What to Look for When Trolling Fall Walleye
By: Mark Romanack
Baits like this Reef Runner 800 series shine best when trolled at faster speeds and in warmer water conditions. Typically this bait is most productive in the early-fall and mid-fall time periods.
Ever notice how the beautiful colors of fall are short lived? The leaves changing colors and eventually falling to the ground is part of a seasonal transition linking summer to winter. That same seasonal transition impacts on walleye in a different, but profound way.
In the interest of better understanding how the fall period impacts on walleye, it’s a good idea to break the fall time period down into three different categories including early fall, mid-fall and late fall.
In the early fall the weather is typically more like summer than fall. The month of September and even into early October, walleye are starting their fall patterns, but summer patterns are still firmly in place. Water temperatures are still fairly warm, but slowly the temps are dropping.
As a result, you can expect that walleye are going to be aggressive and trolling at faster speeds is going to cover the maximum amount of water and consistently trigger strikes. It’s also safe to assume that high action baits like trolling spoons will continue to produce walleye into the early fall consistently.
The best crankbaits for early fall tend to be shad baits and minnow divers that have good action at faster speeds. One of my all time favorite walleye baits for early fall is the classic Reef Runner 800 series. When hand-tuned these baits are solid fish catchers at 2.0 to 2.5 MPH trolling speeds. Other good early fall crankbaits include the Berkley Flicker Shad series and the Yakima Bait Mag Lip 3.5.
Jake Romanack of Fishing 411 TV holds a nice walleye that hit one of the early prototypes of the PWC produced by Bill Lewis Lures.
When the water temperatures finally dip down to the mid 50 degree range, the early fall period is winding down and the mid-fall period is kicking into gear. As the water cools, walleye instinctively become more active and begin a seasonal feeding binge to stock pile fat reserves for the lean winter months ahead.
It’s at this time of year that trolling speeds are going to need to be reduced to find consistent success. While walleye are actively feeding in water temperatures ranging from 45 to 55 degrees, triggering strikes often requires slowing down to 2.0 MPH and even slower.
It’s usually the Mid-Fall period when the spoon bite dies and the crankbait bite ramps up in earnest. Part of this transition is the need to slow down to get consistent bites. Spoons simply don’t have the right action at speeds below 2.0 MPH. Part of this transition is that walleye start to key on larger forage and crankbaits provide that larger profile.
A host of different crankbaits will consistently produce walleye during the Mid-Fall period. The Reef Runner 800 Series, Bandit 5/8 Walleye, Storm Deep Jr. ThunderStick, Bomber 24A and 25A, Bay Rat Short Deep and Long Deep, Berkley Flicker Minnow 9 and 11 and the Yo-Zuri Crystal Minnow are all dependable baits at this time of year.
Eventually water temperatures will dip down below 45 degrees setting up the late fall period. In cold water, crankbaits will continue to produce consistent success, but the trolling speed has to be reduced and select cold water baits start to shine above some others.
Often the most productive trolling speeds ranges from 1.5 to as slow as 1.0 MPH. A lot of baits simply don’t have very good action at speeds this slow and as a result baits like the Reef Runner 800 series that worked well during the early-fall and mid-fall periods, suddenly stop producing consistent results.
Baits that routinely produce well in cold water include the Rapala Deep Husky Jerk 12 and 14, the Bandit 5/8 Walleye and Northland Rumble B 11 and 13. This is also the time period when stickbaits like the Rapala Husky Jerk 14 and the Smithwick Perfect 10 start to shine.
Because these stickbaits have limited diving ability, they are most often fished in combination with Off Shore Tackle Snap Weights to get them to target depths.
New baits like this Bill Lewis Precise Walleye Crank designed by Mark and Jake Romanack were built with the idea of producing a crankbait that would fish well in both warm and cold water trolling situations.
Every year the tackle industry sees a new batch of “up and coming” walleye crankbaits. Some of these lures stick and become classics and others simply dissolve away into the elephant grave yard of crankbaits.
The new Precise Walleye Crank or PWC for short is a Bill Lewis product that was designed around the idea of producing a bait that offers premium finishes and good action at both slow and fast speeds. The PWC also has a distinctive rattle that makes it a top choice for fishing in murky water and also at night. The PWC offers a steep Dive Curve, reaching deeper depths at shorter lead lengths than other crankbaits in this category.
The FishLab Tackle Bio-Minnow Wobbler 4 and 5 are new and show promise as are the Spro Mad Eye Minnow 120 and the Mad Eye Diver 85. The Yaleye Deep Diving Holligan is another minnow diver that has gained in popularity rapidly.
As walleye trolling enthusiasts, it’s important to understand what baits work best in the fall transition period. Sticking with the classics is never a bad idea, but once in awhile a new lure comes along that really has earned those stripes.