By Matt Straw

The line goes down. Straight down. The boat moves gently along at .8 mph. The depth finder shows “hooks” hovering off bottom. A tap. The rod tip drops, the reel is engaged, the line tightens. The rod sweeps up and doubles into an arc. The line points straight down, toward something heavy that refuses to rise.

I get goose bumps just thinking about it.

Fall is the time walleye pros, experts and guides wait for all year. Walleyes gather in predictable spots. More importantly, they feed voraciously. With winter just around the corner, Mother Nature taps predatory fish on the head, reminding them they need calories to survive the coming cold.

Of all the spots walleyes might use in fall, three stand out. Irresistible forces of nature bring stability and baitfish to these spots that will never fail you!
The bottom on the depth-finder screen rolls downward, indicating a steep break. Where it levels off, at about 24 feet, the bottom reading turns from dark and substantial to weak and dark. Big hooks suspend 2 to 3 feet above bottom onscreen. Those are walleyes. A camera might reveal perch, crappies, crayfish and shiners hiding in the shadows near bottom -- hiding from certain death that hovers overhead.

Transitions are spots where one type of substrate gives way to another. Where rocks, gravel, or clay border softer substrates like sand, muck, or silt, panfish and baitfish find the creatures that live in both areas. Insects and crayfish that cling to rock and those invertebrates that burrow in soft bottom are found just a yard or so from each other, providing a potpourri of dining opportunities. Walleyes take advantage of those feeding perch and shiners.

Transitions exist near the base of all main-lake structures like reefs, humps, islands and points. Depending on the lake and overall depth, transitions can exist anywhere from 12 to 50 feet down or deeper. Hunt for them with sonar by zig-zagging above the areas where those structures meet basin flats, looking for “hard,” dense bottom readings in close proximity to “soft,” less substantial reports. Perch, crappies, and other baitfish begin filtering down to these deeper spots as waters cool below 60°F, just after “turnover,” when lake temperatures almost equalize top-to-bottom then flip.

The best way to fish transitions is by vertical jigging with 6-lb line and live minnows on relatively heavy jig heads. Staying vertical is key, but jigheads should be matched to depth. On shallower transitions, ¼-ounce jigs with soft-plastic bodies like the Lindy Fuzz-E-Grub and Watsit Jig provide a full, natural profile up where light penetration is high and walleyes can see best. A little deeper, down to 20 feet or so, the same jigs can be used without the bodies for a quicker drop.

On deeper transitions, heavier jigs will be required—up to ½ ounce. On windy days, a ¾-ounce Lindy Jig might be in order, especially at depths of 40 feet or more. In most situations a 3/8-ounce jig is optimum. Minnows should be lip-hooked so they turn and keep up with the slow progress of the boat without dragging behind.
three spots
Main Lake Points
Walleyes tend to evacuate bays in lakes, except when following shad into creek arms. Otherwise, main-lake spots tend to be best places to find fall walleyes. And the best main-lake spots are big shoreline points that jut out into the main basin of the lake.

All lakes have currents. The bigger the lake, the more pronounced those currents become. Currents are driven by the gradient of the land but affected by heat convection, wind and creek or river inlets and outlets. Out in the main basin of the main lake, currents carry plankton along and baitfish follow.

When those currents intercept main-lake points at whatever depths the baitfish are using, walleyes find perfect ambush points nearby. They lurk in the shadow of steep drop-offs where current is broken by structure, or they hold on the up-current side of the structure where a cushion of water forms, creating a current void. Walleyes sit just off the current ready to intercept anything the lake brings past. That could be smelt, shiners, ciscoes, alewives or any other pelagic species.

Find the best spots quickly by trolling. Walleyes will be structure-oriented, meaning bottom-hugging tactics will find them faster. Backtrolling (running the boat in reverse with a small kicker motor or transom-mount electric) at .8 to 1.4 mph with a Lindy Rig or Floating Rig is a classic approach. Choose the Minnow Hook varieties to present relatively large chubs, suckers or shiners. Minnows are best in fall, and a 6-incher is not too big.

In cloudy water and on dark, windy days, opt for some flash with an Old Guide’s Secret Willow Rig. The willowleaf blade allows quicker trolling speeds — up to 2 mph or even faster. Tip the size #4 hook with a fathead minnow for quick coverage. Another great option is the Lindy Lil’ Guy — a crawler harness with a neat twist. Instead of a spinning blade, it offers a wobbling, crankbait-style body that draws walleyes with vibration. Tip the two-hook harness with a pair of fatheads or shiners to create the illusion of a school of minnows.

Either rig is best presented on a 3-way rig at this time of year. Tie a 2-ounce bell sinker to a 2- to 3-foot dropper line. Tie that to the bottom of a three-way swivel, tie the main line to another loop on the swivel and the 36-inch leader that comes with the Lindy Lil’ Guy or Willow Rig to the final loop on the swivel. The same rig can be used to present floating minnowbaits like the Smithwick Rogue for even faster coverage of the area.

Once you find the fish, pitching or vertical jigging with Watsits or Fuzz-E-Grubs becomes more efficient. When walleyes really concentrate in a small area, tipping these plastic-body jigs with minnows will no longer be required.

River And Creek Mouths
Rivers that empty into large lakes, reservoirs, bigger rivers, and Great Lakes, entertain a fascinating phenomenon every fall. The early or “false” spawning migration is a fairly universal occurrence in these environments.
three spots
Walleyes often spawn in rivers and creeks. All spawn in spring, right around ice-out in 40°F water temperatures. But many walleyes run early, and those that don’t run will begin to stage early—usually at some point in October. Running and staging walleyes hold near the mouth of the river before moving on up.

When walleyes spawn in creeks, they all stage before running during the ice-out thaws. And here’s a fact few walleye anglers seem to be aware of: Shoreline spawners in lakes and reservoirs also tend to have a “false run,” visiting the shallow spots where they will spawn in spring before ice cover takes over those areas.

And that’s one of the great things about staging walleyes: They hold in relatively shallow water much of the time. At night, they move right up into 2- and 3-foot depths. During the day, they’re often active in depths shallower than 12 feet. For anglers that would rather pitch and cast to walleyes, fall staging areas are awesome places to be.

Position the boat upwind of a creek or river mouth in 20 feet of water and fight the autumn winds with Lindy Fisherman Series Drift Socks tied off at the bow and transom. Make each drift a little shallower until everybody hooks up. One angler should pitch a crankbait like the River Rocker on 8-lb braided line with a 3-foot, 10-lb monofilament leader. Another should pitch jigs like the Lindy Watsit or Fuzz-E-Grub tipped with small minnows. Work both options fast and hard, the cranks with occasional sharp triggering snaps, the jigs with high, 3-foot hops.

Fall walleyes are aggressive. Strikes are more of the rip-the-rod-away variety, with less of those tippity-tap-tap bites of summer. When it comes to presenting lures and jigs, treat fall walleyes more like bass or stripers—especially on the spots outlined here. On these can’t miss spots, competitive feeding is the rule, so hold on tight.