Finding fall walleye in natural lakes

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As we motored across the lake, I was glued to my Humminbird, watching the ever changing bottom structure, excited to start exploring and fishing.  The terrain looked like we were driving over sand dunes, steadily up and down; moving over 6 foot flats, then plummeting to 30 foot holes.  We were driving across a new lake, heading to setup camp for a three day fishing trip, and I was exploring the lake as we went, trying to find a place to start fishing.

We found a gorgeous sand beach, sheltered from the wind, unloaded our gear and made camp, and got straight to the lake.  It was a breezy day, and we started fishing some nearby islands, hoping the rocky windward shore would be filled with hungry walleye.  After hitting a few shallower rocky shorelines, with no success, we began exploring, looking for some deeper structure, and more importantly, looking for fish.  As we moved between two points, we sat in what at first look, appeared to be a rather uninteresting looking place. But as I slowly cruised across the lake, I watched the bottom drop from around 12feet of water near the island, straight to a nearly 30foot flat, and as the bottom dropped, it lit up with fish.  I immediately stopped the boat, and watched my sonar marking arcs all over the bottom, looking suspiciously like walleye, holding tight to bottom.  I immediately marked the spot on my sonar/GPS unit, and we geared up.   It was a bit of a rough windy afternoon, in almost 30 feet of water, so I dropped the Minn Kota Terrova, taking advantage of the spot lock mode, an amazing feature for anglers.  The Terrova’s I-Pilot uses an internal GPS to keep the boat in place, constantly adjusting the trolling motor to keep you in position.  With rough wind or current, it holds the boat on your spot, allowing you to stay on the fish.  This was ideal in this scenario, allowing us to fish light jigs, keeping them right on bottom without drifting around over deep water.  I used the trolling motor to slowly move back across this deep flat, looking for fish on the sonar, and didn’t take long to get back to my GPS mark, and back to the fish.  As we anchored with the Terrova, I watched my sonar, marking fish steadily on bottom.  In this slightly deeper water, the walleye were tight to bottom, and showed as small arcs just above bottom, or almost appearing like a hump along bottom.  With some practice, anglers can become proficient at reading their sonar, and finding fish even when locked onto bottom.  Using the zoom feature on sonar is another trick to help find fish, especially in deeper water. Once we anchored overtop of these fish, it was game on, and over the next hour or so we put dozens of walleye in the boat, having an absolute blast.

Using a good sonar can make a huge difference for anglers, especially when targeting deep water walleye.  I use my Humminbird everywhere I go, and rely on it for finding depth and structure when walleye fishing, but when fishing in this deeper water, it is an excellent tool for locating fish.  I find it’s far more effective in deeper water, as it’s more difficult to find and mark fish when fishing weed edges in 10 feet of water, but over a 20-30 foot hole, you can easily find fish using a sonar.  This coupled with a GPS unit is ideal, allowing you to mark locations of fish on your GPS/sonar unit, to stay on the spot, or return to it another time.

One thing to consider when fishing deep water, is survivability of released fish, and if you’re fishing in the 30 foot plus range, released fish may not survive, so this is definitely something to consider when fishing deeper water.  Trying to stay under this 30 foot range is likely wise, and will hopefully increase their odds of survival.

As good as fishing rocky points, shorelines and islands can be, often finding structure mid lake can be a deadly tactic for walleye, especially late into the summer and fall, when fish are deeper or on mid lake humps.  Having a quality sonar unit is key for finding this deeper structure, and deep water fish.  I use a Humminbird 788CI sonar/GPS combo, and with the split screen mode it allows me to watch the sonar and the GPS map at the same time, showing me bottom structure and fish, as well as maps and waypoints I’ve marked previously on the GPS. With advancements in sonar units, some feature a side scan option, giving you incredible detail not just below you but out to both sides, really opening your eyes to what is actually under the surface.  Some of the new Humminbird Helix models now offer an auto chart feature; wherein it maps out bottom structure for you on your sonar/GPS unit, creating depth charts for any lake you fish as you cover water.

Fishing deeper water and using electronics to find and target walleye can be especially productive come fall, with walleye often in deeper water, and at times they can be difficult to find.  Whether you’re exploring new lakes for the first time, or fishing your favourite walleye hole, with decent electronics, and a bit of exploring, you can have a lot of fun, and find those hidden walleye in the depths you may otherwise have passed right by.

Fish ID Alarm
When using your sonar, I recommend turning off the fish ID alarm, and instead watch the actual arcs and marks on your sonar. With some time, you’ll learn what it shows as fish, bait, weeds or logs, or interference in the water. Otherwise your unit will mark all these items as fish, and make you wonder why you’re not catching them all.

 

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About Author

Tom Armstrong is an angler and hunter living in Northwestern Ontario. With a real passion for the outdoors, Tom spends every spare moment either hunting, fishing, or planning for one of these. Living along the North shore of Lk Superior, Tom spends a great deal of time on Superior and tributaries along the North shore, fishing salmon, lake trout, steelhead and Brook trout, with a real passion for the Nipigon area. Tom is often accompanied by his wife who shares this love for the outdoors, and their two labs. Tom shares this love for the outdoors through his work as an Outdoors writer and photographer.

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