Fall is such a wonderful time to be outdoors. The air is fresh, the bugs are gone and the fall colours are starting to show up on the leaves. Many outdoors people think of fall as a time to hunt, but the months that lead up to winter can be some of the finest angling of the year. That is especially true for northwestern Ontario’s two favourite species, pike and walleye. both of these game fish strap n the feed bag as the days shorten. Here is a guide to catching these two species in the autumn.
Pike fishing in the fall is a lot of fun, and can be very effective. Northern pike like the cooling water, and the large ones start moving back into the shallower haunts they have deserted in the summer. Top areas to start a fall search for pike include rocky and weedy saddles between islands, rock reefs, narrows and current areas. Pike are ambush predators, and they like to stay still and let the food come to them. Red leaf cabbage beds are pike magnets in the fall, and if they are adjacent to deeper water , you can be confident fish will be close by. Wind-swept rocky shorelines are good pike zones, as these are spawning areas for whitefish and herring, two species pike love to eat.
Casting silver bladed spinners with white tails is a great fall presentation. Adding a 4 inch white grub to the back treble hook adds a little wiggle to the presentation. The Mepps Musky Killer, Buchertail and Blue Fox Vibrax are all excellent fall pike spinners. Cast them over the tops of reefs and weedbeds and retrieve them fast enough that the blade will turn, but no faster. Big pike are still active in colder water, but prefer not to chase a fast moving quarry. Another great fall pike lure is the Johnson Silver Minnow. This weedless spoon has a wide wobble, and can be fished rather slowly as well. I like to add a 4 inch white grub to the single hook, to add extra action. The single hook on these lures also allow easy unhooking of fish. This is an important consideration, especially when you are releasing fish. Replacing a treble hook with a single Si-wash is also a good idea when fishing with spinners.
Fall walleye fishing is one of the most over looked opportunities in angling. Walleye become very active in the fall, and go on a pre-winter feeding binge. This is partially due to the slow decline of baitfish , nymphs, leeches and other aquatic organisms. Walleye need to hunt harder for food in the fall, and they will group up on reefs and drop offs where they can find larger bait fish such as suckers, herring and sculpin. Most fall walleye fishing is focused on deeper waters, although this depends on the lake in question. In lakes that have deeper water of up to 60 feet, look for rock reefs that drop into the deepest basin of the lake. A fish finder will really help here, as you can often mark the fish at a very specific depth. Find the key depth the walleye are at, and you will likely be busy. A jig and a large, white rubber minnow or shad will “match the hatch” quite well. Drop the jig to the bottom, lift the jig, and then let it drop slowly. Watch your line as the jig falls. Sometimes you will feel a sharp strike, other times the line will go slack , indicating a walleye has sucked in the jig. Set the hook! Trolling deep diving crankbaits will also help you cover water and locate deep fish.
In shallower lakes, fall walleye will often relate to cabbage weed beds, current areas, points and rocky saddles between islands. Trolling with spinner rigs and a rubber shad off a one or two ounce bottom bouncer helps find fish that are scattered. Pitching lighter jigs to wind-swept shoreline with three inch white twisters or power minnows is another good fall option in shallow lakes.
Fishing for walleye and pike is a fantastic way to spend a few days in the fall. The great news is that you can often fish for both species in the same lakes. Fall fish are plump, healthy and at the pike of their strength. Expect some epic battles from these autumn fish.