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 do get onto a great
fall bite or if you want to discuss some fishing tactics drop me a not
on the web at www.samanderson.com
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Since August 1, 1998