The days are getting shorter, and the leaves are falling. For the average angler, the appearance of fall is a sign to winterize the boat and put the rods in the garage. Yet for some people, fall is the best time to fish. Not only are the crowds gone (and the sea doos), but some of the best fishing of the year is there to be enjoyed. If you aren’t ready to hang up the fishing rod, here is a guide to some of the species best targeted in the fall.
Walleye, the favourite fish of many anglers, is on the prowl in the fall. However, you may have to refine your techniques a bit to find them. In many lakes, walleye will be found a little deeper in the fall than they are in the summer. I find that they are often in water between 20 and 35 feet deep. Walleye also like to set up at the base of drop-offs and near mid-lake humps in the fall. Using sonar electronics will help you locate walleye. Look for fish marks and then make note of the depth. The odds are that fish will be at that same depth throughout the lake. Use larger than average live bait on a half-ounce jig, or fish a live bait rig with a 2-ounce sinker. Another great technique is to vertically jig a half-ounce spoon, such as a Hopkins or Swedish Pimple. Although the water can be cold, walleye are usually aggressive and will smack a jigged spoon.
Along the North Shore of Lake Superior, chinook and coho salmon enter many streams and rivers for the fall spawning run. Some of these fish may be in the rivers as late as early November, but the prime time is early to mid-October. Salmon are not feeding when they enter the rivers, but will still take a run at a lure or fly out of aggression or impulse. In large rivers, such as the Nipigon, Michipicoten or Kaministiquia, most fish are caught trolling plugs like the Livetarget Smelt or Rapala J-13. I’ve also had good luck casting smelt imitating jigs, like the 3/8-ounce Smeltinator and 4-inch Berkley power minnow. In smaller rivers, a float and a bead with split shot is a popular technique for fish in deep pools. Casting light spoons, such as a Little Cleo, Krocodile or EGB, is another great way to fool chinook salmon. Coho will also hit spoons, but have a real affinity for spinners, like a silver #3 Mepps Aglia.
Lake-run rainbow trout (steelhead) embark on a fall run from Lake Superior in October and early November, often trailing closely behind salmon. These trout feed on salmon eggs deposited by the salmon, so it’s no surprise that salmon eggs—or any egg imitation—will fool them. Fly anglers often use wet flies like the Egg Sucking Leech or salmon egg fly attractor patterns. Drifting a fly through pools on a floating line or level line, equipped with a weighted dropper and a 3-foot leader, is a great way to catch steelhead. Much like salmon, fall steelhead will crush a spoon or spinner that’s cast in a large pool or river mouth. Fall steelhead are great fighters and will often leap repeatedly when hooked.
Fishing for fall muskie is not for the faint of heart. It involves trolling large lures over long stretches of water in very cold weather. The fishing actually improves as the weather gets colder and more challenging. However, if you’re aiming to catch a muskie over 50 inches, there’s no better time to try.
Muskellunge begin to key in on soft-rayed fish like herring and whitefish that spawn in the autumn. Current areas and narrows are key locations to find these big predators. If you want to increase your chances, consider fishing three days before or after the full moon in October. Lakes with good odds for catching a giant muskie include Lake of the Woods, Eagle Lake, Wabigoon, Rainy and Lac Seul. There are many lures that you can troll for fall muskie, but the 10-inch Jake or Super Shad Rap are both proven fish getters. Some keen anglers jig oversized lures such as the Bondy Bait or Bull Dawg. Use a heavy rod, large bait casting reel, and 80-pound braid to tame these large fish—don’t bring a pea shooter to a knife fight.
Stocked Brook Trout, Rainbows, Brown Trout, and Splake
For anglers that like to harvest a few fish, stocked lakes are a great option. All parts of northern Ontario have some stocked lakes and information on them can easily be found on the Ontario Fishonline website (Google it). Almost all stocked trout move shallow in the fall and can often be caught right from shore. If you have a canoe, small boat, or kayak, you will have a greater ability to move around a lake. I like to cast small spoons at stocked trout, with the half-ounce Little Cleo, Krocodile, or EGB being my top choices. Small crankbait like the Rapala Countdown Elite or Livetarget Dace are two of my favourites.
That’s just a taste of what fishing opportunities await you during autumn in northwestern Ontario. If you are looking for a great way to spend time outdoors this fall, grab your fishing rod and hit the water.