Fishing in Overtime



It was fast becoming quite the day. There we were—fishing partners Joe, Doug, and myself—up to our elbows in a great, late walleye bite in the third week of September. The weather was picture perfect, the chop just right and… best of all… we had it all to ourselves. There wasn’t another fisherman within a mile of us!

After eventually boating a three-man limit’s worth of Green Bay’s gold-sided, green-backed beauties running 23-29 inches—all bigger than we care to keep—we called it quits with nothing in the livewell. But with every intention of doing it again as soon as I got back from a Canadian waterfowling trip I had to leave for the next day.

Little did we know then that the weather would go south in the meantime. And that special day would end up being our last shot at open-water fishing for the year.


So, it often goes for those of us who fish when we can, in what we refer to as overtime.

To understand what we mean by overtime is to understand the Midwest outdoorsman. A group of folks who are a hardworking bunch. Though family and providing for it always comes first, we live in great part to spend time outdoors. Where we roll through the years, season-by-season, trying to hit the high points of each.

And therein lies the only logical explanation for why most of us fold our fishing tents on or about Labor Day. Not that we’ve had enough by then. Heck, we can never get enough. It’s just that by then, we’re feeling the need to shift gears in anticipation of the hunting seasons at hand.

Which is fine of course as long as we keep fishing after Labor Day—in overtime—as an option should we need it.

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Now, there are diehard anglers who are so fanatical they won’t give up the ghost until they can no longer break ice in the landings. But that’s not what we’re talking about here. Rather, it’s those of us who keep the boats and gear ready for the few glorious days of autumn that might otherwise go to waste. Those bright, calm, clear, jacket-weather days of September or early October when it’s too warm to run the dogs in the uplands, the ducks aren’t flying, and the bugs are too thick in the deer stand. Pick days—perfect days—that you’ll enjoy most by being on the water, whether the fish bite or not.

As for the fishing in overtime? Well, it can be challenging.

The bad news as far as an angler is concerned is that the pantry—the food chain—in any body of water is stocked to the max. Baitfish populations are topped off, with young-of-the-year panfish and gamefish having joined them on the menu. Which means the living is easy for the predators we’re after.


The good news is that those gamefish have the feed bag on. They’re seasonally aggressive. And particularly susceptible to an angler’s unique presentations, whether with live bait or artificials. Especially those that are somewhat upsized from that used in spring and early summer.

While presenting the right bait in overtime is part of the game, even more so is patterning the fish. In some cases, they’re deeper than in summer. Other times, they’re shallower. But whichever, they will be found where the bait is. Be that in the last green weeds, or the slightly warmer water of a waterway’s tributaries or windblown shores.

As far as the where-to-go aspect of fishing in overtime goes, it’s pretty much a matter of picking your poison. Any body of water you’re familiar with is the obvious place to start. But so, too, is just about anywhere you plan to hunt. Whether it’s the streams and lakes of the North Country, the fish-filled waters big and small in the Dakotas, or Canadian prairie lakes, they all can put a substantial amount of cast in what otherwise is just a blast. All you have to do is think, and pack accordingly.

As is always the case, whenever and wherever we’re on the water, “fishing in overtime” is always a puzzle. Figure it out, and you’re in the money. In a way, and at a time you least expected to be.