Walleye fanatics know that fall brings hard strikes and monster wallies with the color change. And while perhaps not quite as productive as spring, a strong case can still be made for fall as the prime season to catch these gold-green predators.
Pushed to feed voraciously by plummeting water temperatures, walleye are looking for an easy meal. And since they’re more inclined to school during fall than in summer, you’ll rarely catch just one.
Do you know where to find these fish in the fall? Which techniques are the most productive? What changes to make in your lure and live bait choices?
Our best tips for cool-weather walleye are guaranteed to tilt the odds in your favor by answering these questions with well-researched, time-tested answers.
So keep reading!
Table of Contents
Fall Walleye Behavior
Walleye are cool-water fish, and the summer heat really suppresses their activity and desire to hunt and feed. With a strong preference for water temperatures between 65 and 75 degrees, walleye stay deep to beat the heat for most of the summer.
But fall brings sweet relief as the water cools, and walleye make a seasonal migration to the shallows. There, they’re looking to feed voraciously after a summer of lying low, and they’ll be chasing minnows and other bait fish with a vengeance.
Some things haven’t changed, though.
Walleyes are well-equipped for low light, and whether that’s dawn, dusk, “walleye chop,” or just an overcast day, they use this relative advantage to ambush prey that can’t see as well as they do. Cooling water temps don’t change this fact of walleye biology, and these remain the prime times to land a big one.
Some anglers will tell you that lake turnover signals the move shallow. There’s some truth to that, but walleye will begin hunting shallow as soon as the water cools down.
I like to look for walleye by spotting contrasts. If you find a rocky patch on a predominantly muddy-bottom, they’ll be there. A large pile of rocks protruding from a sandy bottom is a good spot as well, as are weedy humps on a rocky bottom. In short, anywhere you find an unusual structure, look for walleye.
And because they’re on the hunt, where you find food, you’ll find the fish. On lakes or large rivers that offer a bottle-neck with current, you’ll find schools of ciscoe and other bait fish. That’s one of the first features I’ll target for walleye.
Any large structure that acts as a windbreak is also a prime hunting ground. Especially on nastier days, the walleye will hunt these areas, driving prey to their deaths there. Whether that’s a rocky point, a wall, or an island, if there’s foam–there are walleye!
Another combination of structure and cover to remember in fall are shallow, sloping flats holding live weed beds. Bait fish are going to gather here, looking for food themselves. And the walleye will follow.
What To Keep In Mind
Keep the following points in mind:
- Fall means shallow. Much like the spring spawn, fall pushes walleye into shallow water. It’s important to think about gently sloping flats, especially if they also hold live weed beds.
- Low light is king. Dawn, dusk, “walleye chop,” and overcast skies, especially with wind, are ideal conditions for walleye to hunt. As dedicated walleye anglers can attest, bad weather means good fishing!
- Walleye love contrasts. Look for unusual structure–something that stands out from the norm.
- Wherever you find bait fish, you’ll find walleye. If you follow the ciscoe and shad, you’ll find the walleye. I like to look for live weed beds, current, and shallows immediately adjacent to either drop-offs or inflows like creeks and rivers.
Fall Walleye Fishing Tips
Legions of walleye anglers like trolling, and there’s no question that it’s effective in summer. But I prefer to drop this technique in fall, as the walleye are usually both shallow and clustered in schools. It’s not that trolling won’t work–it will still produce. It’s rather that you want to find a school and keep hitting it, cast after cast after cast.
Techniques that let you cover likely spots quickly, and that can work shallow water effectively, are my top choices.
And while walleye are known to be partial to live minnows, don’t underestimate the effectiveness of swim baits, crankbaits, and soft plastics on jig heads.
Drifting while working big swim baits
When the wind is in your favor, why not use it?
One technique that I really like is to drift slowly down shallow, weedy flats while casting big swim baits. Not only does this increase your stealth, but it’s also just murder when you’re throwing the right combination of jig and soft plastic–especially when you know how to work them!
Check out our buying and reviews of the top swimbait rods!
Many walleye anglers make a basic mistake with soft plastics–a habit ingrained by live bait. They fish them too slowly, forgetting that the swim bait needs you to do the work.
Pop and retrieve in uneven cadences, burn them across the tops of weeds, and let them sink and fall freely every few feet. That’ll get their tails quivering, attracting strikes.
I like the 3 ½” Gene Larew Sweet Swimmer for the same reason Scott Glorvigen does: extra soft, the paddle tail beats like crazy as you work it.
As always, select natural colors in clear water. “Threadfin Shad,” “Gray Ghost,” and “Glass Minnow” are ideal choices. But in stained water, don’t forget the hot pinks and whites.
I rig these swim baits on a ⅛- or ¼-ounce jig head. Give the Temorah ball jig heads a chance: they come in assorted colors, hold a soft plastic really well, and won’t break the bank.
If you’re skeptical about soft plastics for walleye, just watch Glorvigen crushing walleye:
And if you’re unsure how to rig these bad boys, this tutorial will help:
Casting crankbaits over shallows
For those of you who fish jigs almost exclusively for walleye, this will seem like another unconventional choice. But give me a moment to explain.
Vertical jigging is an awesome technique, no question, but it has two disadvantages in the fall. First, it doesn’t cover a lot of water quickly. And second, because walleye will be in shallow water, spooking them with a boat directly overhead is a real concern.
Crankbaits, by contrast, allow you stand off, providing excellent stealth in shallow water, and they allow you to work large areas quickly.
Check our buying guide and reviews of the top crankbait rods!
I like to look for those high-contrast spots: a rocky hump on a muddy or sandy bottom, a shallow strewn with boulders next to a steep, sandy drop-off, or a flat holding lots of live weed beds.
Stay back and work your crankbaits in the traditional fan pattern to cover the area thoroughly. No need to do anything special–just crank and retrieve with a few pops every now and then.
The Rap is a relatively deep diver, where the Strike King is a bit more shallow-running. Both work very, very well, offering enticing action and hyper-realism.
And again, if you doubt that this works in fall, just take a look:
Working transitions with live bait
I’m not going to ignore live bait!
The key in fall is to select for size, running the largest minnows, leeches, and nightcrawlers you can find. Walleye are looking to feed, and big bait is just the thing to satiate that hunger.
Tip a jig head with something living, and pitch it into transition areas as dawn or dusk. Look for the drop-offs near shallows, points that hold weeds up high, and more or less vertical structure in shallow water. These are all ideal hunting areas for walleye in fall, and they’re the places they’ll be–or be moving through–during their daily feeding cycle.
Ripping chatterbaits at night
A final technique I’d like to share with you takes advantage of the walleye’s proclivity for low-light hunting.
Just after dusk–and through the night–walleye are going to come shallow looking for prey. That’s a predictable pattern in the fall, and one that’s easy to turn to your advantage.
What you want is a lure that can create action and transmit vibration, and the often-unused chatterbait is just the thing. I know…I know–most anglers think of these as bass baits. But the truth is that a lot of bass anglers land pike, muskie, and yes–walleye–on them by accident.
And that’s not something to ignore!
For night fishing, I like to run a “South African Special” craw on the “Cnady Craw” chatterbait.
The trick is to pop this combo of the bottom, crank a few times, and let it fall again, making the chatterbait swim and drop. Toss it into weed beds, rocks, and other cover, and you’ll be amazed at its effectiveness!
This video provides a master class on this technique:
Fall is a great time to hammer walleye, and with a few unconventional choices, you can be the envy of other anglers.
If these tips help, and you catch more walleye with them, we’d love to hear from you!
Please leave a comment below.