Fall Walleyes

Fall Bago Eyes

By: Kyle Sorensen

What a summer it has been! We have sure had some fun times here on the Winnebago System. The fish have been hungry this year, and the younger year classes have certainly been showing up in addition to the normal targeted sizes we find on the system. I have seen some big fish in the net, but I have also seen hundreds of the 10”- 13” Walters dangling on the end of my line. There are certainly some fantastic years of fishing ahead of us!

The dog days of summer have come, and they are now slowly slipping away into the cooler nights. The algae which had painted the surface of the water is now receding as we approach the last leg of the open water season. During this time, I’m sure some of you are making preparations in the woods as the buck bug grows and starts to nibble. While some have already switched out the open water gear for camo and their bow, keep those rods in the boat and at the ready as the fall walleye bite is here!

If we look at how the Winnebago System produces year round, we know fish can be caught in 30 FOW, all the way down to a couple feet, at any given time. Have you ever sight fished for walleyes under the ice in a few feet of water? It’s a blast, but it’s also a key area to take note. I am not going to tell you that to be successful you need to fish a reef during this time, and I’m not going to say you need to fish the deep mud flats. I’m going to tell you that you need to keep all of your options available and be prepared to sometimes switch things up when the current tactic or location isn’t producing.

If you saw the live broadcast I did on the OB Outdoors Facebook page while on the Fox River in Oshkosh, you saw a very nice two-man limit in the livewell. You also saw something that sums up fishing on the Winnebago System – a ton of rods with a lot of different rigs. Some days, fish are holding to weedbeds while sometimes the mud bite is phenomenal. This can go back and forth so we need to be ready. Let’s look at some important aspects of the range of bites on the Winnebago System during the fall time as each area can be useful at any given time. An important area to start on is the weed bite.

Whether you target submerged weeds or emergent weeds, it’s no secret; walleyes relate to both types here on our system. Some of the factors involved with a successful weed bite depend on forage, wind, temperature and oxygen levels. As we transition into the fall bite and the temperatures begin to drop, weedbeds that can normally hold fish begin to die off. As they die, they begin emitting less and less oxygen into the water. With less oxygen, the small bugs that the forage base consumes begin to die off and/or they move in search of a more desirable environment. With the bugs and forage moving, so do the ‘eyes. Knowing this, the only thing left to assume is that we need to target live, active weedbeds. This, however, can sometimes be a trick in itself as the season gets later and later.

When we fish weeds, jigging crawlers and leeches on the lightest possible jig head can certainly produce some great results while running the edges with the bow-mount. Plastics have their time and place in the weedbeds and due to their composition, they can allow us to rig the worm, leech, grub, whatever, in a way in which it produces less hookups with weeds. Depending on fish activity, sometimes anchoring and running slips on the outside edges can work. On a totally different side note, I have sometimes switched gears completely from ‘eyes to pannies while running slips on the edges. This becomes an absolute treat after a few hearty gills start dropping corks…

The next area of focus is the river systems. There are walleye on the system that never leave the river of their choosing during their entire life. As with springtime tactics, jigging minnows, crawlers, even leeches, all hold value in this topic. As I mentioned in a river jigging video I did this spring, looking for contours in the river channels is an integral part while targeting these fish. When I am jigging, you will always see me using the lightest jig possible to present my bait. By utilizing my bow-mount, I am able to slow down my drift speed and work each area longer before the full drift of the specific area has been completed.

The rivers are a unique environment by themselves. Some species spawn in the rivers, which in turn offers a hatch ripe for the chomping. With this happening, it not only brings in the jigging aspect but also the fly pulling tactics of springtime fishing. When we pull or pump flies, we are mimicking baitfish. With some hatches happening at any time into the fall bite, pulling flies yet again can create some amazing results. Our electronics can show these baitfish balls or clouds, and in a river system, you would be hard pressed to not see strong marks under and around these sometimes massive collections of forage. When you see one, it’s time to mark it and fish it good!

During the start of the fall bite, a lot of the spring forage has grown but some species have continued to spawn throughout the summer months as previously discussed. While crankbaits work throughout the year on our system, and crawler harnesses are a killer tactic on the system during the summer months, more and more anglers trade in the harnesses for cranks during this time. This coincides with a primary source of food for our walleye: the gizzard shad.

Gizzard shad have a very high fat content, and they are a slower moving object of prey. It’s a perfect combination for these ‘eyes as they begin to stock up. As with other species of fish in the system, the shad have a variety of year classes (many sizes) which allows for the various year classes of walleye to pick and choose what they want to fill their guts with. Because of the forage, the crankbait trolling bite sees an absolute spike during this time, and as always, we match the hatch. By doing this, we can select shad patterned cranks and run them slow to mimic the movements of the shad. Because Berkley’s Flicker Shad somewhat matches this movement, these are always a good starting point!

In my last article, we talked about trolling cranks out in the mud on Winnebago. This is still a tactic that will produce into the late fall so be sure to keep it in your arsenal.  If you want to check out that article, it’s available for free on Badger Sportsman’s online archive at www.BadgerSportsman.com for all of you subscribers!

The mud is not the only place on the Winnebago System that shows results while trolling cranks. The shorelines (especially around active weedbeds), mid-lake structures (reefs, humps, breaks) and rocky points all show great promise. With the cooling temperatures, fish remain in all areas of the water column as turnover takes place. Turnover is when the different temperatures collide in the water column and the water column becomes one… in so many words. As I previously stated, walleyes on our system can be had year round in the shallows to the deep trenches of our rivers. Because of this, I certainly do not see a huge impact that turnover presents to our walleye fishery here on the Winnebago System as there are always active fish here somewhere.

The last area I will cover is live bait rigging off of bottom bouncers. I love using bottom bouncers because they stir up the bottom and I also know exactly where my rig is running. The one aspect I do not like is the efficiency: usually only using one rod to cover the water area. This is a tactic that usually emerges in the early summer and pushes into mid-fall in my boat.

Growing up I was doing this in northern Minnesota, and now, I am continuing to utilize this technique here on our system. A leech or crawler “harness” can be deadly when all else seems to fail. As the rig options are endless and constantly changing, I will say that more often than not you will see some type of float on my setup. While sharp breaks coming from the shoreline, various reefs, or even rocky points are some great areas to target for this tactic, do not limit it to just those. This is a very versatile technique because it allows the angler to slow down and work a specific area in great detail while trying to coax a timid eye into snatching up the rig. With that said, my favorite area to start in is water around reefs that hold deep water.

As we all know, wind plays a huge role on fish location and activity. When running one of these rigs, you will see me starting on the windblown side, making an elongated “S” as I creep deeper and deeper into the main portion of the lake before restarting or jumping to a new structure. As the bouncer ticks bottom, I usually keep the speed between .5 – .8mph, sometimes even a slower drag. This is all dependent on the blade of the rig (if I even use one), the hardware, etc. A little pulse of the rod can sometimes warrant a strike, while other times the “S” turns being made suffice within themselves.

I have heard of some letting line out when a fish hits or even just waiting to set the hook. In my opinion, this is not good in any way shape or form, unless you are fishing with a single hook rig (leech, slow death, etc.). We have so many smaller ‘eyes (and goats) in our system that if you are running a two or three hook harness, those guys are going to swallow at least one of them. Are you going to keep a 10” ‘eye (or the bigger ones that are hooked badly), or do you mind having to clip a hook off of your harness? I don’t like the thought of those scenarios so I set the hook with a nice sweeping style when I feel the fish hit… No ifs ands or buts!

We briefly covered A LOT of different areas and topics here. Why? Because, like I have said over and over, the Lake Winnebago System is so versatile in the fact that any of these tactics (and more) could be the golden goose at any given time. When you fish the fall walleye bite on our system, be sure to come prepared for anything and keep trying different locations and tactics until you find the one that’s working for that specific day… or even hour! Before we know it, ice will be here and so will some fun videos that I can’t hardly wait to release! I hope you are able to finish the season off with a bang, and as always, until next time, “Tight Lines. Stay Dry.”

Chase Larson