Walleyes and a variety of salmon are on the autumn menu in the Midwest as anglers have a last chance to fish open water before the winter freeze starts to set in. Fishing for either species can be excellent; how the weather and the water temperatures line up are more critical where salmon are concerned, but the fall run extends well into November.
Walleyes aren’t so picky, and all the traditional waters such as the Mississippi River, Big Saint Germain Lake in Wisconsin, Otter Tail Lake in Minnesota and Great Lakes feeder streams give up tons of ’eyes in the fall.
The big attraction nowadays is king (chinook) salmon that make their fall spawning runs up rivers and creeks. Whether fishing from a small boat or a Great Lakes charter boat, latching on to a 20- or 30-pound king can quickly warm up an otherwise chilly fall day.
Hot Spots To Fish: Michigan’s Grand River, which empties into the eastern side of Michigan, is a prime destination for salmon. Getting Bit Guide Service (616-570-2946, gettingbitguideservice.com) in Grand Rapids is a good starting point. In fact, any port of call along Lake Michigan on either the east or west sides is likely to have plenty of knowledgeable salmon guides or charters. Fishing from jetties or piers – such as the famed McKinley Pier in Milwaukee – is also productive during the fall salmon runs.
In northwestern New York, the Salmon River lives up to its name through mid-October, but the run might linger into November in the Lake Ontario feeder, depending on the weather. Coho and steelheads also are in the mix too.
The Yankee Angler (315-963-2065, yankeeangler.com) in Pulaski, N.Y. keeps tabs on the fishing. In the big waters of Lake Ontario’s southern shore at Rochester, N.Y., give Reel Em In Sportfishing Charters (585-317-5325, reeleminsportfishing.com) a call.
Farther to the northwest, the waters and feeders of Lake Superior near Sault Ste. Marie are teeming with big salmon. One of the benefits here is that you can always slip in to the St. Mary’s River System to get away from those rough autumn nor’ westers. Live To Fish Charters (906-440-7797) can help make it happen.
Tackle You’ll Need: Salmon tackle and striped bass tackle (see above) are practically interchangeable. Fish might range from a few pounds to well over 20 pounds, and rods and reels should be in the medium- to-heavy range. A light- to-medium spinning outfit capable of holding a couple of hundred yards of 10- to 14-pound-test monofilament or 30- to 50-pound-test braid should do for most applications, especially when casting lures. Try the Okuma Epixor XT-20 with a matching rod.
Quick Tip: Just to hedge your bets, tie a foot-long section of 2x mono to your streamer hook and add a beadhead Prince nymph or similar pattern to the other end. When salmon are finicky, they might flash at a streamer, but not take it. Sometimes, a smaller mouthful such as a nymph trailer will seal the deal.
Best Lures/Bait: For the most part, spawn-run salmon hit spoons, crankbaits or roe bags out of reaction rather than hunger. Shiny lures, such as the Luhr-Jensen Twinky Rig behind a flasher, the Acme Kastmaster Spoon and a variety of soft-plastic swimbaits or hard crankbaits, will elicit strikes. Fly fishermen favor Dahlberg Divers, Wooly Buggers, Hex Nymphs and Glo Bugs.
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In similar fashion to bass, walleyes follow baitfish from the bigger lakes to feeder creeks and rivers with current.
Hot Spots To Fish: The Van Hook Arm of Lake Sakakawea (701-421-0360, vanhookguideservice.com) in North Dakota is a prime walleye destination, as is Wisconsin’s Lake Winnebago (920-598-0586, walleyepatrol.com)
Tackle You’ll Need: Power fishing it’s not. Though walleyes might fatten up to well over 10 pounds, 2- to 4-pound fish are more the rule. Depending on the average size of the fish, 4- to 10-pound-test monofilament or fluorocarbon will do.
For spinning enthusiasts, the Quantum Vapor PT with matching rod will work. If you prefer trolling to casting, or bouncing a weight and natural bait on the bottom, try a baitcasting outfit such as a Fenwick/Pflueger Night Hawk or Iron Hawk combo.
Quick tip: Trolling at night with diving jerkbaits, such as the Storm Original ThunderStick or Lucky Craft Pointer 110, is a great way to catch walleyes. Troll in patterns from deep to shallow and back again, as the fish tend to relocate up and down drop-offs and channel runs depending on bait movement.
Best Lures/Bait: Leeches, nightcrawlers, minnows and everything from crankbaits to spinners will find favor with hungry fall walleyes. Top picks include: Rapala’s Shad Rap, Berkley’s Flicker Shad, Mepps’ Black Fury, Rapala’s Husky Jerk and Northland Fishing Tackle’s Forage Minnow Jigging Spoon.
About the Author: Colin Moore is an avid bass fisherman who has had the opportunity to fish some of the best bass fisheries in North America, with some of the best bass anglers. Formerly, Moore was executive editor of Bassmaster magazine, the bass fishing columnist at Outdoor Life and editor in chief of FLW Bass Fishing magazine. Now editor emeritus of the latter, he continues to write about all things bass fishing.