Late Fall Walleyes: Catch ’Em While You Can

Where did the year go? Ice-out seemed like it was just yesterday. Fortunately, the open-water season that followed had been a good one overall.

Early outings on our home lake, Winnebago, had been pretty darn decent. And the two great-weathered, fish-filled destination trips we almost back-to-backed at the beginning of summer had been nothing short of spectacular. When Lake Michigan proved disappointing by our probably spoiled lifelong standards, and the year’s nasty algae bloom kept us (and a lot of other anglers) off ‘Bago from late June on, Green Bay picked up the slack as our go-to fishing hole, and a fine job it did!

But as always, time flew by. Until there we were, with Labor Day weekend staring us in the face. And that was fine. Because with hunting seasons soon at hand, it would give us some time to shoot clays, tune up the dogs, and dust off the decoys. There was plenty to do, and it was all good. Until the prediction of a spell of best-of-the-season weather for the holiday threw a wrench into the works.

It meant that we couldn’t miss tossing a little fishing into the long weekend’s mix as well. So that’s why we headed up the Bay’s west shore that glorious Sunday, Labor Day weekend last.

While it would turn out summery, the day dawned with a definite autumn-like feel to it as we idled out of the Oconto harbor. Our plan—to take what the Bay would give us—was simple enough. But given our general lack of familiarity with the area, we held our expectations in check. Something…as it turned out…that was required.

By both studying the LakeMaster-equipped electronics, and paying attention to where the fleet was working, we easily identified some good-looking structure as a starting point. An area from which we began to run and gun as needed—which was pretty darned often. Because other ever-pesky drum, we kept coming up empty on the walleyes.

It wasn’t until noon that we decided to change things up in a major way. To break from the crowd, we made a several-mile run to an area with a prominent point and a sharp breakline adjoining a broad, deep-water flat. Though as near a textbook situation as any we’d found to that time, it wasn’t until we started marking fish—good fish halfway to two-thirds down in the water column, and unlike any we had earlier in the day—that we thought we might be onto something. So it was with some pretty renewed enthusiasm that we set our spread of spinners and began to work them over.

Our first pass produced a chunky 21-inch ‘eye, and our second, another an inch longer. But all that glittered…or in this case, showed up on the “Bird’s” screen…was not walleye gold. Because the next two hours produced nothing but sheepshead after sheepshead.

So it was tempting to move on. But the marks hadn’t changed. Only that, and the fact that the day was getting long in the tooth anyway, kept us hanging in—pretty much choosing to believe the walleyes were still there, but that they just weren’t biting. Something all of us in this “think we know it all” world of modern fishing are guilty of too often, but errantly fail to accept.

Ah…but then the switch flipped—and the bite was on. In the fast-paced hour that followed we boated…had we opted to keep them…the rest of what would have been our ten-fish limit. But save for four more, comparable-to-our-first keepers, the others…a fat pair of 26-inchers, a solid 28-, and a trophy 30-…were released.

In the end, it was the kind of late summer/early fall day that had us hankering for more. But it was not to be.

Just a couple days later, all well-intentioned plans for more local and destination-oriented fall fishing got cancelled by an early spell of unseasonably cold, wet weather that eventually left us waiting for the Indian summer that never came.

Now, whether we realize it or not, it’s fair to say that not a day goes by when we’re lucky enough to be on the water that we don’t learn something. Maybe it’s simply familiarity with a spot, or as minor as tweaking a given presentation. But in the case of this, what was for us an unexpected final outing of the year, it was more prophetic.

We learned the hard way that it’s always best to catch ‘em while we can.



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