Fall is a transition time for many species of fish, especially predators like walleye. This is the time of year when feeding becomes heavy and big fish are a realistic goal. Presentations change as the season progresses and the water temps cool but that is one of the beauties of Fall fishing! Night time is a great opportunity to catch walleyes this time of year and the best part is you can do it from shore, in waders, or from a boat and all are successful when the right conditions arise.
Early in the fall the walleyes are still very much in their summer patterns. By-in-large they are deeper, seeking out cooler, oxygen rich water and they feed on roaming schools of baitfish along key bottom structures, hard bottom deep flats and weed edges adjacent to deeper water. You can sometimes find them moving up onto humps or shallower flats at night but these fish spend brief periods of time doing so. More aggressive tactics such as jigging raps, blade baits, and swim baits are solid options in August and September before the water cools down.
Early fall is where those who have access to a boat can capitalize on fish relating to deeper water. It often takes a lot of moving to locate a school of walleyes and this is where good electronics come into play to help follow contours and stay on a spot after fish have been found. Shore fisherman rarely find this time of year bountiful for eyes, especially in lakes, but some locations can still provide success especially at night. Places where current comes through, rip rap banks with adjacent deep water, and jetties or points with adjacent deeper water can be successful. In these situations, casting jigs or fishing a slip bobber and minnow or leech are quite productive if walleye are in the vicinity.
Later into the fall as the water temps drop and wind and wave action oxygenate the shallows once again the walleyes will vacate their deep water haunts to chase baitfish also moving shallow. Often times the first weed edge of still green vegetation is a great transition point for walleyes seeking abundant forage. During these times their feeding ramps up and they are looking to pack on pounds for winter and also the females bulk up in preparation for new egg development before spring arrives.
Big baits shine through later into the fall because walleyes are looking to get the most bang for their buck when it comes to a meal. They aren’t generally as aggressive so presentations need to slow down but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Ideal baits for these situations are shallow minnow-style crankbaits like a Rapala Flat Rap, Rapala Shadow Rap or Rattlin’ Rogues. Jigs, swim baits and Lindy rigs also work well depending on the depth you are fishing and whether there is current or not.
If you like using live bait then I suggest a big chub or shiner and the big fish definitely like these offerings. When a strike occurs, give the fish plenty of time to take the bait before setting the hook. Live bait fishing is a great tactic at night for drifting a rig along a weed edge or shallower flat. Find some rock on a flat and it becomes all the better. In areas where there is a narrowing and current present, even a simple rig like a hook and splitshot with a leech slowly drifted through can be deadly.
Night Time Considerations
The walleyes in the fall may feed heavily and let their guard down more so than in the summer but that doesn’t mean they aren’t weary. For anglers fishing from the shore or wading out into the water, be sure to keep light shine to an absolute minimum and off the water if possible. Anglers in boats should do the same but also be conscious of motor noise especially in shallower water. Use the electric motor to patrol shallow flats and weed edges and cut the main engine further in advance when approaching a fishing area. Walleyes in shallower water feel more vulnerable and can be affected by noise and light a lot more readily.
Shore and wading anglers can definitely have an advantage later into the fall when walleyes move shallow. You can often find fish on the inside edge of the first weed growth, along rocky banks and the edges of jetties where getting a boat in close can be next to impossible to avoid spooking fish especially if wind is present. Don’t be afraid to keep the boat on the trailer to don a pair of waders.
The gear is another consideration and becomes more important for shore and wading anglers. In this instance mobility can be limited so long casts to cover water are important. A 7’ or 7.5’ medium action spinning rod spooled with eight to ten pound mono or ten pound micro braid will offer longer casts. For anglers wading a flat this is a must in my mind.
As the fall draws on and the water temps cool rapidly, presentations must slow down accordingly. Choose lighter style presentations or baits that suspend and can be fished more slowly. The walleyes are definitely out to forage still but cooler temps slow down their activity. Fishing minnow style jerk baits is an awesome technique this time of year and fish them in a twitch twitch pause fashion to grab a walleye’s attention and give them plenty of time to find and attach the lure.
Current and moving water is often key during this period for finding active fish and plenty of forage. Areas where a creek or river enters a body of water, waves move water along a shoreline or a narrowing point are all solid options to start with. This moving water concentrated prey species and the walleyes will be there as well.
Rivers in our state have always been popular for walleye anglers and the fall is naturally a great time to hit them hard after the summer slow-down. In the fall, walleyes begin to make a slow but steady progression upstream to capitalize on forage and locate wintering areas in deeper water. Here you will often find the active fish along current seams and the leading edge of a hole before the first break. The techniques are no different than they are in the spring and summer and jigs or live bait presentations are both solid options. I’ve had the opportunity to sample walleyes at night in October with the DNR and the biggest fish we saw were always in slack water along rock or just below obstructions in the river such as wing dams or dams themselves. These fish were surprisingly shallow, no doubt foraging heavily on minnows and smaller fish.
As with any style of fishing, safety is a something an angler should always consider especially when fishing at night. It always pays to know the water you intend to go out on and it’s a good idea to fish with a buddy. Cooler water and unpredictable fall weather both add a higher level of risk to fisherman. Be sure to let a loved one know where you are planning to fish and what time you intend to return and check in if your adventure plans on going later.
Fall walleye fishing is one of the best times of year to catch a truly large fish and numbers of fish in general. Do some homework and find out when the bite starts to turn on and don’t be afraid to try new techniques. Night fishing is a great option during the fall and often lends the patient angler with little to no competition on the water for fishing spots. Good luck on the water this fall!