Though the calendar doesn’t say so yet, weather forecasters count the time around Labor Day as the start of autumn. Walleye fishermen can attest to the truth of that. Fish are no longer concentrated in their summer haunts. Trolling structure or fishing shallow weed lines produces fewer and fewer walleyes.
Days are shorter. Nights are cooler. The transition has come.
It is as if all of a sudden, walleyes aren’t where they were. “They’re gone.”
As early as mid-August, subtle changes (that often go unnoticed) signal the start of the fall transition period. Weeds begin dying, from colder overnight temperatures, fewer hours of sunlight, and other factors.
Look for dying weeds, that’s what starts it and push it. It has often been said of late season killer Walleye fishing that what a lot of people don’t understand is that baitfish will only stay in those weeds as long as they are very green. Once weeds start to die off, it seems as though baitfish and walleyes start to leave those shallow-water weed areas.
Shallower, dark-water lakes enter the transition period first. Deeper, clear-water lakes experience transition later in fall. Some lakes have green weeds all the way to ice-up.
Walleyes on the move can be hard to locate, so the transition can be frustrating. But, these fish migrate to predictable areas and gather in big schools, generally according to size.
Once the big ones are located, action can be incredible.
What the fall does is it gives the walleye angler the edge all in all. You will soon notice that the fish are not spread all over the lake. They are in key spots in the deepest part of the lake. You can literally eliminate most of the lake, as you think about where to look.
Where do these transition Walleyes go?
At first, they start to move out to more open-water areas, sand is a really critical thing, if it’s available. They slide out to areas around deep water, like sand bars that come out from shore and drop to deeper water, sand flats, sand points, and sand humps.
The best place to look for the elusive Walleye fish is sandy areas, especially in September. If you are fishing your summer spots and they aren’t there, start fishing the sand.”
Don’t look for walleyes in the deeper water, though, not yet. As the transition is getting underway, it’s still common to find walleyes in 15 feet and less.
At those depths, a good quality sonar unit can be a big help. Walleyes may be so tight to the bottom, they’re difficult to see, but not impossible. A really good sonar fish finder unit that measures and displays up to 640 vertical pixels is the ticket. Combine that with bottom tracking and the zoom feature, and you can often pick up on walleyes tight to the bottom. Likewise, they may be on the very top of the structure. In that case, spooking fish can become an issue.
The bottom line is this: if an area has the characteristics that should hold fish, fish it. The best way to check the shallows is to keep the boat in deeper water, cast to the top of the structure and work back down.
This is the time of the year to use live bait.
Walleyes begin to move deeper as water temperatures drop toward turnover, which begins at 62 degrees F or so. Instead of looking for fish to be on top of structures, look deeper. They will be in spots like the sharper breaks or on mid-lake humps that top out at perhaps 20 feet, rather than 15, or in holes in soft-bottom flats where depth drops from 15 feet to 20 and then returns to 15.
At this time, walleyes become more selective about where they stage. They generally locate on a spot-on-a-spot. For example, if they are on a mid-lake hump with scattered boulders, they will be on the boulders. If all rock, look for the patch of sand. If all sand, look for the rock pile. It’s time for a different fishing paradigm. Think where those big fat Walley are this time of year.
Precision with regard to location becomes important. Because more and more walleyes show up on these few spots, more and more of the lake holds no fish. It’s easy to be skunked if you don’t pay attention to subtle differences on the structure. On the other hand, it can be a bonanza if you do. You will find that once you find one walleye, you’ll often find the mother lode of Walleyes. Where one rat is so to speak is the whole colony or in this case school of Walleye fish. As water continues to cool down, through the 50s to the 40s, walleyes tend to locate on structure that leads to the deepest water in the lake. Check points or bars that extend out into the deep basin when water temperatures reach the 30s, walleyes that were in 15 feet of water in mid-August are now down 45 feet or more (where this kind of depth is available to them). They tend to seek out places where mud and hard bottom meets in the deepest water in the lake. Deep boulders become fish magnets.
The deeper water is warmer and holds food at that time of year.
In shallow, dark-water lakes that have a perch forage base, walleyes will dig up lake Manitoba fishflies and mayflies as well as the other aquatic insects from the deep mud at the bottom of the Lake Manitoba Narrows.
In deeper, clear lakes, they may be at 70 feet and deeper looking for the minnows, whitefish and assorted acquatic life that are in deep and even more deeper waters at that time of year.
Fish are on the move as fall turns to winter. Move with them and you’ll turn cold weather fishing into a hot time on the water.