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Hunting Season Walleye and Sauger
 By Bill Ortiz
Fall fishing on rivers is surprisingly predictable; probably much more so than any other time of the year. Perhaps good that most sportsmen are hunting come fall. For the few diehards that are still attempting to launch a boat, fall is sacred. Some of the best and most consistent patterns of the season and you don’t usually have to share the spots with several other boats.
Bill Ortiz with a fall walleye Like many anglers, I have always had to juggle fall fishing with hunting activities. The CWD scare in Wisconsin a few years back caused me to not hunt deer with a rifle or shotgun for several years in a row. The result was a newfound love for fall fishing on the Mississippi River near my home. Here I am on one of the most spectacular fall runs for walleye to be found anywhere and there was hardly a soul fishing the river. I had the whole pool to myself. This solitude is reason enough to relish fall river bites. Be for warned however.
With solitude and cooling temperatures come new hazards. I know of a guy who had to sit in his pick up truck for three hours with his foot pressed hard against the brake because the ramp was covered with ice. This unfortunate guy forgot to lock in his hubs and the ramp was so slippery, his pickup slid backwards when he tried to either put the vehicle in park or use the emergency brake. So… the poor guy sat spinning in two-wheel drive until somebody happened to drive by. Ice and cold temperatures can really present new hazards for boats, trailers and motors. Not trying to scare you from enjoying the river come fall but do realize that this type of fishing does carry some responsibilities.
When it comes to finding walleye and sauger come fall, don’t outthink the fish. I know we all have an inner ego that wants to find a secret spot that nobody has ever heard of but the reality during the fall is that community spots hold lots of fish. Another reality during the fall is that these community spots don’t often get hit hard because there just isn’t many people out fishing anymore. Many of these community spots are deep holes in the river channel or primary current breaks. Deep holes often winter sauger. Walleyes are usually not very far away either but their location is usually not mixed directly in with the sauger.
Both walleye and sauger can be above or below the hole depending on how aggressive the fish are. The break on the lip of the hole usually creates a seam of slack water that often holds fish. When something like a shoreline or wing dam causes an eddy where a seam of slack water develops between the two directions of moving water, this current seam can usually be physically seen. A good river fisherman can see the difference on the surface. Now these same types of current seams exist in river holes as well but the evidence isn’t revealed on the surface.
Both walleye and sauger location may seem really depth orientated. The main channel might be twelve feet for argument sake and the bottom of the hole is twenty feet. Most of the fish may come right off the break in say fourteen feet. The productive depth often coincides with the horizontal current seam that is formed as current pushes and reverses through a hole.
Many anglers also make the mistake that the seam direction coincides with the current direction on top where we can see. When trying to break down the pattern each day, make sure to fish both ways because direction is crucial. Slip jigs down with the current and drag jigs back up through the hole against the current. Some days, all of the fish come by dragging just because of the direction the fish are facing in the hole.
More and more anglers have figured out that they catch a lot more fish when they can efficiently use two rods when jigging. When trying to use a two fisted jigging approach, remember to keep the presentation simple. I want my rods, reels and line to be identical to help with my rhythm and for consistency. For a rod, we have really settled into using either the Jason Mitchell Elite Series JMSS59MX or JMSS66MLX for vertical jigging and dragging. These rods are the lightest and most sensitive rods we have ever seen. (www.jasonmitchellrods.com)
Until I figure out what the fish want, I will usually try and keep the rod in my dominant hand as close to vertical as possible while fishing the other rod near vertical or dragging until the fish tell me more. Once a pattern develops where one presentation starts to shine, I can easily match with the other rod. Another tip when jigging with two rods. When you stick a fish and lay the other rod down on the gunnel so that both hands are free to fight the fish, the other rod stands a good chance of getting snagged. Over the past few years, we have all switched to using Folbes Rod Holders. This particular design allows us to point the rod holder in such a way where throwing the rod into this rod holder is extremely easy and the angle of the rod holder will keep the other rod out of harms way. One final tip, come late fall when the temperature gets down right frigid. Use plastic bodies like Berkley Power Bait or buck tail. Fall walleye and sauger seem to like the bulked up profile of plastic bodies or buck tail jigs. This artificial body doesn’t tear off as easy and anglers can experiment with proven easy to see color combinations. Your fingers don’t get as cold either.
Editors note: The author Bill Ortiz is a past PWT Angler of the Year and has several top ten finishes on the PWT and FLW Walleye Tours. Bill is sponsored by Evinrude, Ranger Boats, Lowrance, Fin Tech Tackle, Jason Mitchell Elite Series Rods, Off Shore, Berkley, Mathews Bows, Folbe, ElectroTec, Gollon Bait Farms and Jones Chevrolet.
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