Shoreline Minnow Migration— The displaced bait species typically end up on rocky stretches of shoreline or best of all, on rocky points and reef areas. For those who fish the Great Lakes, these are the minnows stacked on jetties while the weather is still nice. In addition to various rocky outcrops, these moving baitfish will be cruising through areas of subtle current like causeways or channels connecting lakes as well as narrows or other pinch points that funnel the homeless bait to areas walleyes can use for ambush.
False Spawning Run—Radiotelemetry studies show that a sizable portion of the walleye population makes a temporary up-lake run close to the areas where they will spawn in the spring. You’ll catch these fish in the same places you catch them during the pre-spawn every year—tailraces of dams, flats near the mouths of spawning streams, major bends with access to the channel, and perhaps even in the streams and rivers near spawning stretches.
Biologists don’t have clear proof why lots of walleyes make this false run, but it definitely happens in many water bodies. I believe the walleyes make this run through the spawning area to feed on minnows and crayfish, which removes those possible egg and fry predators before the spawn.
More Minnow Migrations —As fall progresses more minnows migrate. Ciscos spawn in the fall and move inshore from their normal open-water habitat. This stimulates a major walleye binge in lakes that harbor ciscos. Out West on the Columbia River, introduced American Shad fry make a downriver run to the coast to grow. This, of course, also happens in rivers of the Northeast where American Shad are native. Because walleye are on the feed, minnow migrations of any kind draw walleyes in abundance. On a calm evening, you’ll see these minnows dimpling the surface in profuse numbers. That’s your cue to get the rods and go!
Setting Up for Winter—This is a late fall phenomenon where the walleyes start settling in near or at the spots they’ll hang out through the winter. This is almost like pre-ice fishing where you fish for walleyes that are still more active than they’ll be in a few weeks, but on the same GPS coordinates you saved from ice fishing last winter. This is the classic late fall pattern where walleyes are working steep breaks near deeper water.
Sometimes you’ll get lucky and find them pouring out of the depths and into the shallows to feed. More commonly, you’ll pick them off one at a time on the deep breaks with big 5- to 7-inch minnows on a Lindy Rig or a Heddon Sonar blade bait jigged vertically to vibe them in.
Fishing Sonars deep is a super option for regions where live minnows are prohibited (like the lakes nearest my home or my favorite travel destination, the Columbia River). Instead of the summertime ripping retrieve/jigging action, try toning it down as the water cools. Once the water hits the 40s, I jig with strokes of less than 6 inches…just enough to feel one or two vibrations. Pause on the downstroke and set hard at the slightest resistance. If you have to double-clutch the hookset your odds of success decrease significantly. These deep walleyes are more apt to strike subtly rather than slamming your Sonar. So be ready!