Somewhere between the late summer and fall period is September, and the action can range from phenomenal to awful. The key to cashing in on the phenomenal and avoiding the awful is understanding the conditions and recognizing a good opportunity (or the near impossible) when you see it.
Depending on the existing conditions early September can produce some decent catches and is a good time to be on the water. Typically you can still find walleyes sticking to deeper summer patterns, but on certain bodies of water there is also a move to shallow water and is where you can expect to find the largest number of active fish.
The move to shallow water will depend on how much good shallow water cover is available and includes shallow weed choked bays or tributaries, rocky bars and reefs, as well as larger weed flats. The big attraction is all of the food that has been hiding out in shallow cover and is now getting pushed out into the open where it becomes extremely vulnerable. It’s the very reason why walleyes can be found up tributaries on big reservoirs, schooled up on shallow rocky reefs in natural lakes, or running the edge of weedy flats.
How you work an area will depend on what you’re faced with but crank baits rate high on the early fall list and are almost always a good choice. They offer plenty of versatility and can be pitched to specific shallow areas or trolled across more expansive fish holding structure. Hot early fall baits include Shad Raps and Jointed Shad Raps as well as the Glass Shad Rap which comes in some incredible fish producing colors, can be cast a long way, and has built in rattles. Later in the fall as water temperatures cool off walleyes will quite often change their preference and the longer slimmer baits like the original Rapala can become more effective.
Good fall conditions to take advantage of are steady weather patterns before the dreaded fall turnover, and again a week or two after the big fall mix up. The turnover itself can bring hot action to a screeching halt and is definitely something to be aware of and avoid.
The turnover is a through mixing of the upper and lower layers of water in a system that had been separated by a thermo cline. During the summer period as water temperatures reach a seasonal high a layering process occurs, with the end result being an upper warmer layer and a lower cooler layer, separated by a quickly changing narrow band known as the thermo cline. Typically when a hard cold snap arrives in the fall the surface temperatures are cooled off and become heavier than the lower layer and a mixing process occurs. Besides the fact that a walleye’s world is suddenly turned upside down, it’s also quickly cooled which will shut fish down until they’ve had time to adjust. Even lakes that don’t experience a thermo cline still go through a period of cooling off, and the conditions can be tough to say the least.
Finding out whether or not a particular lake still has a thermo cline set up is a relatively easy task and can be done with a good graph like the Raymarine C80 with Digital Fish Imaging. With this high definition unit you can actually see the thermo cline as a consistent narrow band. If it’s still there you could still expect to find quite a few fish clinging to deeper summer patterns. If not; the fall change is probably underway and is time to make some adjustments in location and tactics.
The turnover usually coincides with the first hard frost of fall, but not always. Some years, the change is so gradual that it becomes difficult to pin down. Another indicator to look for is water temperature. When the surface temperature drops into the lower sixties and upper fifties, you can figure you’re in the turnover zone. Walleye activity can range from bad to good depending on how severe, and how quickly water temps cool off. A gradual slide can make for better overall fishing.
Lakes that experience the turnover first are more shallow and more windswept compared to the deeper more protected variety. The thing to keep in mind is that if the shallower lakes are turning over you can probably avoid the negative effects by spending your time on a deeper lake. On the other hand the shallower lakes may be a good choice after the cooling process has taken place everywhere because fish will have had more time to adjust.