By Joel Nelson
Anyone else notice that fall seems to bring more windy days? Whether you’re a bowhunter or an angler bobbing on the open water, you’ve probably seen this effect.
As it’s been explained to me several times by folks at the Minnesota State Climatology Office, fall brings more windy days than other seasons because of temperature differences in the poles. The North and South poles get colder as fall goes on, while the middle of the earth stays hot. Polar and tropical temperature extremes make for a more stark gradient in between, creating air pressure difference and stronger jet stream currents – all of which means that across much of the United States, fall months are windier than their summertime counterparts. That’s perfect if you’re a walleye angler.
As luck would have it, a perfect storm of sorts can set up several times throughout September, October, and even November. The very days that most folks avoid angling can offer some of the best fishing of the year, for the biggest fish in the system. And that’s because wind concentrates baitfish, then predators like walleyes.
In lakes that have a thermocline, eventually fall turnover will mix water temperatures equally throughout the lake. Post-turnover wind events are typically more fruitful than pre-turnover, but either can make for great fishing in shallow water.
Pre-turnover, you need a multi-day wind event to really concentrate fish, whereas during post-turnover, fish typically are already shallow.
Because it’s usually windier during fall months, you’d better learn to fish during a big blow. It’s time to stop hiding from the wind and embrace it, and to learn the boat-positioning skills needed to properly fish in it.
I like to start in slightly deeper water with the wind at my back, fishing more shorelines especially later into the fall. You know that the wind will keep pushing you into the danger zone you’re trying to cast to, so the job becomes keeping your boat off the rocks. Next, you must home in on a zone where the fish are, and give yourself the best chance to cast there.
Start with big crankbaits. Think sizes 7, 8, or even 9, because baitfish have had a full growing season and bigger baits are conveniently much easier to throw. That’s especially true if you’re working on boat positioning in a good wind. You can cover water with these baits, and kind of close is often close enough to shore as you can cast to mitigate whatever the wind is doing.
Throw into the surf, and don’t be surprised if fish are right up on the rocky cover that can be so good this time of year. Balsa baits are great in these situations, because they float back up on slack line if you’ve cranked them into a crease. Continue your retrieve all the way to the boat, visualizing how close to bottom you are with your bait. Fish can chase baits out of the rocks and strike as they’re being pulled off bottom near the side of the boat.
It’s important to fish these with the right rod for the job. Stiff rods with extra-fast action that work so well for jig-fishing will actually cost you fish when you’re throwing cranks. A 7-foot, 2-inch medium-moderate rod gives you distance with even the lightest baits, along with the softness needed to not pull hooks from thrashing walleyes at boat-side.
With the braid or fluorocarbon line that I tend to use, it’s even more important to use a soft rod with some forgiveness to it. With some of the biggest ‘eyes of the year in cool water, coming to nets with big trebles hanging out of their mouths, you’ve got some spunky fish with potential for the-one-that-got-away-type stories. Beat that effect with an experienced net person and a rod that bows to the fish.
Jigs and plastics early are a great bet during fall, too, and so are hair jigs. I tend to employ both when winds are present but are more subdued than the real big blows. Think 5 to 10 mph versus 20-mph gusts, with fish that can relate all the way to the bank, but are more likely off that first immediate break in 8 to 10 feet of water or so. It just so happens that boat control is easier on these days, and to fish a jig, well, you’ll likely need greater control.
While cranks are simply throw and go, jigs require a bit more finesse. With any wind, you’ll do best by fishing the jigs directly parallel to the direction of the blow, with the breeze at your back. Fish perpendicular to the wind direction, and no matter your line choice, it’ll have a great big “bow” in it. That bow robs you of feel, bite detection, and the control needed to dance that bait properly.
Many times I’ve learned this rule the hard way, so I do my best these days to always observe wind direction or keep my rod tip and line inches off the water to beat that effect.
As we get later and later into the fall, minnows become a great option for tipping your jigs. Fish will be eating the right offering, although they’ll get progressively more sluggish as the temperature dips, so it’s tough to beat the real thing once temperatures drop below 50 degrees.
Or you can switch to lipless cranks fished slowly and more in the zone if you don’t want to deal with live bait. These are good cold-weather options when fished like a jig on a tight line.
You’ve also got the fabled full-moon trolling bites that can be so good on clear lakes in October and November. Wind can drive these bites, too, but more often it’s a function of what the blow has been doing throughout the day or days in terms of direction and thus, location.
I love to set up fall trolling runs based on what the wind has been doing that day, especially if it has been from a constant direction for multiple days. Those shorelines, provided all else is equal in terms of cover and weed growth throughout the rest of the lake, will typically produce more fish that evening than just about anywhere else.
Keep in mind that the best cover and structure will always produce the most fish, but if that happens to be getting the wind, it’ll turn something good into something great.
Accept and embrace that wind will need to be part of your fishing game this fall. Learn to love that forecast rather than shy away from it. Fish in it, rather than the parts of the lake that are protected from it.
Start simple by throwing cranks, and as your boat control and level of comfort increase, work your way to jigs and other offerings that can also produce walleyes. Fish fast and know that with water temps in the low 60s and below, if there’s a blow, there’s a bite. You just have to find it.