Small Rivers Big Fall Eyes
By: Scott M. Petersen

When we got to the boat landing we were not the first ones here today. Duck hunters and even deer hunters were at the landing before sunrise and got an early jump to the start of the day, but as the sun started to warm up our day to the highs that were expected the fisherman were hitting the water also. Small rivers at this time of the year can provide an array of uses but one of the best kept fishing secrets that it holds is big fall walleyes. When the time of the season gets to be late October, early November walleyes will start to move from the big river systems to the smaller rivers to do one thing and that is get fat for the winter. These small rivers are full of baitfish and shad making them prime choices for the eyes to move into and take up residence for the next few months. You could say it is kind of like a fat camp for fish. The triggering factor that will tell the eyes to make the move will be the falling water temps in the main river.

When fishing a small river you will not be using some of the same tactics that you do in a larger river system or lake system. One of the biggest factors that will have changed is the depth that you will be fishing at. What were double digit depths in a large river or lakes will now be single digit depths in small rivers. When fishing for walleyes in a small river system you have to look at it as more like bass fishing. The larger eyes will start coming into the river and sit on the shores just like bass do in lakes and rivers. I have seen this time after time fisherman taking their 16ft and 18ft boats over the tops of walleyes in 5ft of water and can not understand why they can not catch fish for one or numbers of fish for another.

Fishing small rivers will take some change in the tactics that you use to take these trophy fish at this time of the year. Casting will become the preferred method of presentation. Yes you can still vertically jig walleyes in the depths of the main channel but I have come to learn that these are not the biggest fish of the system that you will be looking to catch. Put it this way if you are looking for big eyes, some of the biggest eyes you will catch all year than bank presentations will be your best options to fish. If you are just looking for numbers of walleyes and do not care about the size than you will want to fish the deeper part of the main channel and use a vertical presentation like you normally would when fishing eyes. It comes down to you making some choices. There are a lot of days that I get greedy and do both.

Equipment that you will need is not that different from what you are using already. 6’6” to 7’ medium action spinning rods, matching reels spooled with 8lb test line will work just great for what is needed. In this situation I also prefer to use a baitcaster set up for casting accuracy and for getting the big walleyes up and out of the brush. The line size that I opt to use on my baitcaster is 10lb test. The reason for the bigger line, getting the eyes from the brush and getting back a few jigs at the same time. When fishing in brush conditions weedless jigs will be the jig of choice. Yes you can use regular ball head jigs with no weedguards but believe me you will do more jig replacement than catching eyes. 1/8th oz or 1/4oz jig will be the size of choice with 3/8oz getting some water time when wind conditions are tough. The jig that I prefer to use is a Lindy No Snagg Jig. The seven strand weedguard allows this jig to come through any brush that you can throw it into. Getting the eyes to see the bait is key when fishing the brush so to add color and some sound to the bait I will add a Twister Tail or a Lindy Fuzzy Grub tail to the jig. When river fishing I have found color to be a critical choice in catching eyes or not catching eyes so keep changing colors until you find one that works. Colors to have are chartreuse, white, orange and yellow. The last part of the presentation is bait, tip your jig with a fathead minnow. This will be the triggering factor that I feel makes the eyes bite.

Now this may lead to the question of why not just use a jig-n-minnow presentation? To answer your question yes this will work, but I have found through fishing that by adding the Twister Tail or the Fuzzy Grub body I caught more eyes and better eyes at the same time by making this slight adjustment to my presentation.

So the next time you are looking for the walleye of the year, fall and small rivers may just be the answer. Grab your rod and reel a few weedless jigs, tails, minnows and you will be all set but remember one more important fact cast to the eyes. You will improve your chances of taking that big walleye for the year. Please remember to practice CPR (Catch, Photo and Release) The future of fishing is in your hands.


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