Though the calendar doesn’t say so yet, weather forecasters count the time around Labor Day as the start of autumn. Walleye fishermen can attest to the truth of that. Fish are no longer concentrated in their summer haunts.
Trolling structure or fishing shallow weedlines produces fewer and fewer walleyes.
Days are shorter. Nights are cooler. The transition has come.
“All of a sudden, walleyes aren’t where they were,” says Greg Bohn, veteran guide, tackle designer, and member of the Lindy Fishing Tackle pro staff. “They’re gone.”
As early as mid-August, subtle changes (that often go unnoticed) signal the start of the fall transition period. Weeds begin dying, from colder overnight temperatures, fewer hours of sunlight, and other factors.
“Dying weeds, that’s what starts it and pushes it,” says Bohn. “What a lot of people don’t understand is that baitfish will only stay in those weeds as long as they are very green. Once weeds start to die off, it seems as though baitfish and walleyes start to leave those shallow-water weed areas.”
Shallower, dark-water lakes enter the transition period first. Deeper, clear-water lakes experience transition later in fall. Some lakes have green weeds all the way to ice-up.
Walleyes on the move can be hard to locate, so the transition can be frustrating. But, these fish migrate to predictable areas and gather in big schools, generally according to size.
Once the big ones are located, action can be incredible.
“What the fall does is it gives the walleye angler the edge,” Bohn says. “The fish are not spread all over the lake. They are in key spots in the deepest part of the lake. You can literally eliminate most of the lake, as you think about where to look.”
Where Transition Walleyes Go
“At first, they start to move out to more open-water areas,” explains Bohn. “Sand is a really critical thing, if it’s available. They slide out to areas around deep water, like sand bars that come out from shore and drop to deeper water, sand flats, sand points, and sand humps.
“The real sleeper spot that walleye anglers don’t fish enough at this time is sand, especially in September. If you are fishing your summer spots and they aren’t there, start fishing the sand.”
Don’t look for walleyes in the deeper water, though, not yet. As the transition is getting underway, it’s still common to find walleyes in 15 feet and less.
At those depths, a good quality sonar unit can be a big help. Walleyes may be so tight to the bottom, they’re difficult to see, but not impossible. Humminbird has a unit that features 640 vertical pixels. Combine that with bottom tracking and the zoom feature, and you can often pick up on walleyes tight to the bottom. Likewise, they may be on the very top of the structure. In that case, spooking fish can become an issue.
The bottom line is this: if an area has the characteristics that should hold fish, fish it.
(Hint: best way to check the shallows is to keep the boat in deeper water, cast to the top of