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Ontario Fishing Network
Volume 4,  Issue 10 -  Oct. 2004

Toughing Out the Turnover: Fall Walleye Tactics
Tim Allard

"Walleye put on a pretty aggressive feed in the fall. I'd say the fishing is better than the spring bite," said Ted Takasaki, professional walleye angler and president of Lindy - Legendary Fishing Tackle, describing fishing after the fall turnover. If his statement didn't convince you to fall fish, consider that the absence of fair-weather anglers reduces boat traffic, and autumn shorelines provide beautiful scenery. As water temperatures cool, fish feed heavily to build up fat reserves for winter. Whether you're a trophy hunter or a numbers angler, fall is one of the best times to chase walleye.

Understanding Turnover:
In the summer a lake stratifies in to three main layers. The upper layer consists of richly oxygenated, moving water and is called the epilimion. Below this a thin, middle layer called the metalimnion that contains the thermocline. In this middle layer, the temperature and oxygen levels drop quickly in a short distance in the water column. Finally, the last layer, the hypolimnion, consists of cold water with poor oxygen levels; few fish can survive in this area for very long. This lower layer of cold water is also the most dense, with the warmer water of the other two layers (metalimnion and epilimnion) sitting above it.
This division exists until the fall when the surface water cools. Eventually the upper layer reaches a temperature and density similar to the metalimnion and hypolimnion. The similar water temperature and densities of the three layers, along with wind current, causes the lake to mix, breaking the summer stratification and evenly distributing water temperatures and oxygen levels through the entire water column. With the lake now holding even oxygen levels, fish can hold in deeper water - which is exactly what walleye do.

Walleye are structure oriented creatures and will never stray far from food regardless of the season. In the early fall they still concentrate on the edges of fast and slack water areas; key in on rocky transition zones from shallow to deep water; and can occasionally be found in healthy aquatic vegetation.
Takasaki explains that the perception that walleye are chaotically scattered in a lake after turnover is a misrepresentation of their patterns. "After turnover walleye start spreading throughout the entire water column," taking advantage of oxygen rich deep water. "30 to 50 feet is not deep when fall fishing," he adds. The walleye guru recommends fishing: deep water points, humps, sharp drops and inside turns. Yet, some walleye still roam the shallows at night to feed. Finding structure that quickly transitions from shallow to deep water is also important when searching for fall walleye.
Some anglers abandon lakes in the fall, traveling to rivers to avoid dealing with turn over. When fishing rivers in autumn, Takasaki suggests that walleye will still be found in slack water areas close to fast moving water. He also explains they will move back to a dam or the first obstruction in the river. They can also be found: above or below rapids, in deep water holes, or close to current breaks.

Working the Structure:
After the turnover and into mid fall, walleye will be feeding throughout the day stocking up for winter. Minnows are favourite bait when targeting deep walleyes and, to Takasaki, "it's tough to beat a red tailed chub wherever you go." Slow drifting bottom bouncers or Lindy rigs tipped with minnows can produce on deep flats. Jigs and slip bobbers can be effective to work these areas. When using bobbers make sure you add enough weight so the majority of the bobber rides below the surface. This way a walleye won't feel the float's resistance when they grab the bait. For sharp breaks a jig can be dynamite. Slowly lifting-and-pausing a jig tipped with a four to six inch shiner will fool many fall walleye.

Keeping tackle simple works when fishing deep structure for walleye. A jig and grub tipped with a minnow fooled this 'eye.

Before dawn and after dusk, try working shallow areas for walleye. Some fish will stay deep but flats and shallows still containing healthy aquatic vegetation will be prime feeding zones for hunting marble-eyes. A tried and true method by many anglers is to slow troll long, minnow-style baits on long lines (like Rapala's Husky Jerk or Smithwick's Suspending Rogue) along the weedlines, breaks or above weed tops. Some prefer a banana style bait with more wobble to it (like Rapala's Tail Dancer or Cotton Cordell's Walleye Minnow) to call in 'eyes. Also, don't be afraid to try trolling shallow running baits over deep water, especially if you've marked baitfish at a shallow depth on your sonar.

Gear and Safety:
Spring and summer walleye gear requirements remain the same for fall fishing. Seven-foot medium action jigging rods will give you better control over jigs and bobbers when fishing deep areas, as well as more leverage for hauling in big fish. Look for a spinning rod with a sensitive tip to pick up subtle hits. Superbraids will enhance your ability to feel the faintest of takes. Medium to medium-heavy baitcasting outfits are better suited for trolling crankbaits. Walleye can strike hard during the fall, so spooling trolling rods with monofilament will provide some stretch to absorb hard hits. If using superbraid, ensure you set your drag loose to prevent missing fish. A net is also crucial for landing fish and keeping your hands dry.

Some fall walleye tackle (top left to right): a Northland's bottom bouncer, walking sinkers, a slip bobber and bobber stops, walleye harness rigs and spinner blades. Bottom left to right are: Lindy's No-Snagg Sinkers, hooks for slip bobber minnow presentations, an assortment of jigs including Lindy's Techni-Glo Fuzz-E-Grub and Veg-E-Jig.

Cold water fishing requires diligent safety precautions. I highly recommend wearing a survival suit for this kind of fishing. These suits are designed to trap your body heat should you fall in the water, but also serve as a great outer layer for a full day of cold, fall fishing. Proper boots, hats, gloves or mitts will also help keep you warm, as will some coffee or hot chocolate stored in a thermos. You'll also want to pack some sand and salt to handle icy boat launches. An extra long tow line and rubber boots will help keep your feet dry, as nothing ruins a trip faster than wet feet.
Fall walleyes fight hard, and your best bet to find them is to fish deep structure. Aggressively feeding and stocking up their fat reserves, almost all walleye are beautifully proportioned. It's a perfect sight to catch a chunky, golden walleye against the backdrop of fall foliage. Finally, as fall gives way to early winter, take note of where you caught walleyes as these spots should be the first you try once the hard water season begins!

Coping with Cold Fronts
Toughing Out the Turnover: Fall Walleye Tactics

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