Guide’s Secrets for Giant Fall Walleyes

The leaves are changing, the water temps are dropping and the big fish are on the prowl. Triggered by their instincts, the fish know the winter abyss is coming, so now is a great time to hunt giants. The fishing pressure also is dropping since more outdoorsmen are drawn to the woods for other obvious pursuits. You can take advantage of this in north-central Minnesota.

To find the larger fish, one has to have an understanding of what species they are after and how they act. Typically, in most northern Minnesota lakes, that means ciscoes. During the fall, ciscoes are looking to spawn, and this will draw in a crowd. Find the ciscoes, and you will also find more species.

Prime spawning grounds will include rocky flats adjacent to shorelines and points that have deep water nearby. Ideally, there will be weed growth that can serve as a hideout for the spawning ciscoes. While waiting for the right water temperature, these fish will often suspend out in this deeper water. When water temperatures get to 42 degrees or so, the ciscoes will move in and then the walleyes will follow.

The seasonal movements of walleyes also come into play. As water temperature decline, walleyes start to leave main-lake structure in favor of the shoreline points or even bays. As walleyes move back to the shoreline structure, they will often set up along shoreline breaks in shallow water at 4 to 6 feet and even shallower if a stiff wind is blowing into shore. Given this, walleyes and ciscoes are on a collision course and the advantage goes to the larger, toothy critters. What we want to focus on are the walleyes lurking near these rocky areas in pursuit of the fatty ciscoes.

When looking for these areas on maps, look for windblown points or shorelines that have a steep break and deep water adjacent or nearby—this is the ideal setup for walleye success in autumn.

One way to target the bigger walleyes is to super-size your baits. If your goal is to catch a giant, don’t offer them a snack like a fathead or a small chub minnow. “Go big or go home,” and that means redtails or a chub minnow that is in the 6- to 9-inch class. By doing so, you will eliminate the smaller fish from being part of the equation. Yes, this may mean less action and perhaps less bites, but not necessarily so.

“In the fall, we will see bigger fish ending up in the same area and forming schools in their search for baitfish,” said Toby Kvalevog, the owner of Leisure Outdoor Adventures.

If you catch one that’s big, there will be others nearby. Jigging can still be an effective presentation vessel for these giant ‘eyes, but instead of your typical jig and shiner, try a bigger redtail or a creek chub on a longer shank jig. To help with hook-sets, use a jig with a longer shank that accounts for the bigger bait, but also allows for ample hook space for solid hook-ups. Kenkatch has a line of jigs that come with the longer shank hook which are ideal for hooking on a 4- or 5-inch redtail or creek chub. You can make long casts toward shore and snap it aggressively back in early fall. But as air and water temperatures drop, you may need to slow this presentation a bit. This is when swimming the bait back should be done. Allow it to “tick” any rocks, pause it and then twitch it. This “pause and twitch” can be effective and make walleyes drill the bait.

A second option to consider is the many swimbaits on the market. Bass guys out in the West region have known for years the viability of swimbaits to lure big fish in—Midwestern walleye guys need to do the same. As said, making long casts and swimming them just over the rocks will get you big bites. But also look to match the baitfish as best as you can when picking out colors and adjusting the size of your jig to the conditions you’re in. When the walleyes go after these baits, make no mistake, they crush them leading to KVD-type hook-sets.

Summer is but a distant memory and these giants are patrolling the depths beneath our cooling fall waters. Driven by the need to feed months before winter approaches, it is “game on” for big fish. The allure of chasing the giants is not so much to have a great fish fry, but rather it is the desire to match wits with the biggest and baddest ‘eye each lake has to offer. Get out there, chase down the giants and make a memory this season.

Jim Ernster is a guide and pro staffer with Leisure Outdoor Adventures, a premier fishing guide service in Walker, Minn. Check them out at leisureoutdooradventures.com, or call 855-562-4665.