It pays to live out on the edge when you fish in the fall in Northern Ontario. And the later into the season that autumn progresses, the more you want to be on the precipice. It is where I found myself three times last week, harassing the walleye, smallmouth bass and yellow perch populations in Northwestern Ontario's spectacular Sunset Country.
And in case you're still wondering – "the edge" is the actual rim or breakline associated with the many main lake structural features like underwater points, shelves, reefs and shoals that collect and gather the fish.
These same types of areas have been attracting schools of fish throughout the spring and summer, but in the warmer water months you'll often find the fish scattered right across the features, and when they're relating to long structures like fingers and points, you even find them strung out down the slopes using a variety of depths.
That is much less likely where you're going to find the fish now, however, when they're bunching up big time, feeding heavily, and preparing to slide off the edge of the structure, down to the transition where the base of the hard, rocky features merge with and blend into the soft, main lake basin where they will spend the winter.
Indeed, when you're fortunate as I am to live so close to so many world class Northern Ontario waters, you can make an interesting study of this fall phenomenon, which I've been doing of late.
Case in point: at the beginning of the month, when the water temperature finally fell out of the 60° F (16° C) zone and dipped into the high 50° F (10° C) range, I noticed the fish starting to pull away from the tops of the structures and slowly starting to work their way out to the edges. It wasn't dramatic, but it was noticeable. Then, about ten days ago, it became much more conspicuous that the walleye and smallmouth bass in particular were drifting ever closer to the rim.
Something else that I've found interesting this year, is that this typical fall progression has happened despite the magnificent warm, sunny, blue bird conditions that have prevailed across much of Northern Ontario. Notwithstanding the almost summer-like state of affairs, however, the fish haven't been looking at the calendar. They know it is autumn and time to start making their way out to the edge.
In fact, last Thursday, when the water temperature registered 51.5° F (11° C) on the Humminbird, I even caught several smallmouth over the edge and slightly down the slope. The reason it was significant was that for the first time this fall, those fish didn't actually show up on the sonar screen because they were hidden in the "blind spot".
That is the "bad news".
The "good news" is that they were so ravenous they were streaking up so quickly off the bottom to grab the bait and then racing back down that not being able to see them on the screen wasn't a major hindrance.
Still, it highlights an important fall consideration. If you know or suspect there are fish relating to a specific breakline, rim or structural edge, it pays to fish it even if you don't actually see fish on your sonar screen.
That is not usually what I'd advise you to do because I am not a fan of fishing when I can't see fish on the display, but I make a major concession at this time of the year for two reasons. The first, as I just mentioned is that the bass, walleye and pike can be hidden in the blind spot on the deepwater slope side of the break. The second reason is that as the water chills down in the fall, the fish often relate ever progressively closer to the bottom and you can miss seeing them between the boulders.
I am not entirely sure why they do this, although I suspect it's a deep water ambush strategy, because they show no hesitation whatsoever to scooting straight up five or more feet to whack the daylights out of a bait hovering over their heads.
As a matter of fact, they seem to prefer your bait to be suspended above them, rather than sitting smack dab on the end of their noses, which is why I tend to use a slightly heavier than normal jig and soft plastic trailer that I can better monitor on the sonar screen in breezy conditions.
Ditto if I am using a drop shot rig. I'll tend to use a 1/16th to 1/8th ounce heavier than normal tungsten weight on the end of my line and I'll tie my hook 16-inches or more above the sinker.
It is all part of the fun of catching walleye, smallmouth bass, northern pike and yellow perch in the fall, in Northern Ontario, where it pays to live out on the edge.
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Author bio: Gord Pyzer is well-known in Canadian fishing circles as Doctor Pyzer because of his work for Ontario's Ministry of Natural Resources. He's now one of Canada's top fishing communicators and a member of the Canadian Angler Hall of Fame. Gord is a two time winner of Northern Ontario Tourist Outfitters Presidents Cup and is an internationally sought speaker, tournament angler and co-hosts the Real Fishing Radio Show with Bob Izumi.
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