By Jason Mitchell, Jason Mitchell Outdoors
When I look back at past years, there are several patterns that really stand out in the fall. Vertical jigging over deep rock piles. Casting stick baits after dark over shallow rocks. Pitching jigs tipped with soft plastic swim baits into remaining weed beds. Live bait rigging with big chubs. Trolling crank baits along main lake contours. The locations can vary from current areas and bottle necks to classic sharp breaking structure and rock, either deep or shallow.
For much of the fall, trolling crankbaits dominates much of the fishing I do. The location (and how the fish are using a particular location) determines the most efficient presentation. So often, we find fish in transition relating to big pieces of structure. What I love about trolling crankbaits when fish are transitioning in the fall is that trolling is fluid, trolling allows you to see how and where the fish are moving much more effectively especially if you are on the water every day. Big schools of fish might be pushing up or down a reservoir. Fish might be filtering out of back bays and moving across the mouths of bays over deeper holes and main lake structure. Usually, there is a general movement, could be fish moving up or down, in or out but they are collectively moving somewhere and trolling allows you to sample the water and keep tabs on these often nomadic fish much easier than any other presentation I can think of. On big bodies of water, this is especially true.
There is an old adage with fall walleye fishing that bigger baits work better in the fall. From my experiences, this is usually true. Most days, larger baits seem to be much more effective. Anglers theorize that young of the year baitfish are larger in the fall and the other reasoning held by anglers is that fish want to bulk up on food in the fall and a bigger bait makes bulking up much easier. Don’t know the why’s exactly but it is usually a good starting point. I start out with big baits that move water but there are exceptions to everything. There are a handful of baits that are confidence baits for me…Salmo H6F Hornet and Jointed Shad Raps in the size five or seven for inland lakes. Salmo 8SDR Bullheads and Reef Runner Deep Rippers on reservoirs. All of these baits leave a good footprint and move water, these are baits I always try when I am on the water come fall. Each fishery however is unique. Deep Diving Husky Jerks are popular on some Great Lake fisheries in the fall for example and these baits have a pretty subtle shimmy as they move through the water. One particular lure that I have used with great success just about every where I have fished in the fall is the Salmo 8SDR Perch. If it came down to just one lure, that would be it for me during October and November when I am trolling for walleyes.
There are many nuances with trolling and there are a few wrinkles I like to incorporate into my trolling that I think helps me catch more fish in the fall. You can adjust the footprint or vibration of a deep diving lure by how much line you let out. When you run a lure close to the boat, the lure will run more up and down, bill down and tail up where the bait puts off the most vibration and looks the largest from the rear. As you let out more line and the dive curve flattens out, the lure will level off where the bait runs more horizontal. As the bait levels, the lure still displaces water and rolls but the vibration and foot print gets toned down. Many anglers will troll cranks and let out line to get the lure to dive to the depth and that factor dictates how much line they let out. In the fall, there are many times where the fish really seem to like the vibration and look of a lure running bill down and tail up that happens when a lure hasn’t peaked the dive curve. Learn to manipulate that and you will catch more fish this fall.
In deeper water, I often accomplish this task with lead core. You don’t need lead core to get a Salmo 8SDR Bullhead to tick bottom in twenty three feet but if you want that lure moving an optimum amount of water with the bill down and tail up, you will not be able to do that by simply long lining the lure. If you long line the lure, the lure will flatten out as it reaches the bottom of the dive curve. Now there are days when the fish want the lure flattened out and as a general rule of thumb, the fish seem to prefer the lure running more horizontal earlier in the season but this is something to experiment with that can make a big difference in the fall from my own experiences.
The other factor I love about lead core in the fall is that it will snake behind the boat and follow the contour much better, sticking that lure right along the break where it needs to be for longer periods of time. The changes in direction often seem to trigger fish each time you turn the boat. What I don’t like about lead core is that it just takes longer to roll off a spool compared to the speed of sticking a lure down with a snap weight or even a down rigger. You have to have more set up time, you need to approach your zone from further away as it takes a little while to roll off more than three colors of lead.
One thing I have been doing with a lot of success especially when I am trolling tighter or shorter runs where I am in and out of the zone fairly quickly before I have to pick back up and set back out is to use a snap weight in conjunction with the lead core. Typically, I will clip a snap weight right on the leader above the crank about twelve feet, two arm lengths. If I go further than two arm lengths, it becomes hard to net fish without removing the weight. By adding a little lead to the lead core, it rolls off the spool super fast and cuts the amount of line out in about half.
Kind of combines the best of both worlds regarding lead core and snap weights. Gets down fast and still get some snaking and direction change behind the boat. The pendulum effect where the lead core rises and sinks as you speed up or slows down becomes more exaggerated as well which seems to bode well in the fall for triggering fish. There have been times where for whatever reason, this system didn’t work well and I had to go back to traditional lead core but there have been many times where I know I caught a lot more fish by using this system so it is something to experiment with.
When fish are moving on big water, trolling allows you to land on the “x” each day like nothing else. You can just get a feel for where they should be tomorrow because you can see where the fish have been and track that movement much easier. As shared in the first paragraph, it bears repeating. Trolling is a very fluid presentation where you can get a really good pulse of how large the school is, whether you are dealing with fragmented groups of scattered fish or one large school of fish, you can figure out the bearing or direction these fish seem to be heading, you can almost guess where they will be. You gather an incredible amount of information when trolling because you just go over so much water. Come fall, trolling remains one of the most efficient tactics for catching walleyes on many large inland lakes, reservoirs and Great Lakes fisheries.