Walleye fans have options in the fall, from jigging up fat river-run ’eyes to live-bait rigging big minnows along deep, steep structure. One of my favorite tactics as the open-water season winds down is tackling walleyes on the troll in shallow water.
Few know the drill like veteran guide and Fish Ed television host Jon Thelen. Hailing from central Minnesota, this longtime NAFC friend taught me the ins and outs of the autumn trolling trade on our mutual home waters of legendary Mille Lacs Lake. But the tactics hold water on fisheries across the Walleye Belt, of course.
The pattern centers on hungry ’eyes focused on filling their bellies along prime rock or gravel shorelines laden with forage such as fall-spawning ciscoes and tullibees, or heat-seeking baitfish including a variety of minnows, along with juvenile yellow perch, shad and sunfish of Pringle’s proportions.
Walleyes often roam long stretches of shoreline, which makes trolling an efficient means of targeting them. It’s worth noting that the night bite can be stellar all fall, particularly around a full moon, but daytime action generally picks up once water temps fall into the 40s.
Crankbaits get the call day or night. They cover water faster than other presentations, and offer appealing actions and profiles. Thelen’s top picks include deep-bodied baits such as Lindy’s Shadling, although banana-shaped ’eye candy works, too. Here, Thelen likes a Lindy River Rocker, which yields a wide, rocking wobble that helps it stand out from schools of baitfish. Colors run the gamut from natural, match-the-hatch schematics to less-realistic eye-popping patterns.
Key depths are often 10 feet or less, which plays to the art of long-lining baits on 10-pound mono anywhere from 120 to 150 feet behind the boat. Thelen pays out line until the lure ticks bottom, then cranks the reel handle five or six times. While trolling at speeds up to 2 mph, he hand-holds the rod and spices up the presentation with pulls and pauses. Often, such irregularities are just the ticket for tripping the triggers of hungry fall walleyes that other anglers overlook.