I rarely use live bait for walleye because there are so many better artificial options for big fish throughout the open-water season. I’ll make an exception in the fall, however, especially if I have folks in the boat who have never caught a trophy walleye. Not just any live bait will do, mind you—they have to be the beefiest, five- to six-inch dace and chum minnows I can get.
Anglers tend to forget that the bigger the walleye, the bigger the bait it targets. So, when you dangle a tiny, two- to three-inch minnow over the side of the boat, you’re only appealing to a small to modest-sized walleye. But put on a minnow that’s a handful to hold and you’ll tempt the biggest ’eyes in the lake.
Another integral part of my fall walleye strategy is to never stop to fish until I’m certain there’s a school below the boat. That means relying on my fishfinder, set to the split-screen sonar/down-imaging mode. Early in the fall, I check the tops of main-lake structures, such as underwater points and shoals, adjacent to deep water. As the season progresses, I only concentrate on the extreme outside edges of the structure.
For my presentation, I slide the hook on a short-shank, 3/8- to 3/4-ounce Reelbait Flasher jig (I love the tiny flickering willowleaf blade) into the open mouth of a minnow and through the upper lip. Most anglers use long-shank jigs and hook their baitfish under the lower jaw and through both lips, but I find that minnows remain much livelier in the fall when they’re attached through the upper lip only on a compact, short shank. You’ll also be able to feel the big minnow panicking as a walleye approaches, signalling you to get ready for a bite. First-time anglers often mistake the strong minnow’s movements for the bite itself, but trust me, it’s nothing compared to what’s coming.