By Jim Edlund
Ask a host of serious walleye anglers about their favorite time to fish for walleyes and many will say fall. Fact is, fall can be one of the best times of year to catch good numbers of big fish as waters cool and fish move from summer patterns into those of the cool-weather season.
While fish metabolism begins to slow in the cooler water, walleyes go on feeding binges, which is good news for anglers of all levels of experience. The bite can be spectacular.
Rivers are underrated and great places to concentrate your fall walleye-fishing efforts. From various Mississippi River pools in east-central Minnesota all the way to Iowa, to the St. Croix River and smaller gems like the Rum, fall is prime time for walleye fishing. The fishing can be especially good below dams with warm-water discharges.
Vertical jigging fall ’eyes
Now 80 years old, longtime Minnesota walleye guide Dick “The Griz” Gryzwinski has been fishing the Mississippi and St. Croix rivers since he was 4 years old. A member of the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame and Minnesota Fishing Hall of Fame – and one of the state’s most well-known guides – The Griz works river systems every day of the week and knows these waters like the back of his hand. Countless decades of fishing rivers have proved one thing for him: Nothing beats vertical jig fishing with live bait in the fall.
“You can have your trolling cranks, Dubuque rigs, glide baits, and all the rest. Me, I put hundreds of walleyes on the counter a week by vertical jigging with nothing more than a ¼- to 3⁄8-ounce jig and a fathead minnow,” he says.
In the stained waters of the various Mississippi pools he fishes, he doesn’t worry about jig color.
“It’s more about location, bait profile, feeling bottom, and boat control,” The Griz said.
Walleyes at this time of year are gorging on 2- to 4-inch gizzard shad and shiners, and the profile of a medium-sized fathead and short-shanked jig combo matches that well without needing to fill your bucket with creek chubs, shiners, and redtails.
“Fatheads are all I’ve ever used,” he said.
What’s the ideal rod, reel, and line setup? What works for Griz is a 6- to 7-foot, medium-light to medium power, fast to extra-fast action rod, 6-pound high-visibility mono filament line, and a size 12 barrel swivel tied to a 12- to 18-inch 6-pound leader.
Big walleyes can be caught this time of year.
“My personal best walleye is 141⁄2 pounds from the Mississippi – and we get a lot of 9s and 10s, too. They’re not uncommon,” The Griz said.
In terms of high-probability walleye locations, The Griz recommends finding current breaks and edges, back eddies, the up-current, tips, and tops of wingdams, and underwater structure such as rock piles and submerged logs and brush.
“Early in the fall, the fish start off pretty shallow in 2 to 12 feet, but will migrate to middle channel areas and underwater current breaks as fall progresses. That’s when I look for breaks, rocks, boulders, and troughs for the fish on my depthfinder,” The Griz notes.
The Griz doesn’t use GPS or mapping at all, relying only on the electronics for 2D sonar and water temperature.