“I used to hunt a lot in fall,” shares veteran walleye tournament pro, Tommy Kemos. “But I realized I was missing out on some of the best fishing of the year.”
While Kemos still likes to put a deer in the freezer, in recent years he’s spent a lot more of October, November, and even December on the water.
“When the water temp hits bout 50 degrees a lot changes. First, lakes have gone through turnover, and this allows walleyes to roam anywhere in the entire water column, from 5 feet to 50 feet of water.”
While he says finding fall fish can sometimes be challenging, he spends a lot of time shallow and generally has positive results.
“When the water temps first drop, walleyes start moving shallow in the evening hours. During the day they may be deeper, but I’ll start by driving around and looking at my 2D sonar to not only locate big marks, but find the baitfish, too. That’s the real key in fall,” says Kemos.
On a lot of natural lakes across the Walleye Belt, fish will follow shiners and young of the year gamefish into deeper basin areas, often congregating around transition areas.
What kind of transition areas?
“I look for where basin mud turns into harder bottom, like sand, gravel, or rock—what experience has shown me to be higher percentage areas for bigger fish. These fish do not stray far from the most predominant forage.”
“For example,” Kemos continues, “on lakes with tullibees (ciscoes), walleyes follow them into the areas where they spawn in fall and absolutely gorge on them—even forage up to a foot long. In Wisconsin, the big spawns are typically during the full moon during the end of November or early December. Find that and you will find big walleyes. Fish at night and they’ll be shallow, and off on the transition areas and basins during the day. Me, I prefer to fish during the daylight hours, so I go out and try to tempt them while they’re staged for evening and night feeding, not necessarily eating. However, you put the biggest creek chub you can find in front of them and you’ll get bit.”
Kemos will also cast or troll large Berkley Hit Sticks.
“Depending on the depth the fish are holding, I’ll fish the standard or deep Hit Stick; they’re both super effective. At night the shallow-runner is the deal for mimicking those fall spawning tullibees in depths from 5 to 15 feet,” notes Kemos.
But during the day, Kenos says it tough to beat live bait rigging giant creek chubs or slowly dragging or jigging them on a 5/8- to ½-ounce jig head.
“I’ll spot specific fish with my electronics and cast to individual fish. On lakes, I’m investigating points and humps close to the tullibee spawning grounds, which are generally shallower, hard bottom areas with a little bit of grass close to the main basin,” says Kemos.
Kemos says that if the lake has shiners and perch, the biggest fall-time walleyes are still going to hone into tullibees as primary forage.
Late-Fall River Play: Match the Young Sheepies
“This is going to sound crazy,” says Kemos, “but late-fall on rivers I’m generally fishing 4-inch Gulp! Minnows on heavy jig-heads for the biggest fish around. And typically, something in pearl white or watermelon.
And he doesn’t rip the jig at all, essentially dead-sticking it along current seams to mimic the gizzard shad and young of the year sheepshead big river walleyes are gobbling up.
“Most of the biggest walleyes are actually eating small sheepshead, because as the water cools down, sheepshead metabolism slows way down and they get super slow and easy to eat. They just kind of drift along bottom, not really even swimming.”
So, Kemos’ theory is dead-sticking a big Gulp! Minnow on a heavy jig mimics this easy food source.
“I'll just let the plastic tap bottom and give it a pretty good pop and hold it completely still. Depending on the current, I'll hold the bait anywhere from six inches to 3 feet off bottom. You don’t have to move it at all; big walleyes will come up and absolutely annihilate the jig. It goes against everything that we know about jig fishing, but it’s deadly some fall days,” offers Kemos.
In terms of rod, reel, and line set-up, Kemos is a big fan of medium power, extra-fast action rods.
“Without even touching the reel handle I can lift the rod ever so slightly and follow the bottom contour. So, as it gets deeper and shallower, I've got more room to work with the longer rod. It also gives you a little bit more room for good hooksets with the larger jigs, which you really need to drive home.”
Staying Warm for Late-Season Walleyes
“If it’s colder than 50 degrees, I put on the WHITEWATER Great Lakes suit on over the Tamer suit. I’ll also add the WHITEWATER Torque heated vest. What I really like about the heated vest is that it’s versatile. Some fall days it’s 20 degrees in the morning and then by two o'clock it's 60. With the push of a button, you can adjust your comfort level—or not even engage it at all. I’ve found that if you keep your core warm, your body’s warm.”