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“Fall Over for Hawg Eyes”
By Ted Takasaki and Scott Richardson
No need to hide indoors when weather turns cold. Turn on
the heat for Hawg Eyes.
A gray, sunless sky hints of snow. A crisp wind whips some dried
leaves around on the ground. Time to store the boat until next year.
Right? Wrong! Now is the time for some of the year’s best walleye
fishing. Prospects for “Hawg Eyes”rise as the temperature drops.
Fall is when walleyes begin to feel the onset of winter and instinct
warns them to start bulking up. Walleyes school up in order to hunt for
food. This search sends them into the rivers or creeks that flow
into the reservoirs and natural lakes that they have been living in all
summer. In pure river systems like the Mississippi, walleyes move
upstream and gather in huge numbers below dams and feeder creeks.
It’s there they winter near spawning grounds to await the natural urge
to reproduce which will come next spring. Forced to compete for a
meal amid the dinner crowd, big walleyes become vulnerable. As autumn
wears on, the feeding frenzy intensifies as cold weather and predation
depletes the menu of shad, shiners or other young-of-the-year fish.
Basic river techniques become the keys to take them. Out comes
the oldest weapon in the arsenal — the jig, still one of the best live-bait
delivery systems there is. Other tried-and-true methods work, too,
as do a few new tactics.
When jigging, start with 8 or 10 pound
Magnathin spooled on a medium heavy spinning rod with a fast, sensitive
tip, such as
Tri Wing Ti 60 SPMH.
Jig size will depend upon current speed. It’s critical to use
enough weight to maintain contact with the bottom where walleyes will often
hold in depressions or deeper holes. They will stay away from heavy
current and hide in these depressions to avoid burning needless energy.
Even walleyes that feed all the time would starve to death if they used
as many calories to catch their food as they derived from eating it.
There are many times when big walleyes want big baits. It makes
sense a larger profile might provoke a strike from fish in the mood for
a quick, heaping plateful rather than working hard for several smaller
snacks. Don’t believe it? Keep track of what big walleyes disgorge
from their stomachs while being transported in livewells. It’s nothing
to see a half-digested 8 inch baitfish appear. Try bigger chubs,
bigger minnows and bigger shiners, especially in the fall.
Professional Walleye Trail pro, Tommy
Skarlis, has seen times when fish turned up their noses at anything
but a five-eighths or 1-ounce
Jumbo Fuzz-E-Grub jig dressed with a 4 or 5 inch chub or a plastic lizard
like the ones bass fishermen use.
The message is to experiment. Let the walleyes tell you want
they want. And remember, their preference can change from day to
The same thing applies when it comes to jig color. When starting
out the day, have your partner try something different than you and let
the fish tell you what’s best. Natural colors like white, smoke,
blue, black and purple are good in fall when weather stabilizes and water
clears. But, never assume. Skarlis enjoys telling the
story about how he had been catching fish on the Illinois River for days
with a particular jig and plastic color combination. He was content
until he took a girlfriend fishing one morning. She thought his choice
wasn’t pretty enough, so she assembled her own - a pink jig head and purple
tail. “It was the ugliest thing I ever saw,” Skarlis recalls. But, after
her rod bent once, then twice, then three times before Skarlis had his
first bite, he thought pink and purple were beautiful. “I have no pride,”
he joked. While Skarlis jigs with one rod, he often uses a “dead stick”
to pull a small one-sixteenth ounce jig across the bottom.
Or, try a
NO SNAGG sinker with a short Lindy Rig tipped with live bait. Just
set the reel drag loose and put it in the rod holder. Use lighter
line for the leader than the main line so you can break off the hook without
losing the NO-SNAGG.
Fall fish are sometimes so aggressive that live bait is unnecessary,
but have a selection of minnows, leeches or nightcrawlers onboard.
Try scent or scented plastics, too. A Fuzz E Grub body with the pulsating
maribou tail is one of the deadliest cold water plastics ever made.
Unlike spring time, avoid stinger hooks in autumn. They hang-up
easily in wood, and fish tend to engulf a bait deep enough that they aren’t
usually needed. An exception might come with heavier jigs that a
walleye cannot inhale with ease. Resort to a stinger in that case,
but, try letting it hang free rather than embedding it into the live bait.
Experiment with boat control, too. Slipping, or line chasing,
is a technique where the electric bow-mounted trolling motor is used to
match the speed of the boat to the drift speed of your jig. Simply
turn the boat into the current or the wind, and use short bursts of power
to keep your jig directly under the boat. That keeps slack out of
the line so you can feel bites easier and get better hook sets.
But, in some places like the Rainy River, slipping doesn’t seem to
work as well as anchoring while you jig in one place. Allow the migrating
schools of walleyes to come to you. You can still cover vast areas
of a river without re-anchoring by using 200 to 300 feet of anchor rope.
Tie first off the front. Jig awhile. Then, move the rope to the port
bow cleat to swing the boat one way, then to the starboard bow cleat to
swing it the other. No luck? Let out more rope and repeat.
If anchoring or vertical jigging tactics fail, try trolling three-way
rigs slowly upstream with your trolling motor. Tie a pencil weight
or a heavy jig to a 6 to 8 inch dropper line. Once again, use enough
weight to maintain bottom contact as you move slowly against the current.
On the trailing leader line, try a hook and colored bead with live bait
or a floating jighead and livebait. Or, add sound with a
Rattlin’ Rig. Or, use a Floating
on the long leader. Double your chances with a double Rap rig.
Tie one shallow running floating Rapala to a 3 foot leader and another
floating Rapala to a second 1 foot leader tied to the back eye of the first.
Vary colors and sizes to give the fish more choices.
The secret to locating river walleye in the fall is the same as any
time of year — seek out current breaks which form eddies where the fish
can wait to ambush food. Spots close to known spawning areas are
good places to start. A prime target is the slack-water areas
below dams and rapids. Check river bends where current slows.
Look for transition areas between soft bottoms and hard surfaces like gravel,
sand or clay or even clam beds. If you find fish on one side of the
river, don’t neglect the other side. Skarlis likes to target
shallower side channels with current where warmer water attracts bait fish.
The more wood lying in the water the better. Be sure to check
the spot where the downstream end of the channel joins the river — walleyes
often line up there waiting for an easy meal as minnows return to the main
River stretches with wavy “washboard bottoms” give walleyes places
to rest and eat. They are good spots to troll three-ways. Or,
try trolling crankbaits, such as Shad Raps, on leadcore line. Try
to get the lure to run right near the bottom. Vary your boat
speed, and don’t be afraid to go fast (4 mph and more) to trigger strikes.
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