By Nick Simonson
Fall fishing can be as fast as the hunting on any given opener. From walleyes to smallmouth to late-season trout, adding a few quick casts to a day of hunting can produce a combination of memories from field to stream that aren’t soon forgotten. Actively feeding autumn fish provide great opportunities on the way back from a morning in the field, or a great evening pursuit after a day of walking in the uplands. Knowing where some of the top fall prospects for fast fishing, such as walleyes, smallies, and trout will be and how to angle for them this time of year will help keep good times on the rise as the leaves begin to fall.
Fall is feeding time for walleyes in lakes and rivers. With the decrease in daylight, these predators will be after their prey earlier in the evenings and will have a voracious appetite in preparation for the coming lean seasons. Additionally, cooler shallows will be more inviting to their efforts to inhale more energy than they expend. Those key moments to seek out hungry walleyes will still be dawn and dusk, but any time around September and October’s full moon is especially good. Circle Sept. 12 and Oct. 13 on the calendar this year, as both full moons fall on the weekend, making for some very convenient fishing. About half an hour before moonrise, be in place to cast to those prime areas, such as inflowing creeks, shallow structure, current breaks, funnels and other noted hot spots where predator and prey intersect and offer something a bit bigger in terms of baits in order to connect with aggressive ‘eyes. Stay under the glow of the full moon until the frenzy subsides – but be ready, it may take a few hours!
Larger jigs paired with bigger soft bodies like swimbaits that mimic minnows are a good starting point for finding fish in fall. Additionally, longer jerkbaits will catch the attention of foraging walleyes and offerings such as the Rapala Husky Jerk and X-Rap can pay off when they are seeking larger meals. Live bait can help add to the action as well, especially if walleyes are chowing down on this season’s set of fathead chubs, which can be found shallow in autumn. Match the hatch and get ready to catch some golden fall action.
Trout in the Shallows
As the cooler conditions of autumn take hold, the many deeper stocked trout lakes in North Dakota give up their summer stash of fat and feisty brown and rainbow trout which were planted for put-and-take fishing in late spring. After a season of hiding deep in the colder waters adjacent to earthen dams or the middle of certain natural lakes which were supplied with these species, trout will take to the shallows in the coming weeks as water temperatures become more tolerable to them. Being there to intercept can result in some of the fastest fishing of the year and adds a nice “cast” element to the blast of grouse, waterfowl or even pheasant hunting that most sportsmen are focused on in September and October.
It doesn’t take much to connect with these slippery salmonids which are feeding on the last of the warm-weather bounty of insects and small baitfish, and a handful of spoons and spinners, along with the right presentation will trigger a bite from an autumn trout. Find those stocked lakes with depths of 35 feet or more, then look for fish to be shallow. The later autumn gets, the easier it will be to find them from boat and from shore as weed lines begin to die off and casting areas in skinny water clear up. Trout will be aggressive from mid-September until ice-up, so burn fast-moving lures like spinners and spoons, along with small crankbaits to connect with them, as they feed on the last of the flashy forage. Add a handful of jigs and curly-tailed grubs to the mix to round out a small tacklebox for fun fall trout fishing.
Brown Bass on the Breaks
Much as smallies will make those sporadic forays into the spring shallows after a day or two of warm weather in April or May, look for them to be moving between deep water and near-shore structure as autumn’s oscillating weather patterns come in and out of the region. They too will be targeting the last of the crayfish, aquatic insects and the baitfish moving around in the changing fall waters and will be driven to feed as they enter a near-dormant stage in winter where they hold deep along breaks and don’t do much until ice-off.
After a day or two of high temperatures and sunny skies, start the search up in the shallows with summer presentations of tubes, jigs and soft plastics for smallmouth bass. On those days where there’s a shift and things are cooler, or in the post-frontal conditions following it, look a bit deeper and use more subtle presentations like a slowly worked soft plastic stick such as a Senko wacky rigged on a circle hook. The classic float-n-fly combination consisting of a marabou jig rigged eight, ten, or fifteen feet or more beneath a slip float – depending on water clarity and fish location – works well on days with light breezes, as the movement of the surface causes the float to telegraph the subtle action to the materials which make up the lure.
This fall, with some simple tackle and insight into where the fish will be and how the changing environment affects them, adding some fins to the feathers from the field is a bit easier. Take advantage of the diverse fishing opportunities that are often overlooked when many outdoorsmen are focused on the movement of a good bird dog or a flight of ducks coming into the decoys, and don’t forget to add some cast to this autumn’s blast for an even more exciting season.
Featured Photo: Walleyes under the full moon in September and October certainly add to the depth of excitement available in autumn throughout the upper Midwest. Simonson Photo.