River fishing for walleyes heats up in the fall, so get ready for some of the best fishing of the year. Rivers and jigs are like peanut butter and jam… they go together. Here are some jigging tactics for catching fall-run eyes.
Rivers are typically not as weather-affected as lakes are. The water tends to be dirtier in rivers, so walleyes can be caught somewhat shallower than in lakes. And when they are shallow, they are easier to catch.
Reading current and understanding where the fish are located is important as well. Fish will often stack up in the slack water areas and near sharp bends in the river. Due to lower rainfall, the fall season tends to have lower river levels and decreased current flow.
So, first good ‘rule‘ to know is that you should concentrate on deeper channel edges where there is more current.
For many anglers, it’s first nature to think about rivers, jigs, and walleyes during the springtime. Due to their instinct to spawn, ‘eyes are concentrated in rivers across their range and jigs are an effective way to catch them.
Fewer anglers realize it, but there is another time (fall) when walleyes head toward what will be their spring spots. It’s the period beginning with the first cold snap of autumn. Most anglers who crowd boat ramps early in the year are in tree stands by then.
The best fishing of the season is about to start, and you can often have the best spots to yourself.
The patterns that begin to work in September and October keep catching fish right through ice-up, and one overriding force–current–dictates the best spots to find river walleyes and sauger.
Current dictates where fish should be and where they are going to be.
As water temperature falls and days shorten, walleyes move from summer haunts and travel upstream. Dams or rapids eventually halt the migration. They spend the coldest months in relatively deep water, near places where they’ll lay the eggs that are already developing.
Fish pause to rest wherever they can escape the heaviest current flow along the way. As a result, neck-downs (spots where current flushes through narrow areas) are key. Walleyes must funnel through them. They tend to rest before and after the neck-downs.
Anglers often overlook another type of prime fall fishing territory where the effect of current isn’t so dramatic. Take a river map and pinpoint the first set of river bends above long straight stretches. Slack water, deep water, moderate current and current breaks are usually present in the river-bend areas. Avoid the straight stretches of river where there isn’t much change in the current.
Later in the fall, the majority of fish reach deeper areas near their spawning grounds, and that’s where you should be, too.
Areas just below the dam can be excellent, although there’s often more boat traffic there. If that zone is crowded with other anglers, try working over deeper holes and sharp bends in the river within the first mile or so downstream.
Gear and Presentation Tips
Here’s the common school of thought when it comes to choosing the right-sized jig: you need enough weight so you can feel the jig as it touches bottom.
Start light, but if you don’t have control over your jig, switch to a heavier one. You have to know where your jig is at all times, and if you are guessing, you may not be where the fish are–which is right on the bottom.
Making adjustment to the weight of your jig is easy now, due to the new, Lindy X-Change jig system. This system allows you to make quick changes to jig weight and color without re-tying.
Super braided line, like Power Pro, with the strength of 10-pound monofilament and the diameter of 2-pound mono, is a great aid. Its small diameter causes less drag against the water as you slip downstream, so you don’t need as much weight to stay vertical below the boat. Its no-stretch qualities transmit the slightest bump. High-vis braided line also allows you to watch for strikes and detect the bottom.
A lot of people don’t use high-vis line, but they’re missing the boat. The best jig anglers in the world are line watchers. If you aren’t watching your line at all times, you can miss fish.
Minnows ranging from 2 to 4 inches are the preferred live bait in fall. Crawlers can work as well. Tipping your jig with plastics can also be productive. Be aggressive with plastics and pop them off the bottom to make them look alive. This will often cause a reaction strike.
Jig color? There’s no doubt that color can make a difference on certain days. Make sure that all boat partners start out the day with different colors to see if the fish show a preference. Instead of leaving a spot when the action stops, try switching colors to see if that sparks action from other walleyes who may want a little different look.
A major factor in success on the river is mastering the use of your bow-mounted trolling motor. Chasing your line, which is the same as ‘slipping with the current,’ requires making small adjustments to your boat speed in order to keep your line directly beneath you. If you don’t feel comfortable using the trolling motor, then just drop an anchor. There have been many trophy walleyes caught by just sitting still.
Watch your sonar and GPS to be sure you drift over your waypoints and maintain your depth. Mark obvious structure, like the tips of points or rock piles, and where you have caught fish. Rather than letting other boats or the wind push you over unproductive water, reel up, move the boat back into position, and let the jig back down rather than wasting time drifting over less-productive water.
Don’t put away the boat too soon. Autumn offers some of the best walleye fishing of the season. It just might become your favorite time of the year.