It’s all good when it comes to chasing walleyes in reservoirs late in the fall, at least most of the time. Big reservoirs can really heat up right before freeze up and is a time when some hefty catches are made. The last of the last just before freeze up is what we’re really talking about, and is an excellent time to be on the water.
The biggest piece of the late fall puzzle to place is location, and fortunately it’s not usually all that tough. Food is the key and if you know what they’re munchin’ on you can figure it out fairly quickly. By taking a look at seasonal movements and what they might be using as a main food source you will have a better chance for finding active schools of big fat walleyes.
During much of the summer and into the fall big reservoir walleyes can be found using deep points, as well as humps and flats in the main body of the lake. By mid fall changes occur ( like decreasing water temps and falling water levels), that signal walleyes it’s time to make a move and head for greener pastures. While walleyes spend a good deal of their time relating to structure located in the main lake during the summer period, they are often found miles away by late fall. One of the reasons for the shift is the fact that their food source has moved, and walleyes must find new or follow to survive.
Quite often what they need can be found toward the back of major feeder creeks and river arms. Those arms are giant nurseries for perch, white bass, and baitfish. By late fall schools of baitfish that have been living and growing in the very back ends of the aforementioned areas leave the nest and head out into the great unknown. As baitfish move out hungry ’eyes move in, and cash in on easy pickings.
By narrowing your search down to major creek and river arms you can eliminate a lot of water, but maybe not enough. River arms can still be enormous and there may not be enough time in a day or even a week to fish it all. To refine it even further look as far back in the arm as you can, where there remains access to deep water. Deep water is defined by depths in the twenty to thirty foot range and beyond, and is relative to the body of water you’re on.
By now you have perhaps eliminated over ninety percent of the available water, which can definitely save you some time. However you can whittle it down even further by looking for outside bends, where the main channel pulls tight to the banks. Outside bends tight to the bank create sheer drop offs Walleyes will stack up in these outside bends where they can ambush schools of bait and pin them against the wall created by a quick drop.
Now that you’ve narrowed your search down to a bare minimum, it’s time to get busy and put a few walleyes in the boat. Simplicity is the name of the late fall game and about all you usually need is a handful of jigs and a bucket of minnows. You can also use a live bait rig and is good option if you can get your hands on suitable bait, like anything in the chub family. If not you can still catch your share with a ¼ or 3/8oz jig tipped with a nice fathead. You can use bigger jigs if you’re fishing deeper water, or if the wind is howling and you’re not able to feel the bottom. The idea is to use as small a jig as you can and still retain you’re feel. Without the all important feel you’re not going to know where you’re at and won’t catch nearly as many fish as you might have or should have.
With the right sized jig you can slowly move along and walk the jig up and down the breaks by lifting and dropping it back to the bottom. Try to envision exactly what’s going on down below, and if what you feel doesn’t jive with what you think should be happening; set the hook. Quite often fish will pick the bait up on the drop and you won’t even know they’re there until you make the next lift.
As mentioned before a live bait rig is a good option and requires a big enough bouncer to stay with the bottom. Try to work the bouncer just about straight up and down and use more weight if you’re having trouble. A bouncer and a plain hook on a six foot or so leader is about all you need as long as you’ve got good minnows To get more action out of your bait try tail hooking your minnow. A tail hooked minnow will fight and thrash and create plenty of fish attracting action.
Even if you know where they are and what to use there are times when you might find yourself up against the wall. The fact is lakes can cycle and if you run into an overabundance of bait the going could be a little tough, to say the least. Lake Oahe here in South Dakota is a good example, and has a ton of shad in it right now that are everywhere, which has spread the fish out and made feeding for a walleye as easy as opening his mouth Besides all of the shad they usually have a big die-off late in the fall which makes a tough situation even worse. The only answer might be using your trailer and making a move to another body of water.
Although reservoir walleyes can be caught all day, peak activity can still be expected early and late in the day. If you’ve been working a good looking spot without success you may have to stick it out until the day is just about gone to know if fish are using the area. The key is not giving up and realizing the fact that you can quickly put a bunch of fish in the boat when you do get them going.