It was mid October and I was river fishing for walleye. The shoreline trees still held some leaves, but plenty had fallen over the last couple of weeks. I bounced a jig off bottom and then felt a light tick. Setting the hook, a good-sized walleye was soon in the net and one of many I caught that day.
Late September to ice-up is prime time to river fish for walleye. Here’s what you need to know to take advantage of this predicable, seasonal bite.
Rivers Reliability During Fall
Anglers fishing large, deep lakes are forced to deal with at least one week of poor fishing after turnover. River enthusiasts don’t have this issue and water levels are often stable come fall. So beyond inclement weather, there’s never a bad time to be on a river in autumn.
Walleye Movements and Activity in Autumn
As summer ends, walleye begin to move towards their wintering spots on rivers. They leave their shallow-water haunts, moving to deep-water structures. What’s better is walleye school-up on these autumn areas, so once you find them you’re likely to get into several fish.
Although cold water makes for less energetic fish, fall walleye are beautifully proportioned. This is because they’re feeding heavily, stocking up their reserves for the rigors of winter and the upcoming spawn. As walleye are still feeding it’s rare for them to refuse an easy meal dangled in front of their noses.
I’ve had success targeting walleyes relating to a variety of deep structures. I find that 20 feet seems to be the magic depth where walleye begin holding in autumn. Deep holes in river bends attract walleye once cold water temperatures arrive. Steep breaks near points are also good. An area where a tributary’s outflow intersects the first major, deep break or main river channel is another good spot. Deep outwash areas near dams or large culverts can also be good during the early stages of the fall. These structures are often fairly large and easy to locate on a hydrographic, fishing map.
Jigs: The Best Bait
It’s tough to beat a jig when fall fishing for walleye in rivers. I find I have the best control with a jig than any other presentation in moving water. Vertical jigging is an effective way to thoroughly fish deep water with precision. Snags are one downside to jig fishing in rivers, but loosing a few baits is part of the game when fishing deep, moving water. Standard, round ball-head jigs work for river fishing. You’ll want to carry an assortment of jig head weights, with ¼- ounce being the lightest.
Body Options for Jigs
There are a variety of body options to use with jigs. If fish are active you may be able to get away twister tails without live bait. Scent-infused soft-body baits, like Berkley Gulp, help sweeten the offering. Prime colours include: chartreuse, yellow, orange, white pink, purple and smoke.
Of course, live minnows make jigs even deadlier. You can tip jig bodies with minnows, or fish a minnow alone. Experiment with different presentations and see what catches fish to determine the day’s best pattern.
To rig minnows alone, follow this technique. Hook them through the lower lip, out the gill plate, and then through the back. Although the rigging limits their action, it saves bait when jigging in fast water and around snags.
Rods, Reels and Line
For basic vertical jigging in rivers I prefer spinning rods. You can go with a basic medium-power, fast-action rod around 6’6″. The past several years I’ve been using a slightly shorter model. A sensitive stick, it’s a 6’2″ G. Loomis walleye jigging rod. I find the shorter length works well for this style of fishing, letting me work a jig with extremely subtle moves. I match the rod with a Shimano Sahara 2500, spooled with either 20- or 30-pound super line. At the business end, I use a uni-knot to tie on a three to four foot, 12-pound fluorocarbon leader.
Odds are there are a few rivers within a reasonable drive from your house. With a hydrographic map in hand, it’s easy to identify potential deep water areas likely to hold fish. Go with plenty of jigs and minnows and you’re sure to boat some good-sized, autumn ‘eyes.
Fall River Walleye Tactics By Tim Allard