October may just be the best time to catch walleyes: catch rates are higher than at any time during the summer, the water’s less crowded, the heat and bugs are tapering off, and the fall colors make every trip satisfying for the soul if not the stomach. People are putting away the rods and turning more toward the bow and shotgun. About the time the leaves start falling on the water, that’s when the action heats up. Walleyes are looking for food to increase their body weight before winter and to develop eggs for the spring spawn.
Walleyes start moving to over wintering holes in October and finish by November. Deeper holes are 10 to 20 feet deep and out of the current. Walleyes hang often by the drop offs and aren’t necessarily in the deepest part. Fishing the interior rivers is best in only one location the deepest pool in a river reach that you can find. Walleye congregate in these holes as the water cools. Look for deep pools on outside river bends just off cut banks where the current has scoured the bed of the stream. Walleyes are found in 4 to 6 feet of water in current breaks, like logs or downed trees and near areas with flow, like riffles. A sandbar that drops off to a pool is a good place to find active fish.
Cast a jig and night crawler into the pool, and on the retrieve, lift and drop the bait. Another method is vertically jigging the area or cast into the current and let it swing the jig into the break. Jig size depends on flow. Use only enough weight to feel the bottom. Try using a 1/16-ounce jigs in light flow and move up to 1/8-ounce in moderate flow. Crankbaits and plastics will work, too. Also try a large chub baited slip-sinker rig, leadhead preferably dark in color and tipped with a minnow or a deep running plug.
Lake fishing tactics change for fall walleyes. Use large live bait, fish slow and deep during daylight. At sunset, use twister tails or shallow running crankbaits from shore. Fishing sunset to after dark is best. With clearer fall water, walleye become spooky and run deep during the day. At night, they come closer to shore, making shoreline angling with waders a good option. Fish are more difficult to locate because they are concentrated into larger groups. But once that location is found, some fine fishing can result. Another location worth trying is a flowing inlet from an adjacent lake, marsh or embayment.
Fishing techniques in this period include back trolling with a slip-sinker rig baited with a minnow or casting a leadhead dressed with a minnow. The slight currents invariably attract bait-fish and walleye move in to forage on them. Leadheads tipped with minnows or count-down minnow plug type lures are very productive. Long-lining in low light periods, close to a rocky shoreline, dam-face, or shallow reef with rocky structure with a floating-diving plug can also score in the fall.
Preferred baits are jigs with a twister tail or shad body, or a shallow running crankbait either pencil- or minnowshaped. The lure should only dive 2 to 4 feet. Use slow, steady retrieves without excess movement as the fish aren’t as aggressive as during the springtime. If fishing mid-day, use large baits like a 5- to 6-inch minnow up to a small sucker placed on a 3/8-ounce jig or Lindy rig. Look for sharp breaks where lake contours drop to deeper water. Slowly move the bait by drifting or with a trolling motor.
Presentation should be slower in fall, and make sure the bait or lure is fished just off the bottom. One walleye fishing expert summed up the three best walleye presentations in fall as slow, slower, and slowest.