LAST OPEN WATER WALLEYES BY DANIEL QUADE   Leave a comment

Late autumn and early winter can be an intimidating time to chase walleyes. With more anglers sitting in treestands instead of boats, fishing reports get a little sketchy. Plus, the demise of the thermocline means old marble-eyes is free to roam the entire water column — opening up a wealth of potential habitat. Fortunately, some of late fall’s finest fishing is a satisfyingly simple and straight forward affair.

“As soon as the water temperature hits the low 50s, migrations of lake-run minnows, and other baitfish begin arriving in the shallows,” explains veteran guide Jon Thelen. “Hungry walleyes follow, and fish often hang around to take advantage of the forage through freeze-up and beyond.”

The ensuing feeding frenzy often creates fast action for anglers, although few capitalize on it. Thelen cites a prime example.

“For one of my trips this October, I found a small lake where the water temperature was 48 degrees,” he said. “The water was cooler than in some of the surrounding lakes, so I knew there was a good chance of finding walleyes shallow. Sure enough, the fish were snapping in just 7 feet of water, and I had the entire lake to myself.”

To tap the shallow bite, Thelen sets his sights on near-shore structure. He says that it typically outperforms offshore humps, flats and reefs because water temperatures close to the mainland better hit the preferred range for baitfish.

“Shoreline breaks and points are good, as are humps that are either connected to the shoreline or adjacent to it,” he says. “Having deep water close is a plus.”

The aptitude of likely structure improves with the presence of cover in the form of vegetation, timber or rocks.

After identifying promising fishing grounds on a lake map, he motors in close with his main engine, kills the outboard, fires up his electric trolling motor and edges closer to scan the deep, structural perimeter with his electronics.

“Stealth is important in shallow water,” he notes. “So I move in quietly from deep water, watching for fish on my electronics.”

Once fish are marked, he drops a minnow-tipped jig to bottom and slowly but surely begins fishing his way into shallower water until the action stops.

Depths vary by lake and conditions, but Thelen rarely fishes deeper than 15 feet once the cold-water shallow bite heats up. Even when walleyes aren’t feeding high on the structure, they don’t automatically zoom out to depths of 30 feet or more, he says. They rest close to their feeding areas. By fishing my way up the structure, he catches some of these inactive walleyes while working toward the most aggressive ones.

Key colors hinge on natural tones, such as blends of brown and white.

This time of year when the fish focus on large concentrations of the same type of forage and the water is clear you’re not going to fool them with gaudy presentations. You want jig and grub colors that match the norm.

Snap the rod tip 6-inches or so to lift the jig and get the walleyes’ attention. Then let it fall to just off bottom and hold it still, before lowering it all the way to the bottom and setting it there for a few seconds. Raise it again, snap the rod tip and repeat the process.

Walleyes, being the moody, require some experimentation with the intensity of the lifts and duration of holds. Sometimes, successful variations of the snap-drop-hold-drop cadence include dragging the jig along bottom.

“If you set the hook the second you feel a fish you’ll often pull the jig the out of the walleye’s mouth,” Thelen said. “Wait for the second ‘thunk’ before setting.”

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