Get Ready for Trophy Fall Fish

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Over the past several months as we’ve gone through the spring and summer fishing seasons we have been able to catch plenty of bass, crappie, walleye, pike and muskies in relatively shallow water.  Now that fall is upon us, anglers need to understand that many of these fish have moved to main basin areas and in most cases, deeper water.  The good news is for anglers, all of these fish are active as they feed heavily to prepare for another long winter.

Fish with Larger Baits

Throughout the summer, most fish will feed opportunistically on whatever they can fit in their mouth.  Crayfish, bugs and all kinds of little critters are on the menu to go along with several varieties of baitfish.
In the fall the main focus of most fish species for foraging is baitfish like smelt, shiners and ciscoes.  With the exception of crappie that will gorge on invertebrates emerging from mud basins, most fish are eating minnows.  The reason that larger baits can work so well in the fall is that many of these bait fish have had the whole season to grow so these fish are seeing bigger bait fish than they have all season.

When it comes to smallmouth bass, it is not uncommon to see these fish puke up six to eight inch long ciscoes in September and October as they get ready for winter.  If you want to catch a trophy smallmouth, find a hump or long point where these bass are schooled up and throw a larger than normal swimbait, bucktail jig or fluke, I’m talking six inch plus baits, to target bigger fish.

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Smallmouths go into a hibernation mode over the winter and eat very little so they are aggressive in the fall as they try to build up as much energy as they can to carry them through the winter.  This is why the fishing can be so good.

I like to look for fish on my Humminbird Helix 10 machine, then get about half a cast away and flip my baits into the school.  A ½ ounce homemade bucktail jig is one of my favourite baits to use for this technique.  A 4.8” Jackall Rhythm Wave swimbait fished on a ½ oz jig is a good alternative.  You can use these swimbaits on an umbrella rig and catch fish as well.  Look for the bass in the 18 to 28 foot range on most waters.  These hair jigs and swimbaits are also great for covering water in the fall and finding smallmouths because they emulate exactly, what these fish are eating.

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Trust Your Electronics

There is no time during the open water season that your electronics are your friend more than during the fall.  Since most fish are located on main lake structure, visually seeing them on your electronics, regardless of the species, makes you more efficient because the whole time your lure is in the water, it is in the vicinity of the fish that you’re trying to catch.

Last year in late September my friend Bob Mahoney from Shimano was up fishing with me for a few days on Lake of the Woods.  We were fishing for a bit of everything, catching some bass, walleye, pike and after a while we wanted to try and catch a lake trout or two.  I ran to an area that has been good in the past and pulled up on a hump that topped out at about 40 feet.  As I pulled up on the hump my Humminbird started showing me all kinds of fish stacked up in the bottom five feet of the water column.  I have fished for lake trout many times over the years and have gotten into some good schools of fish before but I had never seen anything like this.  It looked like walleyes were stacked on the bottom.  I thought maybe they were giant walleyes.

I gave Bob a bait to tie on while I dropped my five inch Impulse Smelt Minnow down under my bow mount trolling motor.  When my bait was about half way to the bottom two fish started racing up to meet my bait.  As I stopped its fall, bang, a fish was hooked up and I reeled in a ten pound lake trout.  I quickly unhooked the fish and released it, dropping my bait back down.  I was hooked up about as fast again, before Bob had even got his bait in the water.  For the next couple of hours we literally reeled in lake trout one after the other, it was incredible.

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Bust Out the Ice Baits

When it comes to fishing in deeper water, lures that get down to the bottom quickly are often the most efficient.  In recent years there has been quite a bit written about using ice fishing baits like the Northland Puppet Minnow or Jigging Rap for open water walleyes.

I first had my eyes opened to this tactic by my friend Dusty Minke, a touring walleye pro from Minnesota who has made many trips to Sunset Country over the years to fish with me.  There is no better time to use these baits than in the fall because as I mentioned earlier these fish are already keyed in on minnow forage and since they are in deeper water these baits get in their face quickly.

The key to fishing with the Puppet Minnow is to jig the bait in short quick hops, so the bait moves 1-2 feet off the bottom at a time.  The plastic tail on the rear of the bait makes it swim erratically, which drives fish nuts and triggers them to strike.

In addition to walleyes, you can also catch smallmouths, lake trout and pike on these jigs.  The smaller size work very well for crappies as well.  I like to fish them on a 7 foot medium action spinning rod, my choice being a G. Loomis NRX 842S.  I like to use 10 lb Power Pro braid as my main line and an 8 lb fluorocarbon leader on a Shimano Stradic CI4 spinning reel.

Fall is the best time of year to catch a big fish of any species.  Everything is feeding and bulking up before our long Canadian winter so make the effort to get out on the water a few more times and I’m sure you’ll be glad you did!

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About Author

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Jeff Gustafson, known in the fishing world as "Gussy", grew up on the shores of Lake of the Woods in Kenora, Ontario. He took out his first guide trip at age 14 on Lake of the Woods and has made his living in the fishing/outdoor industry ever since. A graduate of the University of Manitoba, Gussy has always been self-employed as a fishing guide, outdoor writer and photographer as well as fishing promoter. Today his fishes the Bassmaster Elite Pro bass circuit and as many local bass tournaments as he can find the time to enter. You can find him online through his website at www.gussyoutdoors.com.

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