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Jensen: Big baits lead to big fish in the fall

Jensen: Big baits lead to big fish in the fall


A recent fishing trip and memories of other fall fishing experiences reminded me why, to many anglers, autumn is a special time for fishing. I’m also reminded of how active so many species of fish can be at this time of year. Right now and until ice-up, almost every predator fish that swims in fresh water is willing to eat, but there are things you should keep in mind if you want to catch them.

If you want to catch a true trophy, fall is the time to do so. To up your odds of doing so, remember that big fish want big baits this time of year.

It’s the expended energy thing. A big fish would rather eat one big meal than several small ones. That’s how that fish got big. I remember when I was guiding back in the 80’s: We caught more big walleyes, bass, muskies, and northern pike in the fall than we did during the rest of the year.

Prior to that time I had heard a lot about the big bait/big fish in the fall philosophy, but during my autumn guiding days, I realized that this was reality. During the summer we fished for muskies a lot. Musky lures are typically larger than lures used for other fish. We caught muskies and pike in the summer on those big baits. But in the fall, in addition to muskies and pike, we caught lots of big walleyes and some giant smallmouth bass on musky baits. At first we thought this was a fluke occurrence, but after having it happen frequently, we started to believe we’d catch a couple of big walleyes every day while fishing muskies, and we usually did.

If you want to catch lots of walleyes or bass, tie on a Fire-Ball jig with a three-inch fathead minnow. In the fall, that set-up doesn’t stand a chance in a school of 14- to 17-inch walleyes, and a live-bait rig with a four-inch red-tail or sucker will do the same thing. But if a truly big walleye or smallmouth is your goal, go with the big stuff.

Keep this in mind: In some lakes the walleyes will be in deep water: 30 feet and deeper is not uncommon. We need to leave those fish alone if we’re catching and releasing. When a fish is hooked in deep water and brought it to the surface quickly, the pressure change does bad things to the fish, especially the small ones. Those fish usually can’t be released successfully. If you want, catch a few for the table and then go looking for shallower fish.

Nice weather in the fall is good for fishing, and it’s great to be out in. But sometimes conditions that are a little nasty are pretty good also. This is when you really appreciate good foul weather gear.

From Clear Lake in Iowa to below the Lake Oahe dam in South Dakota to Leech Lake in Minnesota and Little Bay de Noc in Michigan, I’ve experienced some outstanding night-fishing for walleyes, both trolling and fishing from the shore, when the wind was blowing pretty hard. The best wind when you’re fishing from shore is a wind that you’re looking into, so that can get a bit uncomfortable. But when the walleyes are in, they’re going to bite. Tie on a Lucky Shad or a KVD 300 Series Jerk Bait. If they’re there, they’ll eat those baits.

Autumn truly is a wonderful time to be on the water, and to a certain extent, you can decide what size of fish you’re going to catch. Put the proper bait in front of the fish you want to catch and your chances of getting bit will be very good. There is still time left for you to discover, or re-discover, this for yourself.

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