Fall Walleye Transitions

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The word “transitions” may be one of the more overused terms in fishing today.  We hear about mud-to-sand or sand-to-rock transitions, seasonal transitions, and bait transitions; to the point where the word tends to lose its meaning.  Yet, it’s highly appropriate when discussing fall walleyes, as there are few times of year where everything can change as quickly as it can in the fall.  Which is why you’ll need to be flexible in your approach if you’re going to catch fish during this stage of the game.

“Transitions” to fall walleyes means fish that are behaving differently in terms of their location.  Warm spells and resultant increased water temps push fish back to more summer areas, often deeper than 20 feet of water.  Cold bouts, and especially prolonged cooler temperatures have the opposite effect they do in the summer.  Walleyes push shallower, feed more aggressively, and should be welcomed by anglers, even if they need some bulkier clothes and more cold-weather stamina to handle it.  Nothing kills a great fall bite like an “Indian Summer” that hits as water temps are slowly but surely otherwise dropping nicely.

If walleye locations change, it should be no surprise that the techniques to catch them should transition as well.  After water temps are in the 50’s to stay, you can put away the leadcore gear you used all summer to target scattered deep fish, and look for fish to congregate.  For the most part, cool weather concentrates fish, and often does it shallow where walleyes like to feed heavily.  This is especially true with prolonged wind events that stack fish in shallow, predictable locations.  Cool, windy days in the fall can see the biggest fish in any water body actively feeding during daylight conditions. 

That’s all well and good, but rarely in the fall is any one water body locked into a specific depth and individual pattern that works well for walleyes most of the time.  In reality, fish move at back and forth, with these depth migrations being gradual over time, with all kinds of smaller movements throughout the days and weeks of fall.  They relate to water temperatures, light conditions, and major weather events.  All of which sums up the truest sense of the term “fall transition,” meaning that walleyes in the fall are ALWAYS in flux.

Knowing that, then we have the challenge of determining details in targeting them.  First and foremost, start shallow, and start aggressive.  Crankbaits, both lipless and short-bodied shad diving baits, along with swimbaits, jig and plastic combinations, and even stickbaits are great choices for this type of fishing.  Fish wind-driven points, rock piles, and ledges in as shallow as a few feet of water, and give it a good hour or more of your time.  Make the fish prove to you that they’re not shallow before abandoning that bite, as when it’s on, it’s on in a big way. 

Next, move to the first break, and let your electronics be your guide.  Often, especially in clear bodies of water, fall transition fish will move below the edge of the first pronounced drop-off from shore during the day, still feeding occasionally, while waiting to push to nearby shallows for a night-time feeding session.  These fish may require a bit more attention and subtlety, and large, live minnows are a great presentation for them.  Free-swim a big chub behind ample weight on a larger than average rigging hook, and wait for the thump-thump of the minnow to be interrupted by a “smash.”  Pay the fish ample line and give it some time to get the bait in his mouth before setting the hook, and you’ll be surprised how well fall walleyes are into big minnows.  With some patience, many minnows lost, and some practice, you’ll also be wondering how even eater-sized walleyes can eat these extremely large minnows. 

If live-bait isn’t your game, it’s a great time to try Jigging Raps on these intermediate-depth fish.  You’ve got the combination of concentrated, aggressive fish, along with a bit of distance between you and the fish, such that Jigging Raps really have the space to dive, dart, swing, and work their magic.  I know more than a few anglers that fish this bite from 60 degree water temps all the way until lake ice-up. 

Finally, if fall walleye locations are confounding you, and you haven’t found anything at shallow or intermediary depths, consider going back to what worked in the summer.  This could be live bait rigging deep structure, or even pulling leadcore.  A few years ago, I did really well pulling leadcore, at night, in 25 feet of water in October.   The fish shouldn’t have been there, especially then, but they were and they ate.  It could be due to warmer than average weather preceding your visit to the lake, exceptionally clear water, or a number of other factors including turnover, but know that you’ve always got the patterns from the previous weeks to fall back on. 

Stay mobile, be flexible with your baits, and fish the fall walleye transition in order from shallow to the depths.  Let the fish decide what they want and where they want it, then realize that each fall day can act like a new season altogether as you repeat the process with success.

Full Circle Fall Jig Fishing

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It seemed like only yesterday when we buried the jig box for more “summery” walleye presentations.  The lead heads and sharp hooks we favored around the walleye-opener have given way to live bait rigs, cranks, and spinners with bottom bouncers.  Some of us, especially the river-anglers, never put away our jig offerings, but for the most part we’ve moved-on.  As fall water temperatures and fish locations begin to mirror spring, the jig bite comes full circle, once again being a productive strategy as it was in the spring.  This time however, there’s fewer anglers on the water you’ll have to share the bounty with.

Veteran guide Tony Roach needs little introduction, and it’s likely no surprise that he wields a jig like you and I use the air to breathe.  On an October trip with him a few years ago, we pitched jigs exclusively, and threw them in many places you might not expect.  “I start in 6 foot of water and shallower,” says Roach.  “I see plenty of guys focus on 8-12 foot rocks and sand, but in the fall you can find big concentrations of fish up shallow.  When they’re up tight, they bite, it’s as simple as that.”  Bite they did, with us finding pods of fish scattered in shallow rock situations that “felt” too shallow.  Arguing with the fish and where they “should” be is futile as I’ve come to find, so we stayed in shallow clear water, made long casts, and continued to catch fish.

We didn’t hesitate to slip out to deeper spots for other fish at the same time.  Again, fish where the fish are, and understand that not all fish in any one system respond to the environmental indicators of wind, water temperature, and bait equally and simultaneously.  Fall can be confusing that way, with all the dynamic changes that are occurring, fish location can be scattered.  Walleyes coming out of their summer patterns can still be quite deep during this period, with other fish transitioning shallower hour by hour.  The point to understand however is that no matter how many fish may still be at depth, those fish up shallow, when found, are likely biters.

Among all of the signaling factors that can push fish shallow, water temperature is the most consistent bellwether.  “I’m looking for surface temps in the 55 degree range to really trigger the begging of the strong fall pattern,” says Roach.  “I fish aggressive early, power fishing the reefs and rock ledges, and then as surface temps hit the 45-50 degree range, I’m dragging the bait with a few slow pops mixed in,” offers Tony. 

Just as spring live-bait situations eventually give way to more aggressive plastics presentations, the same happens in the fall but in reverse.  Tony says, “I’m starting with plastics earlier, to pair with the faster fishing I do.”  Surely, the action and colors available aid in this aggressive fishing approach, making the bait more appealing from a distance.  The combination of shallow fish, and a strong jig and plastics bite can make for some of the fastest fishing of the year, allowing anglers to cover water while fishing quickly and getting bit along the way.  Big grub imitations, or longer ring-worm baits work favorably, with minnow-style baits working well later in the fall. 

As fall progresses and water temps slow a fish’s metabolism, it should come as no surprise that live bait offerings become the order of the day once more.  The same jig and shiner combination that was so deadly this spring, is once again the best selection for getting shallow fish to commit.  Fishing these live-bait offerings slowly is once again the key, with some fish preferring the bait almost motionless.  Less is more during some of cold, late-fall excursions, as the liveliness of the minnow is what often ends up sealing the deal for the few walleye anglers that have chosen the boat instead of a tree-stand.        

That’s not to say that fish are always inactive and prefer a crawling presentation that time of year.  “A warm afternoon sun and flat conditions can actually bring up the water temperatures a good deal,” says Roach.  Experiment with plastic offerings in these situations as fish become more aggressive.  Don’t be afraid to move more quickly from spot to spot, while fishing more quickly.  Let the fish be your guide and choose accordingly. 

If water temperature is the primary driver of this migration of fish locations, wind is surely a close second, often taking a good situation and making it even better.  Many of the best trips I’ve ever had are when water temps hit the low 50’s, and a 15mph-plus wind stacks bait on shoreline rocks and sand.  Tony agrees.  “There’s lots of times when I’m throwing baits in those situations right up against rocks and reed-edges, and the bite happens almost instantly,” says Roach.  Fish fast in these situations, as you’re playing with a deck stacked in your favor.  Fish won’t be everywhere, but key shoreline points with any structure whatsoever will hold actively feeding fish.  All you need to do is put a jig in front of them.

What once became old, becomes new again, as spring gives way to summer and finally fall again.  Dig out the jigs, and fish them with plastics or meat depending on the temps you’re seeing.  Just remember to start shallow and fear not the water less than 6 feet.  You might be surprised to find yourself at the end of the season, in the very same locations that you started it.       

Permanent DIY Fish-House Do's and Don'ts

Permanent DIY Fish-house Do’s and Don’ts

It’s the time of year when ice heads across northern climates start thinking of their winter plans.  Maybe it’s the onward march of the calendar towards fall, or maybe it’s just that ice can be a comforting thought when the mercury is stuck in the 80’s and 90’s.  Whatever the reason, people now are building their own permanent shelters, or remodeling old ones, including myself.  A buddy and I are converting an enclosed single axle trailer into a makeshift summer and winter threat that will both haul over tar, and sit on top of ice.  This article then is aimed at the do-it-yourself (DIY) crowd, such that hopefully you can take our mistakes and learn from them!

Do’s

The adage “measure twice, cut once” applies here in many senses; perhaps from a construction perspective, but also from a general ice-fishing planning one as well.  Think long and hard about the way you use a hardside ice-shelter in the winter, and especially how you fish out of one.  I prefer to be out on the open ice, but also appreciate and enjoy modern comforts afforded by a well-heated space that offers fixed seating and more room.  Still, if you’re like me, knowing that you’re already confined to a small space on the ice, you’re pulling overtime on thinking of ways to offer as many fish as many looks as possible. 

To me, that means individual anglers jigging from a direction or area that they’re comfortable in, along with a combination of rattle reels and even tip-up’s outside to round out the spread.  Livebait vs. deadbait, deadbait motionless vs. deadbait jigged, etc.,etc. etc.  These are the kinds of fishing experiments you’ll be running inside the house, so you should setup the house for maximum flexibility.  To me that means portable rattle reels that can be interchanged from hole to hole at the drop of a hat.  It also means that depending on how many people you’re fishing with, the amount and configuration of holes used may be drastically different.  If children will be in the house, un-used, or lots of holes spells wet legs and early leave times, so consider covers of some sort.

Heat and the direction or power of heat is always an issue in any house.  It always seems like there’s either too much, or not enough, so invest in low-draw fans that keep the heat off the ceilings and moving around the entire house constantly.  Also be wary of setting lines too close to heat sources, first because of the obvious burn dangers, but also because it’s not very comfortable sitting in front of the furnace on full blast.

Do invest in quality lighting, as most folks get a few incandescent lights, or rope-lights, then call it “good enough” stating, “I can always wear a headlamp after dark.  Go the extra mile, spend the money and buy low-draw LED bulbs or light bars that diffuse light evenly throughout the house.  My experience is that rarely is there enough good light to tie knots, unhook fish, and find the jig you’re looking for.

Also, do spend the time to make your door as wind-tight and well-fit as possible.  The door gets the most abuse in any ice house.  It’s kicked on, swung against the house, and the handle is banged on repeatedly, all while the forces of extreme cold, heat, moisture, and resulting ice make it difficult to work as intended.  Good quality insulated doors are easier now to find, so consider spending more on something that will last.

Don’t’s

I grew up on a farm, and regularly must resist the urge to unleash my inner wire, bail twine, or duct tape fixes.  Perhaps the best advice I could give any DIY’er, is to realize both the limits of your ability, and to recognize a better mousetrap when you see one.  I encourage talented carpenters and woodcrafters to design everything from more efficient shelving, to beautiful wood interiors, rod racks, and even cabinets.  I strongly discourage using 2X4’s and other wood scrap to fashion items such as a door latch.  They make effective and time tested versions of these every day, with many options to fit several budgets.

Case in point would be Fishhouse version 1.0 from last winter.  My friend is an HVAC contractor, and has plentiful tin at his immediate disposal.  Our first hole sleeves then, were metal.  At first, they worked extremely well, and were somewhat disposable with how much ducting he has lying around.  That was until they froze in or the auger blades would nick the edges and practically shred them.  Enter another alternative, the venerable five gallon bucket.  While a great budget option, they offered a sizable “lip” that extended above the floor, creating trip and toe stubbing hazards at every turn.  It doesn’t sound like much, but when you have a house full of ice-holes, and each one of them has this lip, you’re walking real estate becomes far less than you might expect.  Getting the screw down covers with snap-on lids and removable hole sleeves, did not prove to be free like the buckets were, but did offer far more flexibility, comfort, and ease of use.  More importantly, it means our ATV can be driven right on top of the hole covers and we can use the fish-house to also haul.

Lastly, don’t forget to include all of the simple comforts of home.  Racks for drying items, hangers for a pliers, ruler, or jaw spreaders, and small shelves up high for putting food or other items away are some of the last things thought of.  Ideally, for some, it’s best to just fish the house somewhat bare, and then add things on an as-needed basis.  However, if you’re like me, you forget the drill and screwdrivers each time, and end up focusing only on the fishing.  Not a bad thing, as it’s the primary reason you’re out there, but the best permanent houses for fishing are not coincidentally the ones that are best thought-out. 

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So You Want to Make a Living in the Fishing Industry?

I was at a friend’s cabin near Hackensack, MN last winter when my cell phone rang.  It was Al Lindner, and Al’s excitement was infectious.  We both talked at length about an idea that’s probably the number one question I get no matter what I do in the fishing industry.  Whether at a seminar, retail event, or via email, people are fascinated by the question, “How Do I Make a Living in the Fishing Industry?” 

Al invited me as one of many in a panel of speakers for a workshop held this fall, which is designed to help answer just that question.  That’s because there’s more than one path to help turn your hobby into a livelihood.  There’s all kinds of roles throughout “fishing,” from marketing specialists, product developers, writers, media personalities, biologists, conservation officers, and many, many more.  Each person’s journey is different, and depending on your skill set, you may be well-suited for several roles but not for others.  While no two paths are the same, here are some nuggets of wisdom that have been shared with me, which I’ve found to be especially true no matter which direction you tread down. 

My start actually came while I was already involved headlong in another natural-resources related career.  I began in the late 1990’s posting on various online fishing forums, sharing advice and being helpful when I could as others had questions.  When I had fishing information to share, I relayed simply those bits that as an angler I would want or be interested in myself.  It wasn’t long before that online writing began to catch the attention of some manufacturers, who in the early years I partnered with because I’d always used their products and believed in them. 

I was young and impetuous, quick-witted but slow-minded.  I made every mistake in the book but maintained my passion for the outdoors through it all, constantly striving to both whet my appetite for hunting and fishing goals I already had of myself, while trying to partner with companies to help fund my addiction.  Call it trial-by-fire or more appropriately, trial-and-error, I mucked my way through the initial years.  I spent the first five of it not really getting paid for any of the writing, online promotional work, or retail events I did, and the next ten doing my best to perform tasks as a business; professionally delivering services while not going backwards financially in the process.       

As for writing, Outdoor News Columnist and legendary writer Gary Clancy was famous for saying, "The most important requirement of being an outdoors writer is having a wife with a good job."  I’d tend to agree with his statements as I’ve pushed for nearly two decades to simply earn a seat at the table.  Which is why money needs to be a motivating factor but not a primary goal in this line of work. 

The fishing industry most certainly isn’t for everyone.  However, if you were the “fishiest” kid among your group of friends or in your whole school, this may be for you.  If all four seasons of the year’s calendar revolved around the next trip, fishing-season, or timely outdoors activity, you may be able to withstand the long hours and sacrifices.  More importantly, if you find yourself already taking existing skills like writing, photography, speaking, sales, and marketing to bear for fishing-related purposes, this just may be your calling.

Let’s get one thing straight however.  Being a skilled angler is not enough, for most jobs in the industry it’s simply a prerequisite.  Very few people get paid to fish, and those that do are either at the pinnacle of their careers or more often are doing so under the pressure of a budget, schedule, or other constraining factors which for most people, makes it no longer resemble the fishing they once knew and loved.  

If you’re a freelancer, you must make the initial capital investment in yourself, with the hopes of eventually growing your thought-leadership such that your voice may be heard.  That capital investment for me was a strong education, and I recommend it to all anglers hoping to someday work in fishing.  Do this while understanding that your expectations should equal your effort, noting that most start-ups no matter the industry don’t turn a profit for the first few years.  Your “business” whatever it may be, will in the early years be funded 95% by you, and 5% by the industry.  Your “business plan” should be to reverse those numbers over a period of time.  During this time it’s common to have a side job or two in order to pay the bills.

Decide what to be, and go be it.  Specialize early on to bring your talents to bear for underserved disciplines, locations, or species.  Know your strengths, but more importantly, your limitations, while building relationships with the companies, brands, andtheir representatives.  Don’t ask for a thing from them until you have forged a strong relationship, and they know you as someone that may be able to help them.  Build your voice through as many avenues as you can, whether it be online, print media, in-person, or all of the above.  All the while, live a clean life, as it’s worth saying that one mistake can destroy credibility, which you should value above all else. 

As Al and I wrapped up our conversation that winter’s day, I couldn’t help but look out over the frozen lake while thinking on all the mistakes, mis-steps, and lost opportunities I had squandered mostly on account of not knowing any better.  If you’re serious about a career in the industry, you owe it to yourself to bone-up on the subject far better than I ever did.  There’s some great books out there, online advice, and this Fishing Career’s workshop coming up.  Whether you decide that it’s for you, or it’s not, I know I’m incredibly thankful for the wisdom passed on-to me, and I’m hoping to pay-it-forward as best I can this October. 

Al and Troy Lindner are hosting the “Fishing Career’s Workshop,” on Saturday October 28th, at Cragun’s Resort in Brainerd, MN.  Go to https://mycampfish.com/products/fishing-careers-workshop to sign-up.  Limited seats available. 

Doing More with Leadcore - Advanced Tactics

Photo Credit - Matt Addington

Photo Credit - Matt Addington

My initial forays into leadcore for walleyes were pretty basic.  Start with a full-core (10 color) setup, drop back a crankbait until it “ticked” bottom occasionally, and wait for a walleye or sauger to pull on the other end.  The more I used it however, the more advantages I saw it present for all kinds of situations.  Lessons learned from numerous salmon and trout charter captains helped shape the way I think of it for walleyes no matter where I fish.  From deep clear water lakes, to even shallow river situations, there’s much more you can do with a leadcore setup than the old drop-back-and-drag.

I think the first key to fine-tuning different approaches with lead line is to fully realize where it excels, and where it does not.  By its construction and very nature, leadcore fishing involves trolling, and is best utilized for pulling at consistent depths.  The string of lead running through that tube of braided line serves a single purpose, and that’s to sink, such that letting out more means more depth and vice versa.  Hairpin trolling runs along tight, variable breaks are challenging and only encouraged where leadcore fishing presents the last or best means to offer baits to fish.  Another key for taking this technique further is to realize that sinking line doesn’t always mean sinking to the lake or river bottom.  Here are my top methods for extending leadcore beyond simple back-of-the-boat trolling:

Segmented Leadcore

It’s likely you’ve heard of open basin trolling, where suspended walleyes chasing Tullibee are targeted by imitator crankbaits at the depths of fish gorging on bait.  Segmented leadcore, or a finite number of colors of lead line spooled to backing, is a primary driver for the technique.  For example, a 3-color segmented leadcore setup simply means 3 colors of lead, then backing are spooled to the reel.  Charter captains that utilize leadcore for salmon fishing often have 2 rods (one for each side of the boat) rigged with 3, 4, 5, 7 or other numbers of colors per reel each.  This is with the idea that a specific rod/reel combination will serve a separate portion of the water column, no matter where you want to reach.  For walleye anglers, quite often I recommend having a 3-color segmented leadcore setup.  This is simply achieved by spooling up your backing, then 3 colors of lead. 

Remember that the driver behind this is depth, and if you’re using Sufix Advanced Leadcore, your dive is 7-feet per color, and various forms of standard leadcore 5-feet per color when trolling around 2mph.  Pull faster, and you raise approximately 1 foot for every 0.2 mph in speed, pull slower, the same is true in reverse.  From there, add the depth of your crankbait depending on the length of your leader.  Long leaders make for a truer dive depth as advertised on the package.  Shorter leader lengths in the 6 foot or so category, and you’re only going to get an additional foot or two of dive. For example, if I’m running a #5 Shad Rap on 3 colors of Advanced leadcore at 2.2 mph with a 6 foot fluorocarbon leader, my math would be as follows:

(7’ per color X 3 colors) + (2 foot crankbait diving depth) – (1 foot for 0.2mph speed increase) = ~22FOW     

If that math is confusing, try breaking down each step that contributes to dive or rise.  If it’s still confusing, there’s an app for that.  It’s called the Leadcore Depth Calculator on Android/IOS and is pretty handy.  From there, even if you’re confused, get out and pull it around.  Depth is relative, and if you find success, repeat, repeat, repeat. 

 

Planer Boards

Salmon and trout guys will tell you that their biggest fish often come on the outside “boards,” which is no surprise in clear water given that often these fish are less than 50 feet down in ultra-clear water where the boat will spook fish.  Walleye anglers should pay attention, as the same is often true when pulling segmented leadcore in open-basin situations. 

Attach planer boards above leadcore a few feet on the backing to avoid ruining the lead inside your line, and cover various depths via your 3-color, 4-color, or more segmented leadcore rods.  Let your electronics tell you where you’re seeing feeding walleyes with schools of bait, then target those depths above, at, and below the same level as the fish.  Use planer boards to maximize the number of rods you can legally use by spreading out baits and putting them further away from the boat. 

Other Wrinkles

Tourney pros long ago learned to run leadcore in shallow water where it was murky or turbid enough to get away with it.  The benefit being that they could run 2 leadcore setups almost as if they were downrigger balls, directly behind and below the boat with very little line out.  This freed them up to run more traditional mono or braid long-line trolling applications further back behind the boat where more rods were legal, such that they could run 4 or more setups without anything tangling.  The leadcore is pinned directly behind the boat, and the other setups need to be back 100-150’ or more to achieve depth.

 Many anglers run spinners and bait on leadcore as well, while again remembering that this technique is all about getting your presentation to a specific depth.  Leadcore achieves that objective and then some, with many anglers considering it a key part of their fishing strategy come midsummer.  I know I do.  Even into the fall, I use leadcore anytime there are walleyes deeper than 15 FOW, spread across or along a relatively unchanging depth, scattered or in small pods.  Utilize these more advanced techniques to get at them no matter where in the water column they may be. 

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