Football, bright-colored leaves, apple cider, cool nights, hunting seasons … autumn offers so many virtues. However, in the minds of many anglers in the Great Lakes region and throughout the upper Midwest, the absolute best thing about autumn is the walleye bite.

Cooler temperatures throughout the water column create comfortable conditions for walleyes, and the shortening days trigger active feeding as the fish prepare for leaner times. Forage fish and walleyes alike move shallower as the season progresses, and the fish become easier to find and to target effectively as many move out of the main basins of lakes.

The best fall bite in the shallowest water generally occurs after the sun goes down. Don’t discount daytime, though, especially when clouds mask the brightest sunlight or wind creates a good chop. The fish stage by day in the vicinity of prime nighttime areas, often along the first main break, down a long point or atop a broad flat in big bay.

Search Strategies

Walleyes are mobile fish, so unless you have great information about fish using specific weed edges or rockpiles that you can cast to, mobile searching strategies usually work best. The most productive approaches include Lindy Rigs and pulling Bandit Walleyes, Smithwick Rogues and Bomber Long A minnows. By day in big water destinations, divers, downriggers or leadcore might still be needed to get lures to the right depth. However, the autumn push into shallow water creates substantially more opportunities to troll crankbaits on flatlines and even to cast them once you do identify specific fish-holding areas.

In truth, the best place to begin a walleye search is at a local tackle shop. Because walleye don’t tend to be “hotspot” fish, folks in shops, most of whom hear a steady flow of reports, are happy to share helpful information about areas that have been producing, productive depths, trolling speeds and the forage the fish have been using. They also can steer you to hot colors.

On the water, spend some time searching with your electronics before putting out lures. Look for walleyes and bait alike and pay careful attention to the bottom depth and make-up and to the depths of walleyes and bait. If you cross any noteworthy fish concentrations, mark those spots so you can pass over them with your lures. Also note whether the fish are situated on a break or are using boulders or other features.

Once you do start fishing, it becomes a patterning game. Experiment with baits, speeds and leader lengths if you’re Lindy Rigging and with depths, speeds and colors if you’re pulling crankbaits, and pay attention to details, especially when you see fish on your electronics and as you get bites. Because of the “shortened playing field” that comes from many fish moving out of lakes’ vast main basins, if you start with good information and pay attention to details, chances of finding the winning program are high this time of year.

Bank On It

An added appeal of autumn is that quality walleyes move within casting range of the shore, even in the Great Lakes, creating the best bank-fishing of the entire year.  In fact, in many places, shoreline anglers enjoy an advantage over boaters because the baitfish abound around jetties and seawalls, and the walleyes move very close to the structure to feed. Working from the structures themselves actually allows for better presentations to key fish-holding areas.

The best shoreline approach is simple and well known throughout walleye country: Go out after dark, make long casts with a floating Rogue and reel it back slowly and steadily. Sometimes “slow” means moving the lure just enough to make it dive and swim a few feet beneath the surface. Other times the walleyes want it so slow that the lure is actually waking the surface.

Experiment and let the walleyes tell you how they want lures presented. If possible, travel light, with gear in a single bag that is easy to grab or even in a backpack. That allows you to be more mobile. Move periodically until you find success, but work the area hard when you do get bit. Fish using shallow structure commonly congregate, so when you catch one, you might be on the verge of some extra fun action.