Targeting the cool-water, pre-turnover walleyes of mid- to late-September
Especially this time of year, walleyes are never far from food, since the cooler water of September and October triggers serious feeding. Predator fish have a lot of options during this season of plenty. During late summer and early fall patterns, try and learn what’s on the dinner table, then understand that walleyes can be deep, shallow or anywhere in between.
Walleyes often behave differently from one lake to another, so ask yourself what type of structure and/or cover are fish relating to, and what path will they travel to get there. Anticipate movements by understanding weather, fishing pressure, and lake composition.
People ask me about walleye depth in late summer. That’s easy – the depth of these fish will be anywhere from 2 to 3 feet to 45 feet depending on the lake. Bottom line: Don’t get hung up on targeting 18- to 22-foot depths. That’s where anglers start and that’s where they stay. We don’t move shallower or any deeper, and that’s a mistake.
Select high percentage spots, and stay mobile. Try various presentations and techniques, and I err on the side of aggressive, active presentations in autumn. Fish during this forage-rich time of year will move from one spot to another depending on what food sources they’re targeting. No one lure will produce day in and day out, so my default is to eliminate water with fast-action lures.
So where should we start? First thing in the morning, I check weed flats – the edges or breaklines where deep water meets a shallow flat behind it. Shallow weed growth already has begun receding, so I’ll investigate adjacent open water a bit more. Use your electronics to investigate down the edge of a flat or dropoff. You might even bump into some walleye schooling activity, which can really amp up your success.
If you can combine that kind of structure with micro-features like rocks, or perhaps a gravel bottom, you’ve hit prime fall walleye territory. Work it thoroughly with multiple tactics, including some slower presentations if you find that school, before abandoning this type of feature.
As the day progresses, you generally want to work deeper – depending on water clarity and fishing pressure. Night fishing also is very productive in the fall. Working reefs (a long rocky island), along rock points and flats, is a good bet in low light conditions.
In the fall, areas with a hard bottom, rocks and green weeds – like cabbage and coontail – are key areas to work for walleyes.
Good luck as we transition into autumn!