By Mike Gnatkowski
If there’s a more dependable fall bite than walleyes on chubs, I don’t know what it is.
It’s a fall tradition with many serious walleye anglers to drag the biggest creek chubs or redtails in their favorite walleye waters. Big chubs are one of the best ways to snag trophy walleyes. The ol’ “big bait, big fish” theory definitely applies in this case.
Most times you’ll be dragging minnows from 4 to 6 inches long, but if you’re serious about trophy ’eyes, a 10-inch chub isn’t too big.
You can catch walleyes all year long on big minnows, but for some reason, they really start keying on the bigger baits into the fall.
Chubs and redtails are perfect for dragging because you can easily find bigger baits to tempt the biggest walleyes, and the bigger baits are extremely hardy. Hook one through the roof of the mouth and you can drag it all day or until a hungry walleye finds it irresistible.
Occasionally, you can catch the walleyes on a sucker, but they tend to be more lethargic than a frisky chub that will swim right along with the boat. Usually drifting or using the trolling motor to achieve a speed of .5 to 1 mph is just about right.
A ½- to 1-ounce egg sinker is used to anchor the whole rig. Sinker weight depends on bait size, wind, and current, but it should be kept close to bottom. The idea is to fish the rig like a jig – close to but not on the bottom, but occasionally ticking it.
Rig this on a fast-action 7-foot spinning outfit filled with 8- to 10-pound braid and add a 3- or 4-foot leader of 6-pound-test fluorocarbon. Use a No. 1 octopus-style hook, and hook the minnow right through the top of the head. Red hooks add a little color to the rig and call attention to the bait. Add a red bead between your egg sinker and the barrel swivel to prevent the sinker from banging against the knot.
Bites can be subtle or pull-the-rod-out-of-your arm blatant. Either way, you want to feed the fish line so it can swallow the bait. Patience is a virtue here.
It can be agonizing waiting and waiting while a walleye turns the bait around to swallow it, but set it too soon and you’ll miss it every time. Even if you can tell the fish is moving away with the bait, set the hook too early and you’ll end up with a dead minnow or no minnow at all. A half-minute is a minimum, and even longer is better when the fish are sluggish or previous hooksets have come up empty.
If the fish are aggressive, try tail-hooking the minnow. It can be especially productive when pulling larger minnows. A walleye swallows the bait head-first and your hook then is positioned where it can easily snag a lip or jaw.
Walleyes begin keying on big minnows in the fall because they’re bulking up for winter. They want the most food for the effort, and the bait is readily available.
As weeds begin to die, minnows are forced into open water where they collect in substantial schools. Winds typically position the schools of bait on the windblown sides of points, bars, rock piles, and structure. The schools will most commonly be found in 25 to 50 feet of water. Needless to say, your electronics are a tremendous help in locating bait – and walleyes.
We hadn’t gone far before my fishing partner slipped the trolling motor down, handed me a frisky minnow, and explained what the plan was. We eased along a rocky bar in 30 feet of water.
I could feel my weight ticking rocks every once in a while, and occasionally the weight would get wedged between rocks. A sharp snap usually popped it free.
I wasn’t long before my partner announced, “I got one” and proceeded to feed the fish line. Probably a minute passed before he carefully raised his rod tip and said, “He’s still there,” and snapped the rod tip upward.
It bowed double at the hookset. He realized it was sub-legal walleye and unceremoniously hoisted it over the gunwale. Half of the 6-inch chub was sticking out of the fish’s mouth.
Even though fishing with chubs is a can’t-miss technique for fall walleyes, there’s still a little luck involved.