The Wonders (and Walleye) of Autumn

“A few days ago I walked along the edge of the lake and was treated to the crunch and rustle of leaves with each step I made. The acoustics of this season are different and all sounds, no matter how hushed, are as crisp as autumn air.”
– Eric Sloane


Every year when the heavy dews of September roll around I feel both saddened and a little nostalgic to see the summer come to an end yet excited about the outdoor opportunities offered by cooling air and waters. Not only are Bass, Musky and Walleye readily eating up most presentations thrown their way, but one is pretty much guaranteed to have their favourite lake to themselves as cottagers and vacationers slowly store away the jet-skis. The most memorable bass fishing experience I’ve ever had was in November of ’08 on a very cold but beautifully serene and brightly sunny morning. What made this occasion special was that not only were smallies unusually hungry but the average size of the fish was incredible. We caught well over 20 fish that morning in a few hours and all of them were over 3lbs, with more than one fish pushing 5-6lbs. They were feeding on Gobies on a shallow sandy flat and eagerly eating tubes like they were going out of style. Days like this easily find a permanent spot in any fisherman’s memory bank. In addition to the fantastic fishing, cold mornings spent tucked in a duck-blind or hidden behind the last few rows of corn calling in geese, the period of September through November offers bright beautiful days, cool, crisp, fresh air, turning leaves, returning flocks of geese and perfect nights for stargazing by the bonfire in a warm hoody which all contribute to making fall my favourite time of year.

A sample from that day in Nov ’08…
Tube smallie

    Back to September ’10

After a month of inactivity thanks to a broken bone in my left hand I was more than eager to get back to fishing. Despite some lingering pain the doc gave me the ok which is all I needed to get up off my couch and head outside to enjoy the scents, sights and sounds of September. Thanks to the help of a fishing buddy I was able to wet the boat on the weekend. I wasn’t expecting a great day because the last time I made it out was in early August and I’ve been out of practice. However simply being on the water is a therapeutic necessity for me so the possibility of a tough day finding fish wasn’t high on my concerns list. Thankfully, I was wrong to worry as the fishing turned out to be anything but difficult.

I woke up to a cloudless, calm, cool and very bright September Saturday. After a quick breakfast I slowly slipped my boat into a quiet, misty Lake St.Francis with that feeling of an adventure awaiting egging me on. As I enjoyed my coffee and took in the moment I wondered if smallmouth were feeding up on the shoals. The water in Lake St. Francis is as clear as it gets and throwing tubes to fish on flats in late fall is a mainstay here. You know something is right about a lake when you are bagging 30lbs 5 fish bags (see Canadian record). I saw a few fish here and there on the flats but nothing like you would in a month’s time so I headed to the drop-offs in search of my specialty, walleye.

Always about water temp.
When I last fished in early August the water was at its warmest of the yearly cycle, which is about 75°F on the surface in the main channel and up to 82°F this year in shallow bays. Fish were saturated with food, weeds were high and the best way to get them to bite, or more accurately, react, was to rip crankbaits against the flow of the current at what I like to compare to a good jogging speed, or almost enough to create a wake behind the boat. This netted a lot of fish for me over the summer, and especially larger fish including 2 over 7lbs and a few bonus muskies. However, now that we’ve lapsed mid-September and the nights linger on the water has already cooled considerably to about 61°F on the surface. I tried pulling crankbaits but had a difficult time finding the active reactionary strikes that landed fish only a few weeks prior. Feeling a little adventurous I decided to try my luck at something very different. I anchored in various positions along the top of drop-offs or on saddles between two deep pools and cast a 1/4 oz jig with a twister tail tipped with a piece of worm upstream into the current and let it set to the bottom in about 30 feet or so. I then gradually hopped it and twitched it up to the boat, lifting the anchor and moving upstream after a few casts. This allowed me to slowly and thoroughly work the drop-offs until I found the honey holes.

dropoff pocket September jig ‘eye
september eye

I’ve used this technique before in the spring and when it works there is nothing quite like it. As the season progresses, I slow this presentation even more and drag the jig very slowly instead of hopping it. The idea is to find spots within a spot, or as I like to call them, pockets on the drop-offs. These pockets are areas where the current is lighter and food accumulates, much like an underwater eddy. They can be inside or outside turns on underwater points, boulders, a weed bed or anything really that stops the current and allows walleyes to sit and wait for food. With a bit of patience and exploring you can find these spots within spots and almost predict within 5-10 feet where a fish will strike. Then of course there are magical days like this one happened to be when entire the lenght of a drop-off is littered with fish. I stumbled upon the perfect day when you can’t keep your jig in the water for more than a minute without feeling the thump of a hungry ‘eye.

sept limit

After a break for dinner across the pond we headed back out with the headlamps and kept the pattern going until well after sunset. Although we didn’t manage to catch another large fish we certainly did well with the numbers. After about an hour and a half and a limit of eaters we headed in to fillet fish and sat by the bonfire until the early morning hours watching in awe as Jupiter light up the night sky. Incidentally our massive planetary neighbour is as close to us as you will see it in 50 years this month. Having lost the summer’s humidity the air at this time of year is perfect for stargazing. So why don’t you get out there and see it for yourself. Look to the South-East around midnight. You can’t miss it and few things compare to it after a great fall day’s fishing.

Until next time, Stay outside, Jigger.

2 Replies to “The Wonders (and Walleye) of Autumn”

  1. wow !! back on track !! a least you got a few more good week for fishing !! tomoro hunting for me !!

    I will let you know…

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