With the long winter that is about to settle in on us here in Manitoba and Northwest Ontario, serious anglers know that time is running out to get in those last few trips in the boat.
Fortunately, fall fishing is some of the finest of the year, for both numbers and size for most species of fish. There is just something about the cold weather period for seeing the biggest fish of every species. When I think about the biggest bass, walleye, pike and musky that I have seen, most have been during the cold weather period when water temperatures are below 55 degrees.
With time running out on this season, here are some of my best suggestions for a fall fishing trip that you will be able to brag to your friends about.
Smallmouth Bass: Rainy Lake
Having fished most of the best bass fisheries across Northwest Ontario over the years, my favourite body of water to fish for smallmouths bass is Rainy Lake. It’s big, with a lot of good bass water, it gets little pressure and the smallmouths get big there. Back when the Labelle’s Birch Point tournament was taking place in late September throughout the first decade of the 2000’s, it regularly took 21 or 22 pound limits for five fish to win the tournament.
As the season progresses, smallies move out to main lake structure, long points and flats or humps. Focus your efforts on 15-25 feet of water and drive over potential spots, looking for fish on your electronics before you fish.
Fall smallmouths focus almost entirely on eating minnows like cisco and smelt in the fall so your lures should be minnow imitating. Four and five inch soft jerkbaits like the Northland Impulse Smelt Minnow, rigged on a ¼ ounce jig are tough to beat. If fish are relating to the bottom, dragging white coloured tubes can be a hot tactic. If you plan a trip to Rainy Lake, book a cabin at Labelle’s Birch Point Camp or Camp Narrows Lodge, both located in the Northwest Arm of the lake. I have been to both places and highly recommend either of them.
Walleye: Fly in to Paradise
When you talk walleye fishing in Sunset Country there are literally hundreds of great bodies of water that I could recommend. Lake of the Woods, Rainy, Lac Seul and the Winnipeg River are all good bets but if you want a trip you can remember, try to get yourself on a weekend trip into a fly-in only lake.
Many outfitters across the region will offer end of the season deals into lakes where you can catch a walleye on almost every drop. These trips, where you typically stay at an outpost cabin on a remote lake are very fun for a group of friends, starting from the time you take off until you return home. It’s great to have no cell phone service for a few days in a wilderness setting where the fishing is top notch. Of course there is the option to tie some hunting into a trip as well, for small game, waterfowl or big game animals.
When you look for fall walleyes, fishing around areas with some current is always a good bet. These places tend to congregate baitfish late in the season and can hold loads of fish. On water without any natural current flow, mud flats at the mouth of shallow bays can be overlooked hotspots in the fall.
Halley’s Camps and Maynard Lake Lodge are places that I have visited before and experienced great fishing but there are a bunch of good fly-in options across the region.
Muskies: Lake of the Woods
Lake of the Woods certainly gets more attention from musky anglers each fall than any other water in the region because you have a shot at big fish on every trip out and the numbers of muskies are as good as anywhere else. It should be noted that the Winnipeg River and Eagle Lake always kick out monster fish every year as well. Trolling large minnow imitating crankbaits has long been the top tactic for catching fall muskies as they follow spawning cisco and whitefish into shallow water in predictable current or gravel areas but a new technique is becoming more popular amongst hardcore anglers.
Vertical jigging with large soft baits like a Bondy Bait or Bulldawg has been putting some big fish in the boat over the past few years and as anglers gain more experience with this technique, more refinement of it will take place. Tackle will get better and anglers will be able to distinguish hot spots by looking at a map.
The best spots to jig are neck down areas with some current. Drifting through these spots, jigging these big baits up and down just above the bottom is the best way to make contact with fish. Bites are devastating and nearly rip the rod out of your hand! Humps and main lake points with the presence of bait around them are also worth a look late in the season.
You need to use a heavy rod to handle these big baits. My favourite is the G. Loomis 8′ Ex-Heavy Musky Rod. Pair it up with a Shimano Calcutta 400 reel and some 80 pound Power Pro line. If you’re rod is to light you won’t be able to work the big bait properly. Of course there are some great resorts around Lake of the Woods to stay at for a late season trip. Look around for some of the camps that stay open well into October. My advice for Lake of the Woods is that there are better numbers of fish in the south end of the lake, in the Nestor Falls area with a shot at a giant being better in the north end of the lake near Kenora.
Crappies: Winnipeg River
Just like with the other fish that I’ve mentioned, it’s tough to pick just one body of water to recommend for fall crappie fishing, but the Winnipeg River a good bet because it has several basins that hold populations of crappies, it’s charted pretty well and it does not see a lot of angling pressure. Of course Lake of the Woods and Rainy are good, as are a whole list of smaller inland lakes.
The secret to finding the motherload of fall crappies is to scour the deep basins of the bays that they live in with your electronics, looking for fish. Typically crappies like to suspend a couple of feet off the bottom so they are usually easy to spot on the sonar. They like deep water, but it’s relative to the depth of the basin you are fishing. Generally you want to look between 20 – 40 feet.
When it comes to presentation, fall crappies are usually quite aggressive so finding the fish is the most important thing. Once you find them they are easy to catch. Small jigs tipped with soft plastics are good, as are small ice fishing spoons and swimming jigs like a Puppet Minnow. I like to tip both of these baits with some scented plastic maggots to add a little bit of scent and colour.
If you know of an bay or lake that might have crappies, fall is the time to look for fish because they are usually near the deepest water in these places. If you can find fish that have not been found by other anglers, then you’ll see a lot of big fish in the 14″ plus range and great action.
It’s a long winter in our part of Canada but we have some of the best fishing in the country so make sure you squeeze in one or two more trips this fall. For a complete listing of resort options for Ontario’s Sunset Country, check out www.ontariossunsetcountry.ca. This site has a ton of information for planning your dream fishing trip. Of course, you can reach out to me anytime through my website or on social media if you have any questions about fishing in Northwest Ontario.