For most of us that live in central Canada there is probably a little bit of depression that comes at the end of our beautiful summers. I know there is for me. I enjoy ice fishing and having different seasons, but I really love our summers, the nice weather and great fishing. Fortunately for us anglers, fall fishing is hot for almost all of the fish species in our lakes. I think the fish know that the long winter is coming and they are in the mood to eat and bulk up for the long winter. So keep that boat going for a few extra weeks and take advantage of the great fishing opportunities.
Crappies School Up
An advantage to fishing for crappies in the fall, beyond the fact that the fishing can be really good is that you can also find fishing spots that are going to be good all winter long. The seasonal movement of crappies are that they group up late in the summer in the deeper basins of the lakes and bays that they live in and they spend the entire fall and winter cold water period in these locations.
These are usually mud flats, ideally in the 20-40 foot range, where they feed on the many invertebrates that inhabit the bottom. The fish that we clean are usually loaded with small, black bugs though occasionally we find small perch and shiner minnows. Electronics are the key to finding these fish. Cruising these flats with traditional 2D sonar works great for finding crappies since they are usually located off the bottom. One thing that I have learned over the past couple of years fishing the FLW Tour bass tournaments in the southern U.S. is that we can use the Side-Imaging function on our Humminbird units to cover much more water and find fish. The guys fishing the Tour use it to find bass on many of the southern lakes so I spent a significant amount of time doing it and am getting better at it. Crappies are very easy to find on the Side-Imaging screen because the bottom on these mud flats is generally very bland and dark so anything off the bottom shows up very well. Crappies and other fish look like small “tic-tacs” on the screen. The advantage is that you can cover much more water than you can on a traditional 2D sonar.
Once you find a school of fish, put a waypoint on it, then, get on top of them, drop jigs tipped with small plastics and start catching!
Muskies on the Main Drag
It’s well known that most of the biggest muskies of the season are caught during the fall season on lakes across Northwest Ontario’s Sunset Country Region. The reason for this is that fish show up in predictable locations, following massive schools of fall spawning ciscos and whitefish.
On many of waters, these predictable locations are usually found near neck-down current areas that are near main basin areas of these lakes.
Where casting blades or topwater remains the best way to catch fish during the summer season, trolling large crankbaits is a great way to make contact with big muskies in the fall. Large, eight to twelve inch hard baits that dive between 10-20 feet are the best. Making bottom contact every so often helps.
Again, paying attention to electronics is a good way to find those big schools of bait and when you find it, there is a good chance that there will be a musky or two nearby. Most of the big musky waters in Sunset Country; Lake of the Woods, Lac Seul, Wabigoon and Rainy Lake all have a good current flow moving through them, so finding these neck-down areas are not hard at all. Plan a milk run of spots to keep you going all day and eventually you’ll make contact with fish around these high profile spots. Though trolling through the narrow, heavy current areas can certainly produce fish, it’s good to troll a few hundred yards on each side of the narrow areas because these fish move around patrolling a good sized area.
Smallmouths on Umbrella Rigs
Across the bass fishing landscape, umbrella rigs have produced some of the best tournament catches and big fish catches across North America over the past few years. At Lake Chickamauga in Tennessee, guides have been putting their clients on 13 pound plus bass and five fish limits approaching 50 pounds have been caught on these rigs. These are fish that are not getting caught on any other technique.
Umbrella rigs do a great job of imitating schools of baitfish and during the fall season, smallmouths in our part of the World are looking for baitfish. Though umbrella rigs have not really caught on in our area my friend Jamie Bruce, the recent champion of the 2014 Kenora Bass International has had some great catches over the past couple of years throwing “the rig” during the fall.
Bruce says that the key is that you have to be persistent with it. “You can fish it for a while and not get any bites, then you’ll hit the right edge and you’ll catch two at a time or fish on multiple casts. And it selects for the biggest fish in the schools”. I have had success throwing umbrella rigs rigged with the Jackall Glossy Shad swimbaits. They are a nice profile and very lifelike. Four inch, white twister tail grubs will work as well. In Ontario we can use four hooks on our rig, so the typical umbrella rigs that come with five wires must be rigged with one dummy bait (without a hook). (Editors Note- In Manitoba you are only allowed to use two hooks on the umbrella rig) Finally, you don’t need to use a lot of weight on your jigs to get the rig down in the water column. With four or five 1/8 ounce jigs, you can get the bait down to the 15 foot range fairly easily. I like to throw them on a 7’11” Shimano Cumara Umbrella Rig rod with 20 pound fluorocarbon.
Fall is prime time to catch the biggest fish in the system and not only for the species discussed here but for walleye, pike and largemouth bass as well. Keep that boat out until the end of the open water season and you’ll have a few days that you won’t soon forget!