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Staging for Autumn
By Norb Wallock
For most anglers, the spring and early summer constitutes the bulk of
the fishing season. Their excitement and motivation runs high before
the "opener," but by the time late August rolls around they are ready to
throw in the towel. And that's to bad because late fall and early
autumn can provide some of the best fishing of the year.
The late summer then, is a time of transition. In the Upper Midwest,
that transition usually occurs toward the end of August or the beginning
of September. The days become noticeably shorter, the nights cooler
and the first hint of fall is in the air. In our natural lakes, a
corresponding process has begun. Weedbeds have begun to die off,
water temperatures are cooler, food production has slowed dramatically
and the little remaining forage is eagerly sought by predators.
Fish activity is also different at this time of year. Largemouth
bass begin to form larger schools and start feeding voraciously.
Northern pike move in from larger schools and start feeding from their
deep open-water locations and actively cruise weed flats. And walleyes
shake off their summer lethargy and begin to enter shallower feeding waters.
This sets the stage for all kinds of fishing. In fact this is
the "staging time of year." These fish are in a process of transition
also. These conditions work together to create one of the year's
peak fishing times. It's as if the game fish suddenly realize the
long winter is approaching and know they have to chow down in preparation
for the hard times ahead. The most important aspect is that all of
this will occur before the colors really form on the trees.
The "staging" is not identifiable with a specific weather occurrence.
This "staging period" comes as the the trees start to show a sign of ending
of the summer and just before the major frost starts to blanket the ground.
The dramatic changes are going on under water, but on the land the clues
are much more subtle.
The best example of how I stumbled onto this was on a late October
evening. Fishing had been poor for about three weeks and it didn't
seem this evening would be any different than the previous ones.
As I motored across the lake I noticed from my Apelco
depth finder that the water temperature had fallen from the low 60's to
the mid 50's. I didn't give it much thought, but what I didn't realize
is that this was enough to start the fish on their "staging" process.
I motored over to a small point where I had caught a few walleyes during
the summer months and I casted out my 1/8
Blue Fox jig tipped with a minnow. As the splash subsided I felt
that familiar tug on the line and I quickly set the hook. I reeled
in a nice two pound walleye. Since the fishing hadn't been fast and
furious over the last two weeks and the family was interested in eating
a few fish before winter set in I decided to keep this walleye. I
unhooked the walleye and put him in my livewell. I hooked up the
minnow again, because it wasn't too badly destroyed and casted to the exact
same spot. Just like the first cast as the splash subsided I hooked
In the next fifteen minutes I caught 10 walleyes in this exact
same spot releasing all but four for dinner. These fish were aggressive,
if one walleye got off another latched onto the bait and I used the same
minnow two or three times. It really didn't seem to matter
what condition the minnow was in, they just kept hammering the jig and
The subtle difference was the water temperature and the structure
that they related to. The fish congregated in this area to feed and
fatten up for the beginning of the autumn season. They came together
to hunt in schools and possibly to move into deeper water as the season
started to progress.
Just because this time of year offers excellent fishing, that
doesn't mean you're going to succeed every time. First of all you
have to find the fish.
I tend to look for smallmouth and largemouth near the same areas
where I found them in the summer, but I expect them to be in the healthier
looking weeds. Remember the weeds are dying off and the best area
for the bass will be in the lush weeds. I use Blackflash spinnerbaits
and cover the water quickly. These bass are active and they should
slam the bait. If not I will switch over to a Weedsneak tipped with
For northern pike I troll and cast crankbaits across the shallows on
the flats. Again I want to cover water quickly looking for the active
fish, so I will use a
#7 Shad Rap or a shallow running Husky Minnow. I check the drop off
areas and cruise the flats using a zigzag pattern.
For walleyes I switch from the traditional night crawler to a jig and
minnow combination. The minnows are not as plentiful during this
period of time so the walleyes tend to go after this offering. I
might also use a shallow running Rapala in the shallows by long lining
them across the flats.
With the cool weather and the beginning of school around the corner
we all know that fall is not far behind. The leaves are beginning
to turn colors and the birds and ducks are on the wing. The call
of the fields and the woods are sirens to many an outdoorsman.
The angling pressure is no longer present and the fish must feed in
order to store fat for the winter. The boat should remain out and
ready for the warm, "Indian summer days" to come.
The stage is set and all you have to do is be present to watch and
listen and to interact with the many players of autumn.
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