Bulking Up for Fall Walleye
By Daniel Kiazyk
It's surprising that as the days grow shorter and the temps start to dip into the single digits how I catch myself opening the fridge without thinking or nibbling with increased frequency for no reason on this or that favorite snack. Fall does that to us and I suspect it does the same to most animals in nature……walleyes included. What many of us don't realize is that "upping" the size of our baits in the fall can pay out big, big walleyes that is.
So, I start my reflection with a biological observation that as fall moves upon us walleyes start eating, eating big time. Why? Well, after supporting their growing proportions all summer long in a warmer environment, eating this or that bait, the walleye's metabolic rate hits a certain level of equilibrium. The actual amount of forage taken by these fish will depend upon the amount of forage available. However as fall's cooling winds and shorter days settle in and cool down the watery environment of the walleye there is on their part a need to maintain the previously described established summer equilibrium. The result of the tension is that fish will start to feed more heavily to make up for the cooler temps and the increased caloric requirements of this new environment. Will this last a long time….. no not really… eventually fish will just run out of energy or they will simply "cool" off to a point where less food will be required (remember ol' marble eyes is cold blooded).
It is however during this cooling off period that anglers can take advantage of a walleye's increasingly voracious appetite by bulking up his/her bait. What? Don't walleye want a finesse presentation, the smallest jig possible on the lightest lure available? Well, yeah sometimes, but in the context being described these fish are hungry and subtleties aren't of essence, rather the opposite is at work. Remember the fridge analogy used at the beginning of this article. These fish are probably going to want something a little "more" to accommodate their newly developed seasonal hunger.
What does this mean? Simply put, it means that I'm not adverse to using a lot heavier equipment, heavier jigs and beefier tackle as a whole. Bait, too, can be much larger (jumbo minnows rule at this time of year). I'll also bulk up my jigs using plastic tails (powerbait, gulp etc.) to add even more bulk to what I have to present to fish. Another thing that I'll do with these bigger baits is to slow down the presentation as the season progresses. Near the end of the season I'll often resort to a "dead-stick" approach with these bigger baits.
Having such a large bait does present its own challenges. The real challenge with these larger baits seems to be know when to set the hook: Too long a wait to set the hook and your performing thoracic surgery and too short a wait and your loosing a fish either when they first find your bait or even near the end on a first flip of the tail at the surface. Knowing when to "set" the hook can be an issue but for the most part it isn't. Hooking small fish fit into the latter problem more than do the bigger fish your probably after at this time of year.
Having a stinger trailer is a significant consideration when using larger baits as they often convert those smaller fish already mentioned or just fish that may just miss the bait or be biting a bit short… for whatever reason. The stingers I like are ones that I'll make using smaller split rings, 10# test and a quality treble hook. The split shot ring will be dipped in tool dip. The surface created over the split ring will not allow the main hook to lose the stinger.
Perhaps the biggest challenge to using this approach is getting out of the summertime frame of mind and to take the step to start bulking up for fall. I started into this fall bulk-up mode by putting on two or three minnows and having great success. Eventually the repeated success of using two or three minnows convinced me of what some others were saying….
In the Fall you can size up the proportions of the baits you present to walleye. The really interesting aspect to the preceding concept is the intriguing potential that presents itself when one thinks of the variety of different scents and prepared plastics/vegetable products - bulking up for fall isn't only a good idea….. well, it's a natural.