By Daniel Quade

Diehard walleye fans know late fall offers some of the year’s finest fishing. From Lindy Rigging breaks and points to jigging river channel edges and plying shallow water with a variety of tactics, there’s no shortage of ways to waylay autumn ’eyes.

Thanks to mild weather through mid-October, however, tapping the fall bite of 2014 will require rocking and rolling with unseasonable water temperatures across the Midwest.

“Everything is running behind,” said veteran guide and host of Fish Ed TV, Jon Thelen. “With all the 60- and 70-degree weather and relatively no serious nighttime cooling, baitfish and predators are still in their early fall patterns (as of 10/24/2014).”

The reason is simple. Fish don’t have calendars.

“When it comes to fall walleye patterns, water temps trump all,” Thelen said. “Everything is based on it, especially inbound migrations of baitfish moving shallow to spawn and feed.”

Depending on the lake, the autumn feast can include fall-spawning ciscoes and tullibees, along with various shiners and other minnow species, plus shad, juvenile yellow perch, sunfish and crappies. Whether driven by spawning instincts or a quest for the warmest water around, baitfish often gather on classic structure such as rock or gravel shorelines. Sandy areas can be goldmines, too, especially in late fall. And healthy weedy cover, where available, only adds to the attraction.

“But, when forage species are stacked up in deeper water or tucked tight in the weeds, there’s no reason for walleyes to hit these banks,” Thelen says. “You can say the full moons of fall are great times to fish shallow water, but they’re only good when the walleyes are there.”
Fortunately, fall’s slow start doesn’t mean the walleyes aren’t biting.

“They’re still aggressive and ready to feed, they just aren’t gorging in the shallows quite yet.”

To catch them, Thelen recommends targeting structural staging areas near traditional fall feeding grounds. Look for the first break dropping into deeper water just beyond the outside weedline. On lakes across the Midwest, you’re typically looking at 10 to 20 feet of water, though productive depths vary according to water clarity, each lake’s unique contours, and other factors.

“Walleyes may move deeper along this break during the day and slide higher up in the evenings,” he adds. “You can try the top of the break, too, in 10 to 12 feet of water closer to the weeds. But that will get better as the water cools off.”

A number of tactics hold water off the first break. One that’s been working lately is trolling the smallest size River Rocker. When fish are scattered like they have been the last few weeks, trolling allows you to cover more water.

Unaided, the size 3 River Rocker trolls down to about 6 feet on standard monofilament. Extra ballast such as a leadcore mainline, snap-weights or inline sinkers are options for reaching deeper water. For example, 70 feet of 27-lb leadcore, capped with a 20-lb superline leader, will run about 12 feet.

Often, Thelen relies on his sonar to spot pods of walleyes cruising the break.

“Motoring over likely areas speeds the search process,” he says. “And it allows me to camp over groups of fish with high-percentage presentations.”
river rocker
One of his fall favorites is a beefy redtail chub tethered to a 42-inch Lindy Rig X-Treme Snell, which features a size 2 minnow hook. Link leader to mainline with a size 10 Lindy Swivel, and slide a ¾- to 1-ounce No-Snagg Slip Sinker onto the line above the connection.

“No-Snaggs work on all types of bottom, but they excel in rocks—which are often the focus of breakline walleye activity,” Thelen notes.

While crankbaits are commonly trolled at up to 2 mph in fall, rigs move at a much slower pace. In prime lines, speeds of .5 to .7 mph are plenty fast, and Thelen idles down even further when a walleye’s beneath the boat.

“I hover above the fish, keeping the bait in front of it until it bites,” he says.

Such patterns will shine until water temperatures drop into the low 50s. Once we’re at the magic mark, Thelen expects everything to move shallow with a vengeance.

“Typical fall bites will crank up,” he says. “November should be great for folks who still have their boats out.”

For his part, Thelen likes nothing better than longline trolling a size 3 River Rocker along rock and gravel shores in depths of 10 feet or less, especially after the water cools into the high 40s, spurring serious daytime feeding sprees.

Where walleye wolf packs rally on structural sweet spots such as rocky points or reef tops, pinpoint presentations like slip-bobber rigs are also an option. Suspending a leech, nightcrawler or minnow on a 1/32-ounce Lindy Jig beneath a Thill Pro Series Slip Float can yield fast action.

Once the late-season shallow-water flurry finally arrives, Thelen warns not to dally when hitting the water.

“We’re behind schedule, so the late bite could be very short-lived,” he cautions. “When it’s here, take advantage of it before winter shuts it down.”