WINNIPEG/RED RIVER IMPACT FACTORS FOR FALL WALLEYE
by Daniel Kiazyk
Having put your time in on any water gives you a few observations worth a few more fish at the end of each day. The Red & Winnipeg rivers are no different than any other bodies of water; They can and are patterned with a little time and exploration. Part of the trick it seems is to consider "impact" factors and how they will bear upon the tactics being used. I am presuming that the discussion here is about fall and that your quarry is walleye on the Red or Winnipeg rivers. If you have a good idea of what factors have an influential impact upon walleye in these rivers you need read no more. However if you would like to muse with me on a couple of factors I've seen that impact upon the greenback bite, perhaps I might give you a couple of ideas as to how you might be able to boat one more good fish.
Changes in the environment that impact on walleye are numerous. Firstly I would categorize these influential environmental factors as two-fold: direct and intermittent. Hence as I see it, one large group of factors that affect walleye on the Red and Winnipeg rivers are: photo period, water temperature, weather, water discharges, fishing pressure. Secondly there are other factors which also have an impact upon walleye but are more predictable on a year to year basis and seem to be factors traditionally focused upon by anglers: structure, forage. My focus in this article is on the prior as I have written about the latter in a number of other articles.
The two environmental factors that seem to have the greatest sustained impact on fall walleye are photoperiod and water temperature. As the fall season progresses the days grow short and the water cools. The bite seems to start to polarize towards morning and evening as water temperatures plummet and days grow short. Fish also seem to become increasingly lethargic as water temperatures fall below fifty (50 degrees); below 40 (forty) the bite seems to occur primarily during morning and evening hours.
Intermittent factors are those that occur via human or natural causes and have a short-term impact upon fall walleye. Initially there are natural intermittent factors. Weather systems continue to have an impact upon fish (as they have had an impact upon fish all summer long). Cold fronts, heavy northwest winds put fish down at this time of year. A warm front in mid October, which lasts 3 or 4 days, will get fish fired up for another active bite (add in a bit of cloud, a south wind and you'll have dynamite conditions). Also significant will be the speed at which the whole river system cools. If the water temps go below forty degrees it seems as though we have to wait until first ice until our walleye start to bit again. However if the season is prolonged by mild periods, which do not push water temperatures below 40 degree, we can continue to enjoy good angling until it drops below the prior temperature.
Another intermittent factor (albeit this time related to human activity) on the rivers is water discharges. Water discharges correspond with power generation on the Winnipeg river. This river seems to see increased hydro generation on weekends. During the week there doesn't seem to be as much current generation (signaled by the amount of water that they have to push by the turbines at the Pine Falls dam). Also significant at the Pine Falls Generating station will be the amount of water that the whole (Lake of the Woods English) river system has seen over a period of time and is pushing up North to Lake Winnipeg. Some dry years it seems as though the only cause for increased flows is hydro production. Other years however there is also the added factor of having to lower the whole system's water level (due to increase water levels back to the Ontario side). As for the Red river I have seen a couple of things happen with regards to drawn down in the fall. If the Red river valley has not seen a lot of moisture as a whole as was the case this year draw down does not occur until later in the season. Even when it occurs in the latter case it is gradual and almost negligible with its effects upon the fishery. The reason for draw down on the Red is for flood control reasons (especially in light of what Manitoba has seen in the past five years). When draw down is more aggressive on a high water fall year, fishing is more significantly impacted. Generally draw down starts in mid October and the lockmaster at St. Andrews locks will post an advertisement in local papers warning citizens that increased flows can be expected.
An increased flow seems to do one of two things on both of these rivers. It draws fish into the river, earlier in the season (if there is a lot of water coming down the Red ) or it puts fish down to the point where they'll be turned off the bite (generally later in the season and this will correspond with draw-down ). People have speculated why the latter puts fish down and the best explanation I've heard is that increased flow displaces forage and increases turbidity – reducing the fish's field of vision. As a result you'll probably have to wait a couple of days until the fish get reoriented to this new environment. In some cases the later on in the season and to what extent it is drawn down will pretty much give you an idea as to what extent it will put fish off of the bite. On the Winnipeg river some structural elements may be considerably deeper as a result of increased water discharge and hence may require that you look elsewhere until water comes down and the situation stabilizes over a period of a few days. Another observation we've made over the years is that you may be required to fish deeper than you did the day before due to increased water discharges (Ice fishing too can be made dangerous earlier on in the season on the Winnipeg river as a result of increased water discharge).
Finally, fishing pressure does have an impact. A recent experience I've had with this was on the Red when inclement weather kept people off the river --- I caught some really good fish that day. The next day, when the river was once again overrun by numerous anglers, the fish were much less cooperative. Another reflexion in this regard applies to those instances when people are physically moving on the river; we have noticed that fishing wanes until things quiet down. Fishing on most weekends on the Red (this is not an empirical statement but a generalized experience) is better on Saturday than it is on Sunday. I suspect the reason for this observation is due to the amount of boating traffic. The Winnipeg river is not this way as it is considerably wider and deeper giving the fish and fishermen more options on where they can travel.
So what tactics apply to these changing circumstances? We want to spend as much time trolling earlier on in the season, and will jig more later on in the season, (water discharge will also make us jig more). Warm spells – even in water below 50 will convince us to get back on the troll. There are also those years when one technique will shine as opposed to the other. Why…. I don't know, but I suspect it might have something to do with the confidence factor – the most elusive of factors to describe -- In effect a knowledge of the factors effecting fall walleye will impact upon our tactics and ultimately our success to a greater rather than to a lesser degree.