FALL WALLEYE ON THE FLATS
by Daniel Kiazyk
It's that time of year, leaves change in color, eventually leaving trees bare. The prevailing winds start to shift from the west to the north west. Nights grow cold and as the season progresses, temperatures dip regularly into the negative. Many anglers put away their angling equipment for the shotgun or rifle. Lakes too become a bit tougher to fish as turnover seems to put fish everywhere throughout the water column. Rivers, however, in Manitoba become a hot bed of action for walleye, monster walleye that is. In general, the angler who plies these waters at this time of year is far from being a walleye neophyte. On the contrary many of these anglers are the grizzled old veterans out for their last chance at glory (at least until the ice forms eh!). Their general plan is to jig those areas where walleye will concentrate. Their game plan is effective and by the number of master angler entries from the Red and Winnipeg rivers each fall, they're not wrong. However, I'd like to propose the use of a longstanding tactic that I'm not seeing fall anglers use too much on the Red of late, but one that is used to greater degree on the Winnipeg River; trolling the flats.
The flats are those hard to define areas where depth is adequate for fall walleye but there are not too many structural elements to draw or hold fish in regularly numerous concentrations. This concept of angling in this area has not really caught on to a great degree on the Red. I do see some trolling but the mass majority sit and Jig all season long. This is somewhat bizarre, especially when we know there are people out there trolling on the Winnipeg river catching monstrous fish in these vast areas.
What's up? What are many people failing to see? The equation that fall equals fish on structure to a great extent is true. Fall time on our Manitoba rivers mean fish near to or on structural elements. However, fish are using the flats for a variety of reasons. Perhaps the least obvious is the amount of pressure being put on other structural elements. Fish will and do move when pressured. Fish are also using the flats because of an inborn "pelagic" (it's the best word I could find) but its actual definition is not as directly applicable as I've often read in other publications) behavior where they wander to take advantage of available food sources. Also in relation to this latter element and another reason for why walleye are on the flats relates to what they like to eat. I've caught plenty of tulibee and whitefish on relatively large and shallow non-descript flats throughout the ice season. These fish are one of the prime forage items for the monster walleye of Lake Winnipeg. It follows that walleye will be in these areas in direct relation to their preferred forage.
The flats, on occasion, can hold "populations" (scattered as they may be) of walleye ready to bite. The truth in this context is being able to key in on those forage items and to "match the hatch" so to speak. In the murky waters of the Red color does make a significant difference. Size however, is not as significant (so long as the bait being presented is larger in size). As an example of the latter, on one trolling day I decided to follow the axiom of seeing what the fish wanted and so presented floating Rapalas sizes no.7-18 on a three-way rig, while my partner presented Cordell - walleye divers in the sizes 6&7 both in colors that have traditionally produced on the Red. Both hooks produced. But, when colors where changed neither were bit. The fish were showing a usual preference for a particular color. The actually presentation of the bait, on that day, didn't really seem to matter all that much either. I've put an inline weight in front of baits, I used a bottom bouncer and I used a three-way system (not to mention the use of depth specific cranks) – all presentation have worked. I've yet to try boards, snap weights and lead core but I see no reason why these approaches should not work.
So what's the color for the Red and Winnipeg River? I've personally had luck with the yellow shad raps just re-introduced after a short hiatus in production. This same yellow with a black back can also be "the one" lure fish will bite on some days. This might mean changing lure companies. Cordell as an example made a series (discontinued) based on Secchi dish reading and water clarity. On some days these black backed yellow of blue lures really produced. Another productive lure of late on the Winnipeg River has been Rapala's newer "clown" color. I've had other color combinations work to varying degrees of success; pearl, watermelon, fire-tiger, Chrome silver and blue and my own home made air bushed color combos –"I'm going to hit the mother load one day eh?!)
What about temperature and the old adage that once temperatures go below 40 F, get out the jig. Well I would have to agree to a larger extent with this adage for the fall. I'm not too sure about it when we start to talk spring. However, using a crank and trolling on sunny mild days in the fall has been a good for me when water temperatures have been in the low 40's F. I've been know to say that the fish will let you know what they want and if after 3 hours of jigging nothing happens, maybe it's time to change tactics.
One thing is for sure for those who are going to begin out on the trolling gang: You'll have days where things will be rather "coal" like but other days that will sparkle with iridescent green/gold, walleye that is! I've returned to many a memorable location only to be left with those memories. I do have some "go to" flats but even they've come up flat more than occasionally but that's fishing eh!.