Great Lakes Fishing During October Is Extraordinary…
October brings good news and bad news for sportsmen of the Great Lakes region. It seems that just about every pursuit in the outdoors is peaking during the month of October. The bad news is there simply isn’t enough time to do it all.
To those outdoorsmen who put away their fishing tackle to chase whitetails, ducks or upland birds, I completely understand. However, consider for just a moment how sweet it would be to box a double digit walleye.
There is without question no better time to fish for trophy class walleye than during October and early November.
There are lots of places an angler can target a trophy class walleye during October. My hands down favorite for more than two decades has been the region of Lake Erie near the town of Huron, Ohio. Located just east of the famous Bass Islands region, Huron is the center of some of the best fall walleye fishing on the planet. The number of double digit walleye taken between Huron and nearby Lorain to the east, is simply staggering.
The majority of visiting anglers launch out of the mouth of the Huron River. I prefer to travel a few miles further east to avoid the crowds and fish out of Cranberry Creek Marina. At Cranberry Creek I have a protected launch, access to bait, the regions largest selection of Reef Runner crankbaits, docking, ice, snacks and marine service should the need arise.
The best fishing conditions in the fall tend to coincide with Indian Summer weather. Calm conditions are perfect for covering lots of water quickly and locating the best schools of big fish. When the wind blows, it’s better to stay off the water and concentrate on ducks or deer until the weather improves.
When visiting Lake Erie in the fall, it’s nuts to plan a day trip. The weather changes literally in the blink of an eye, making it impossible to get on the water. My advice is to plan on at least three days of fishing and with a little luck, the weather will allow for fishing two out of those three days.
The best fall walleye fishing peaks when the water temperature drops below 50 degrees and remains good until the temperature drops below 40 degrees. Walleye are catchable in water colder than 40 degrees, but ultra slow trolling tactics must be employed.
The latest I’ve personally trolled up walleye on Lake Erie is around Christmas time in water about 35 degrees. The trolling peak occurs in late October and early November.
Fall is the ideal time to troll crankbaits and no other lure option is likely to produce as many fish or as many trophy class fish. Crankbaits work so well in the fall because walleye are keying on larger minnows and bait fish in an effort to pack on the pounds before winter. The larger minnow and minnow diving style crankbaits are hands down the best choice.
Shallow diving stickbaits fished in combination with snap weights to gain additional depth has long been one of my most productive fall trolling tactics. My go-to list of stickbaits includes the Rapala Husky Jerk series, Smithwick Rattlin’ Rogue, Storm Thunderstick, Reef Runner Ripstick, Bomber Long A and Yo-Zuri Crystal Minnow. I’ve taken double digit walleye on each and every one of these well established and easily located crankbaits.
My typical rig is to attach the crankbait using a No. 3 round snap and then to let out 50 feet of 12 pound test monofilament line. At the 50 foot mark, I put a snap weight onto the line and let out an additional 50 feet of line. Next I hook up the whole rig on an Off Shore Tackle Side-Planer board and send it out to the side 75-100 feet.
The size of snap weight used depends on the depth I’m trying to target. Most stickbaits will run approximately 8 feet deep with 100 feet of line out. If I add a one ounce snap weight, that depth increases to about 12 feet. If I need to get down 15-20 feet I opt for a ounce and half snap weight. If the fish are deeper than 20 feet, I select a two ounce snap weight.
Because snap weights sink, the depth these lures will reach becomes somewhat speed dependent. Mostly I’m trolling at speeds from 1.5 to 2 mph and favoring the slower speeds to start. If the fish are snapping pretty good, I speed up a notch or two to help cover more water.
An equally productive second trolling option focuses on diving minnow baits. A handful of diving crankbaits will routinely catch walleye in cool waters including the famous Reef Runner Deep Diver, the Rapala Taildancer TDD-11, Rapala No. 14 Deep Husky Jerk, Rebel D-20 and D-30 Spoonbills and the Sebile Koolie Minnow 7/8 ounce. Each of these lures dives when trolled and feature a subtle top-to-bottom rolling action.
The Reef Runner, Taildancer TDD-11 and Sebile Koolie Minnow all dive in the high 20’s and low 30 foot range. The Spoonbills and Deep Husky Jerk barely make 20 feet. I often use a one ounce snap weight to gain additional depth from the Spoonbills and Deep Husky Jerks.
These baits are also fished in combination with Side-Planer boards and I generally fish two boards per side, unless I have three bodies on board and then I fish three boards per side.
In addition to being world class water for trophy walleye, the Huron, Ohio area is also a fantastic destination for fall smallmouth bass and yellow perch.
Bass are most often caught in 15 to 30 feet of water using jigging spoons and blade baits. The average fish is three pounds and fish up to six pounds are common.
Jumbo yellow perch up to 15 inches are routinely taken on ordinary perch rigs baited with minnows. The typical boat is catching lots of 10-12 inch perch with fish up to 15 inches a common sight.
The fall is a busy time for sportsmen who wait all year long for a chance to arrow a buck, chase migrating ducks or upland birds. It’s hard to make time for fishing, but the fishing available in the Great Lakes during October is extraordinary by any measure.
Play the weather and plan a few days of fishing when the winds are calm and the skies clear. Set aside those windy days for duck hunting and when the weather really turns nasty the conditions are ideal for slipping up on a trophy buck.