Find and Catch October Walleyes
While fair-weather walleye fans pack away their open-water tackle after Labor Day, diehards stay hot on old marble eyes’ tail until winter wraps its cloak of ice across the Walleye Belt. Along the way, they power through September’s challenging patterns and relish mid-fall’s skinny-water rally, before finally following the fish deep at autumn’s end.
Count Jason Feldner among the latter category. A veteran guide and proprietor of Perch-Eyes Guide Service
on North Dakota’s massive Devils Lake, he shadows schools of wandering ’eyes all fall. And one of his favorite autumn bites occurs in October, when warm water, wind and abundant baitfish collide to entice walleye wolfpacks to raid shoreline shallows.
“The shallow bite heats up after near-shore vegetation dies back, allowing you to get in and fish hard-bottom banks,” he said.
One of the best fishing spots is where cabbage beds grew in 5- to 10-feet of water during summer and early fall, just outside a sand, rock or rubble shore. Hard-bottom shallows lacking weeds hold potential as well, he notes, provided forage is present.
On Devils Lake, a baitfish buffet including young-of-the-year yellow perch and white bass tempt hungry ’eyes, though Feldner cautions to consider other factors, too.
“The shallow bite in fall is much like it is in spring—driven by water temperature and wind,” he explains. “Look for areas a couple of degrees warmer than the rest of the lake, with wind blowing into them.”
Besides helping to stack warm surface water along shore, wave action stirs up the bottom, concentrates baitfish and reduces light penetration—offering walleyes a visual advantage over their prey. As is the case in spring, recent wind patterns are worth remembering when you’re deciding where to fish. A bank that was windswept yesterday may hold fish today, even in calm conditions, due to suspended sediments that filter out sunlight while retaining heat, which helps boost water temperatures. Time of day also plays a role in the shallow game.
“Typically there’s an early morning bite, then it dies off until the water warms up later in the day,” says Feldner. “Overall, afternoons tend to be better, as do sunny days.”
He cautions that the bite can go in bursts, with one or two fishless hours punctuated by a blast of fast action.
“Don’t get discouraged if you don’t get bit right away; be patient so you’re in the right place when the fish move in and turn on,” he adds.
Once he finds a promising location, Feldner deploys a two-pronged casting attack that hinges on jigs and shad-bodied crankbaits. He starts the day throwing jigs and typically switches to cranks later. If he has a client or buddy with him, one throws a jig and the other a crank to determine the walleyes’ preference at the moment.
With his boat positioned over deeper water—which might be a long cast from the bank on a slow-tapering break, or within spitting distance along a steep drop-off—Feldner fires casts toward shore while slowly paralleling it with his trolling motor. When he catches a fish, he lowers a shallow-water anchor to pin the boat in place while he thoroughly fancasts the area.
“If you get one walleye, chances are there are more in the vicinity,” he explains.
Feldner fishes his jigs with a swing-fall presentation in which he lets the jig hit the bottom, reels down until the rod is pointing at the jig, then raises the rod tip and holds it there.
“This lifts the jig off bottom and lets it pendulum back down. When the jig lands, reel down and repeat the process.”
When he reaches the end of the retrieve, Feldner invariably works the jig vertically a time or two beneath the boat to tempt tight-lipped followers that didn’t strike. Most strikes come on the drop, just before the jig touches down.
“You should feel a definite ‘thunk’ when a fish grabs it, but it pays to watch your line as well,” he says, explaining that sometimes the only indication of a bite is the line stopping, twitching or moving sideways.
Speaking of string, Feldner spools a 6½- to 7-foot, medium-heavy spinning outfit with 10-pound monofilament for jig fishing because it provides a slower sink rate than braid. Jig weight is tailored to wind conditions, and ranges from 1/8- to 3/8-ounce.
“I always use as light a leadhead as I can and still feel the jig,” he said. “I prefer dark colors in dark conditions, and bright colors such as chartreuse on sunny days.”
Feldner’s favorite jigs incorporate a soft-plastic grub body for added bulk and profile, including the Watsit
. In fall he prefers tipping them with leeches.
“The Watsit falls more slowly than the Fuzz-E-Grub, so it pays to experiment with both, because sometimes walleyes show a preference for a particular drop speed.”
When cranking, Feldner ties a white or perch-pattern, size 5 Lindy Shadling
directly to 8-pound superbraid mainline. The swing-fall jig cadence is replaced with a reel-pause-reel approach.
“Hold your rodtip low and use the reel to move the bait,” he says. “Periodically pause the bait two to three seconds, then resume reeling. Play around with it until the fish tell you what’s working,” he says. “Sometimes they want it slow, but other times you have to burn the bait to trigger reaction strikes.”
No matter the pace, Feldner grinds and bounces bottom, creating fish-attracting commotion. Often, he drags a jig beneath a deadstick rod placed in a holder to target walleyes that followed but didn’t hit the crankbait.
On Devils Lake, Feldner’s shoreline casting program produces banner catches until the water temperature dips into the low 50s to high 40s, prompting walleyes to slide out to structure in 14- to 20-foot depths. When that happens, he trolls crankbaits on leadcore line, and jigs vertically until first ice ushers in the hardwater season—thus changing chapters in the seasonal walleye story.