Rigging Big Fall Walleyes with LOA Guide Toby Kvalevog
Catch ‘em if you can…
Walleye are one of North America’s most sought after game fish, prized for their spirited battle and great eating. But, they’re a real challenge to catch. First, they keep particular hours. Their primary feeding times start a little before sunrise and sunset and last a few hours after each. They are also very particular about lighting, seasons, and weather conditions and their habits vary, depending on whether they reside in a lake or a river. And if that wasn’t enough, they have an exasperating reputation for striking bait without getting hooked.
But, if you’re up to the challenge, the reward for latching onto this aggressive predator is a good fight and a tasty meal. And yes, there are more lures than you can shake a jig stick at, but we’ll run down the basic baits to help you beat one of the craftiest fresh water adversaries around.
Fall is here!
Once the leaves turn and the weather cools, you might think that walleye fishing has peaked. But, for those heartier souls willing to brave the elements and take advantage of fewer boats on the water, this can really be one of the most productive and exciting times of the year for landing trophy sized ‘eyes. The main reason is that, come fall, walleye are looking for all the protein they can get to make it through the winter. This holds true especially for the females, whose eggs are just setting for the post winter spawn. Because they’re driven by the season to put on weight, the big fish love the big baits. By now, walleye have put a huge dent in the minnow population and large minnows on a 1/4 ounce jig can tempt a hungry fish. However, it’s also important to allow that colder water puts a chill on the walleyes’ temperament. They can be very slow to bite, so your presentation often needs more time and patience. Jig your bait vertically above the walleye and give them plenty of time to take it. Slow trolling large crank baits can allow the fish a chance to react and strike.
Time and weather are also important factors. Noon to dark is your best window of opportunity. Sunny autumn days and calm water that’s had a chance to warm can trigger walleye to be more aggressive. But on the flip side, many experienced fisher-folk will tell you that wind and rain just prior to and during a passing cold front will also spark heavy feeding. What’s more certain is that after major changes in weather, walleye are likely to go off their feed until they acclimate to the new conditions. This often entails them going to deeper water, but even then you still have an opportunity. There are always some larger fish that make a habit of hanging in the depths, especially around underwater structures. They’re less affected by weather changes and their usual feeding pattern remains the same. You just may need to tweak your presentation a bit. If you’ve been trying to land the bigger fish with large crank baits and get no results, make the move to a spinner with live bait. You may not tempt the largest, but there are likely some decent sized ‘eyes willing to strike.
If the waters are turbid, as they often are in fall, walleye tend to move closer to shore. Try casting light jigs and spinners toward the shoreline and then work them back to where walleye may be waiting. Walleye can also be very line shy and the fatter the line the more likely they are to see it. 8lb test clear monofilament or fluorocarbon usually work best in this regard.
If you feel something, anything, on your line, set the hook! Under spring or summer circumstances, you’re less tempted to fall for the bit of debris or weed that tweaks your line or rod, but in the fall walleyes often hit very lightly and what you think might be a snag could be a big fish. The fact that a walleye’s attitude is as cool as the water dictates the amount of time it takes to look over, decide, and hit your offering, so using the right bait and tackle will improve your chances.
Jigs are probably the most popular lure for fishing walleyes. The jig is a hook with a silicone or rubber-coated lead head that comes in various sizes, weights, colors and configurations. Very often live or plastic baits are placed on the hook to complete the presentation. 1/8 and 1/4 ounce jigs are good for shallow waters. A 3/8 to 5/8 ounce jig weight works well in deeper or strong current settings.
The idea is to fish with the lightest weight possible, just enough to let you feel the bottom. If you keep a variety of different weight jigs, you’ll be ready to match all environments. Jig color is also an important factor in attracting hungry walleye. Chartreuse, orange, and green are popular colors. Again, usually the darker the water, the brighter colored jigs you’ll want to try. They stand out in the walleye’s eye, but each situation is different, so if one color isn’t working for you, switch over to another. There’s sometimes no telling what walleyes might be attracted to on a given day.
Crankbaits, also known as plugs or divers, are hard bodied lures that come in many sizes, shapes and colors. There are hundreds of them to choose from, but look for specific characteristics that are the most successful in enticing hungry walleyes. The “action” of the lure is all-important. Most hard baits wobble from side to side as they are reeled in. But walleye are most attracted to a bait’s top-to-bottom roll, or “side flash”. Walleye lures typically have bright colored sides and dark backs. As these hard baits move forward through the water, their roll presents an alternating flash of color that simulates live prey, a presentation walleyes find hard to resist.
Check this video of Rapala Pro Anglers, Al Lindner and Dan Sura, catching Walleye using three-way rigging techniques with Rapala lures like the Rapala Flat Rap, Rapala Original Floater and Jointed Rapala.
A spinner lure (aka crawler harness) includes one or more metal blades that spin as it moves forward. Its attraction is twofold in that the spinning action creates a visual flash and the vibration mimics live prey. A spinner rig also includes a number of small brightly colored beads to increase visibility. Add a juicy nightcrawler, leach or minnow to the trailing hook and you’ve got yourself one of the best walleye baits there is.
There is no doubt plastic baits are very successful in landing this elusive fish, but artificial baits and lures are missing a couple of key traits that live baits offer. First, hard baits don’t display the natural random movement of a live minnow or crawler. Second, artificials don’t exhibit the typical flight response of live bait when harassed and nipped at by a hungry fish. Minnows, crawlers and leeches are the most popular live baits for catching walleye, but they can be picky eaters. If they’re not interested in their usual fare, frogs, salamanders, and crayfish can be appealing alternatives.
And, by the way, none of the above are particularly expensive to buy. Every place from the neighborhood Walmart to your favorite tackle shop will likely have great walleye baits and lures for a decent price and purchasing online could save you even more.
You’re never too young to learn how to catch a walleye!