By Jason Mitchell
For diehard anglers, fall fishing may be the most coveted time of the year. While every angler seems to participate for season openers and early season weekends, many anglers put the rods away and park the boat during the fall so the mystique of fall is not only great fishing but also fewer people. Even on good bites on well-known fisheries, boat ramp parking lots sit relatively empty. For hardcore anglers who are obsessed with fishing, fall might be a favorite time of the year.
I have often felt that fall fishing is the exact opposite of spring but there are many similarities. Some of the same locations often produce and many shallow patterns come alive again as water temperatures drop. Like the spring, late afternoons can often produce better as water temperatures can bump up a degree of two. The mornings often require gloves and the boat is often covered in frost. Here is where the spring and fall however are very different. Spring bites often get better when water temperatures progressively warm up and slow down if the temps fall off after cold fronts. Fall bites seem to get better as water temps fall and get worst if a warm spell progressively bumps water temperatures back up. Cold fall weather seems to make the fishing better while hot unseasonably warm weather often sends the fish patterns into disarray.
What is also neat about fall fishing is that everything seems to be biting. Fall is one of the best times to target trophy walleye, musky, bass and pan fish. If there is one sure fire pattern for bass and panfish in the upper Midwest, focus on deep break lines that have good green weeds. Deep coontail that grows two to four feet off the bottom along a sharp breaking drop off is a magnet for fish in the fall. Weeds also don’t always have to be green to hold fish in the fall however. Many of the pondweed and cabbage species do die off and brown up after they seed out by late summer but brown weeds will still sometimes hold fish if there is good water circulation. The key for brown and down weeds to hold fish in the fall is close access to deep water and good water circulation. These weed patterns can also be hot walleye and musky locations as well. What makes fall weed patterns different from spring patterns is that spring weed patterns often also correlate with warmer water. Spring finds us finding fish over large shallow flats and protected bays that warm up faster. Fall weed patterns often occur over sharp breaks and exposed areas that have that good water circulation.
Another top location for both big walleye and musky are shallow boulders and rip rap. Big rocks seem to attract fish any time of the year but really seem to become even more important in the fall. On some fisheries, fall-spawning baitfish like tulibee concentrate along rock and rip rap creating a prime feeding opportunity for larger baitfish. Some anglers sometimes overlook this fall-spawning baitfish connection. Baitfish that spawn and concentrate in the fall include ciscoes, whitefish and tullibee. Many of these fall baitfish spawning patterns need rock and are also heavily influenced by wind. Can remember situations where I found almost all of the baitfish and relating predators concentrated on one specific spot on the spot that seemed influenced by wind. Some baitfish seemed to stack on the down wind side of the reef for example in the calmer water where as the upwind side was completely dead of life. When the wind died, that specific spot dried up and the activity shifted. Shallow rock patterns also seemed to pick up as dark approached as these baitfish moved up to spawn after dark.
Deep reefs that combine sharp break lines and a hard bottom are classic fall walleye locations on many natural lakes. Can’t talk fall fishing for walleye without mentioning current and bottleneck areas. River systems also come back to life with fish movements that recharge some holes and troughs where some of these fish will hold through the winter.
Regardless of water and species, I have often felt that some of fall fishing’s best and most consistent bets are simply community spots. Community spots are typically really good locations that get ruined by the sheer number of boats. In the fall when so many people quit fishing, these are some of the best locations. No secrets, no need to outthink other anglers. You simply have to commit yourself and long after the crowds are gone, you can find some of the best fishing of the entire season for a variety of fish on a variety of water.