At times, fishing in the fall can be rough, but the chance for a fall lunker keeps you going on. Fall is one of my favorite times of the year, but it can take a little more effort to build a pattern. Luck and tripping over some structure here and there are not going to get you through a productive autumn season. The fall brings suspended fish and that means big fish. Crawler harnesses, cranks, spoons, and jigging spoons are on the menu for mid-August through December.
An angler must focus on everything this time of year, because building a pattern is the most important thing that can be done. Fall brings lots of food to these fish, including a fresh new batch of shad, crawdads, schools of perch and rainbows. With all the abundance of available food, it can be hard to compete with. So your presentation has to be perfect.
We’re going to start off with mid-August to mid-September. It’s around this time that I choose to use spinners and spoons. When I say spinners, I mean crawler harnesses. My typical spinners consist of two #2 hooks (in regular, red and orange) about two to three inches apart. Then I put five to six, 6mm beads (of various colors). I add a plastic quick-change clevis and top it off with one to three more beads. About five feet up, I tie on a barrel swivel. I tie all my spinners with 17 to 25 lbs. Trilene XT monofilament, in Low Visibility green. And this time of year I will use a ½ oz. to 1oz. Keel weight on the barrel swivel to get my spinners into position.
I like to have a wide scheme of colors with different bead combinations, as well as various sizes, shapes and colors of blades. My favorite blade styles are #5 deep cup Colorado or regular Colorado blades, but Willow Leaf, Dakota and Hatchet blades will work also. Silver, gold, rainbow trout or perch patterns are my "go-to" blade colors.
With Tassie’s, my favorites are either long lining, using snap weights, or using lead core. With both Stinger and Carlson spoons, I like dipsy divers. Spoons are very versatile and can be fished anywhere from 1.5 to 3.5mph. All of our trolling is done on line counter reels to place the baits in the right zone, time after time. We pull spoons strictly using our Mercury kicker motor.
That should wrap up the early fall bite, let’s get into the early to mid-fall bite. Around this time of year, it’s all about crank baits, big ones, little ones fat ones and skinny ones. When it comes to cranks, you can cast them and troll them. Typically, the only time I cast is when I’m working the shorelines at night on the full moons of fall. The rest of the time, I’m trolling. Again, snap weights, lead core and planer boards all come into play.
In August and early September I’m fishing high action baits like the Winning Streak, by Dave’s Lures, Storm Hot N Tot’s and Jointed Shad Rap’s. Most of the time, I’ll be fishing suspended fish over deep water, trolling 1.5 to 3.5mph GPS speed. Try zig zagging while trolling to fluctuate your speeds until you find the winning combination.
As it gets a little later in the fall and the water starts to get back down into the 60’s, I start fishing regular Shad Rap’s in sizes 5 and 7. I also fish baits like Berkley’s Flicker Shad. When fishing these, I slow down a bit to about 1.7 to 2mph and possibly start looking toward some shorelines for fish.
Lastly, going from mid to late fall, I will start fishing more stick baits. I use a lot of Husky Jerk’s, Reef Runners and Original Rapala’s; the Huskies and Reef Runners in both shallow and deep versions. I recommend using a variety of sizes, anywhere from 4 inches to 6 inches.
Once I locate the walleyes, I try to position my spinners about six inches to one foot over the school of walleye. I try to cater to them and bring the bait right to them, because those mature adult fish are not going to chase after anything if they don’t have to.
When baiting these spinners, try to find the fattest crawlers you can. Take the first hook and hook the head of the crawler, then gently stretch out the worm and hook it with the second hook while it’s stretched. Once the worm is on the harness, I leave about an inch to an inch and a half of crawler behind the last hook and pinch off the extra. This prevents short bites from the walleye.
I typically pull these spinners between .8 to 1.2mph GPS speed, using our Mercury 9.9 kicker motor or our MinnKota electric motor powered by Optima batteries. A good thing to remember is when a walleye hits these spinners, don’t jump on it right away. Take your time when going for the rod. Let them load the rod up for a few seconds and make sure the rig is secure in their mouths. Many times, these walleye will grab these spinners and slowly work their way up toward the hooks. So by taking your time, hopefully the walleye will have both hooks when it comes time to reel them in. I have also seen the walleye go after the actual blade, and again if you take your time, it will drop the blade and hopefully get the hooks.
Now let’s speed things up and talk about trolling spoons. When trolling spoons, there are many choices, such as stinger spoons, Carlson spoons, and so on. The new, but not so new, hot spoon that I use is the Tasmanian Devil. People who know me know how excited I am about the Tasmanian Devil for walleye. These spoons work so well because of several different reasons. They have an incredible action, they come in multiple sizes and they come in over 100 color patterns.
When fishing spoons you can fish them many ways, most of which are trolling with them. You can run them straight, behind boards, pulling lead core, behind dipsy divers or jet divers, or even behind snap weights. Once you determine the level in which the fish are feeding in, you can determine the best means to get the bait to the right level.
At his time of year, the water will be pretty cold so I will troll about 1.3 to 1.6mph with these baits. I still fish a lot for the suspended fish, but I also like to work these baits along subtle points.
When the season starts the final transition from fall into winter, it’s the time of year for the most enjoyable bites of the year, slab spooning. When it comes to slab spooning, there are many different approaches, different techniques and different styles of baits. For baits, some of the favorites are Flea-Fly’s, Buck Shot spoons, Slammers, Tassies, Kastmasters, PK Spoons and more. These spoons range from one inch to four inches long and weigh 1/8oz to 3oz. I like using 3/8oz to 3/4oz spoons. When fishing these spoons, I am looking for fish that are relating to structure or near the structure.
There are various techniques that can be applied for these walleye. If I am in water 18 to 20 feet or shallower, I typically cast these baits. I will cast them along the area holding fish and let the bait flutter to the bottom. Once it is on the bottom, you quickly snap the rod up, bringing the spoon off the bottom anywhere from one to four feet, then let it flutter back down again.
One thing to remember is, many times the strikes from the walleye will come on the fall of the spoon, so make sure you don’t have any slack in your line, otherwise you won’t feel the strike.
I strongly suggest a short spinning or casting rod. I use a six foot Fenwick Techna AV in medium to medium heavy action. Most importantly, I use a super line on this rod, I prefer Berkley’s Fire Line. This line has no stretch, so you can feel bait and make good hook sets on these long casts. It is also good, because it remains smooth in the cold weather of the late fall and early winter. Monofilament will begin to coil in the frigid temperatures.
If you are fishing in deeper water or if the fish are slightly suspended, I will sit above them and snap-jig the spoon. I personally like to slap bottom every couple of jigs. No matter what situation you encounter, slab spooning is a great way to produce fish, and big fish at that. If you have any questions or would like any more information, don’t hesitate to call me at 303.947.8327. Good Luck!
© 2020 Nate Zelinsky
About the author, Nate Zelinsky:
Nathan Zelinsky is a full time professional walleye angler. He has fished the MWC along with many other tournaments. Besides tournament fishing Nathan is owner/operator of Tightline Outdoors guide service which is an all species guide service, fishing for Walleye, Smallmouth Bass,Northern Pike, Trout, Catfish, Carp, Perch, Tiger Muskie, Kokanee Salmon and Wiper. Nathan spends around 300 days a year on the water or ice. Nathan also runs a Ice Fishing School in the winter months. He is a frequent guest on ESPN Outdoots with Terry Wickstrom and also appears frequently on Angling Adventures, Fishful Thinker and Lip'em & Rip'em.
Nathan is also a member of ICE TEAM.
Nathan is sponsored by Lund Boats, Mercury Marine, JR’s Tackle, Interstate Batteries, JIffy Augers, Berkley, Fenwick, Phlueger, White Caps, Crowly Marine, Replicas INC, The Sign Guys and Gal, Ice Armor, Clam, Vexilar, Mr. Heater, Ice Team, Blue Quill Angler, Todays Tackle and Line-X.