By Turk Gierke
Fall fishing is widely known to offer one of the best bites of the year. Often when word gets out in fishing reports or at local bait shops or online that the fish are biting, anglers skip leaf raking and gutter cleaning and head to the water.
Excitement grows as anglers find out walleyes are hitting in well-known “community” spots – places anglers have fished before.
Here’s a common scenario: An angler arrives early on Saturday morning in hopes of getting a jump on the competition, ripping full throttle across the lake as the sun rises. The boat rounds a bend and the community hole comes into view. Then, surprise! There already are four boats at the spot, packed in tightly.
That scenario occurs anywhere fishers fish; it’s not just a walleye thing. When the bite is hot, the community holes fill fast. If bumper-boats are your thing, pile in without a thought and join the rest of the crowd. But did you know that in the fall community-hole fishing is often not the only game in town? Other spots will produce fish, too.
Many spring community fishing holes are unique spots for a couple of reasons. First, they’re found in parts of a lake that are the first to warm, and second, they’re near a fish’s spawning grounds. These two things are hard to find in other parts of a lake. It’s why anglers pack into spring community holes.
This is not the case in the fall.
In the fall, the water is cooling in a uniform fashion across a lake because fall turnover has occurred. Fish will congregate over the largest structure that’s holding the greatest amount of baitfish.
When the fall bite is on, it is often occurring on points that lead out to deep water. It may be happening on the drop-offs of large, extended flats – flats that are connected to the shorelines but do run far out into a lake. If a lake is small, there may be, in fact, just one main large point, but often if anglers study maps, they can find similar spots elsewhere.
I’d be lying if I said the community holes in the fall are to be avoided. I’m not saying that. What I’m saying is that in the fall, if a bite is on, there are places where you can catch fish other than community holes.
You can catch fish in the fall on spots all by yourself, but the key to doing so is to find structure that’s similar to that of the community hole.
The ability to pattern the fish using structure – or the cover on the structure the fish are using – is a hallmark of a good angler. As a quick point: Structure is not cover. Some anglers use the terms interchangeably but incorrectly. Structure is the bottom of a lake or river, and cover is what is on that bottom.
Points, reefs, shelves, islands, holes, inside turns, flats, or narrows are examples of structure or can be described as characteristics of the bottom. Cover is things like weeds, rock, trees, gravel beds, clam shells, and stumps.
Find the hot structure and/or the cover fish are using. In other words, find the hot spot clones of community holes in other areas, and you should be able to replicate the catches of those at the community holes.
The fall fish bite is a day-to-day thing. It can generally be good, but on the day you arrive it can be slow. Then, the community hole may be the only spot with biting fish. However, if the bite is good, that’s when I recommend finding your own spot.
If you get into some real pole-bending action, don’t show the net conspicuously or your new spot might just become the new community hole!
Gierke operates Croixsippi Guide Service and can be reached at www.croixsippi.com