Baitfish and Fall Trolling For Walleye and Muskie
"You marking any bait?" is a popular question many anglers ask when talking about trolling for walleye or muskie. Finding baitfish schools being attacked by predators is an important angling skill for autumn trolling. I spoke with two well-known guides, a walleye expert and a muskie specialist, about fishing large pods of baitfish as a piece of fish-holding structure. What follows are some of their observations on the importance of baitfish and tips on autumn trolling strategies.
Walleye-Baitfish Autumn Migration
The Great Lakes walleye-baitfish relationship is an example of how baitfish can be seen as a type of holding structure for walleye. Walleye will follow baitfish schools, gorging on them to build up energy reserves for the winter. Although bait is not structure in the truest since of the word like that of a reef, conceptualizing schools of baitfish as a piece of structure will improve your catch rates this autumn.
Sonar and GPS to Find
Hatch finds working the outside edge of a school of bait catches more walleye. The lure is isolated and not hidden in the baitfish, making it an easy target.
"Large walleye hunt in small packs. They wait for individual baitfish to fall out of line from a school and then pounce on the prey," he said. Trolling his crankbaits on the periphery puts them in an ambush zone.
He also uses planer boards to present baits with out spooking walleye. "The in-line board gets the bait out and away from the boat, and into the face of actively feeding walleye," he said.
For information on Hatch's guiding service, visit www.ezelo.com or contact him at 613-851-5151.
Mid-Level Predators and Muskies
Marking Muskies on
Thorpe gets interested in an area when his electronics display broken up bait. Usually this means predators like walleye or channel catfish are feeding on the bait, which in turn attracts muskies looking to ambush the baitfish hunters.
Over time he's learned to differentiate muskies from other large fish, like sturgeon, on his sonar. He notes a muskie's airbladder gives off a particular shape on his Lowrance 337C's display. He describes it as a "large turtleback", hook shape. Thorpe's ability to mark muskies gives him the confidence to hunt these apex predators.
Autumn Trolling Tactics
When it comes to trolling baits, Thorpe notes he often uses Muskie Mania 13-inch Jakes and Ernies, Legend Perch Baits, and Hi-Fin Trophy Divers. "I mix it up between small baits and big baits. Fish often go on a pattern where they bite a certain size of bait for a few days. Then they suddenly won't touch them anymore and you need to change to something different."
For information on Marc Thorpe Guiding Service visit: www.marcthorpeguiding.com or contact him at 450-433-4784.
The similarities in angling tactics between Hatch and Thorpe demonstrates finding baitfish and feeding predators are critical to autumn angling success. Yet, finding bait isn't enough. You must learn to effectively troll the large schools of baitfish and properly position baits in the strike zone. For many successful trolling anglers, this starts with seeing baitfish schools as a type of structure.