December 17, 2022
“Search ye first forage to seek out ice walleyes,” is likely one of the Walleye In-Sider employees’s guiding ideas. By no means is that this mantra so justified as within the fall, when baitfish migrations, usually into shallow, current-washed areas, draw faculties of hungry and aggressive ‘eyes to feast on autumn’s bounty.
Species akin to shad, alewives, ciscoes, yellow perch, and smelt, together with numerous minnows and shiners, are sometimes the primary course in traditional methods. Savvy walleye followers are conscious of many such predator-prey interactions, but one relationship that holds water on a stunning variety of lakes—the bluegill connection—is essentially missed.
Walleyes eat bluegills and different members of the sunfish household all year long, however below the best situations in late fall they aim them to the near-exclusion of different baitfish.
The sample is most prevalent in bass-panfish sort lakes, usually late-mesotrophic or eutrophic in classification, that maintain viable walleye fisheries due to stocking, pure replica, or some mixture thereof. It additionally happens in additional traditional walleye waters the place giant shallow bays, arms, or interconnected basins nurture wholesome numbers of bluegills and different sunfish. Wherever you discover it, the bluegill chunk can present among the hottest big-fish motion of the 12 months.
Meals for Thought
In lots of kinds of pure lakes, walleyes patrol weededges and weedflats all through summer season and early fall, choosing off panfish and minnows. When the vegetation begins to die off, the discount in baitfish hiding locations triggers a full-blown feeding frenzy, which frequently peaks at twilight and after darkish.
This binge usually takes place across the second or third week of October on my residence waters in northcentral Minnesota, and happens considerably later as one travels additional east, west, or south. Water temperatures across the 50°F mark are a superb clue it might be taking place.
Really, my first hints of this sample got here years in the past in excessive southern Minnesota on Lura Lake, a shallow prairie pothole that routinely produced walleyes pushing the 9-pound mark. Native fishery personnel mentioned these massive ‘eyes fed nearly solely on younger bullheads. This excessive selectiveness made them troublesome to catch—apart from a few two-week window of alternative within the fall.
Shorefishing with “light-pike” sucker minnows about 4 inches in size was the ticket. We’d rig the bait beneath a slipsinker, forged it out, and sit within the automotive to remain heat till a strike indicator tied simply off the rod tip took off for the lake. To our shock, these fish would regurgitate younger bluegills. Some seasonal sample should have made the bullheads much less out there to the walleyes—or the bluegills simpler prey.
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Quick-forward a decade to northern Minnesota and the Boy River Chain of lakes within the mid to late ’80s. Throughout duck-hunting season, buddies and I discovered good-sized walleyes simple pickings round late October in most of the river areas or outflows throughout low-light intervals. When the fish emptied their engorged bellies into our livewells, out got here bluegills starting from age-0 by age-2.
As soon as the sunshine bulb went off in our heads that this was a seasonal sample, we used it to routinely catch walleyes within the 3- to 6-pound vary. A couple of smaller fish and some biggies are thrown in, however the overwhelming majority of the walleyes are above-average grownup fish. One of many keys to capitalizing on the bluegill connection is realizing that walleyes pursuing panfish place themselves from the decrease reaches of the water column up by mid-range depths, in present areas or deep weedlines, particularly.
Inflows and barely deeper present areas between lakes on river methods might be walleye magnets this time of 12 months. Different areas frequented by bluegills (and thus walleyes) embrace the perimeters of factors and bars, and deeper pockets in backs of bays.
Wherever the heaviest concentrations of bluegills are positioned is the place you discover probably the most walleyes, particularly if the bluegills are located in a barely suspended vogue—hanging simply off the deep cabbage line or considerably suspended in and round a present influx. Remember that low-light conditions are often greatest in all these areas at the moment of 12 months.
The first exception to this sample pertains to lakes with a robust inhabitants of ciscoes. On this case the bluegill chunk continues to be potential, however far much less constant. The spawning ciscoes should supply a extra readily accessible forage base in such methods.
A number of shows shine throughout the bluegill binge. Casting crankbaits is a strong choice, particularly with deep-bodied shad-style baits. Years in the past, Cotton Cordell’s Huge O was my bait of alternative when anchored and casting present areas. It nonetheless produces at present, however Rapala’s DT Sequence additionally suits the ticket completely, permitting me to make use of a number of completely different baits to ply numerous depths in a single space.
Sizzling colours are sometimes the ticket with this chunk. Assume gaudy mixtures of yellow, purple, purple, and inexperienced. The very best shades usually fluctuate from lake to lake, so it pays to experiment. Begin with patterns that imitate the resident bluegill inhabitants and go from there.
Anchoring and dealing pockets of exercise are the rule on smaller lakes, whether or not you are snooping in a suspected walleye hideout or straining confirmed water. Fancast the world nicely, and lob a couple of casts parallel to and simply exterior it for good measure. A gentle retrieve isn’t as productive as a easy “reel and cease reeling” cadence. Extraordinarily erratic retrieves are a bust.
Tipping the entrance hook on a crankbait appears to enhance success right here simply because it does in open-water trolling. A small chunk of Berkley Gulp!, in a vivid and contrasting shade to the crankbait, stays on the hook higher whereas casting than a bit of nightcrawler, and is thus a extra environment friendly choice.
Livebait strategies are additionally viable. This is likely one of the few conditions the place suckers are a wonderful alternative; redtails, river chubs, and shiners work, too. 4-inch suckers are my first alternative on this state of affairs, whether or not I am fishing beneath a slipfloat, or slipsinker-rigging the decrease reaches of the water column. It is potential that the size of the suckers at the moment of 12 months is much like bite-sized bluegills. Or it might be that juvenile suckers are additionally nonetheless considerably shallow and out there to walleyes at the moment of 12 months.
Suspending livebait beneath a float is an environment friendly method of fishing deeper cabbage pockets and weededges, in addition to open water simply off the weedline or close to present areas, when walleyes are extra “up” than “down.” Getting bit by walleyes 5 to eight toes down in 12 toes of water is a standard state of affairs.
In search mode, swim a frivolously hooked redtail or sucker, trailing a break up shot or bullet sinker, alongside weedlines. Managed drifts work when the wind cooperates, however slow-trolling with an electrical motor often permits for extra pinpoint shows with reference to hurry and depth management.
Contemplating its potential to supply massive numbers of 3- to 6-pound walleyes, the bluegill connection is greatest loved with a selective harvest method, particularly on lakes sustained by pure replica. However what higher method to spend the day than reeling in fish with a sample few anglers even know exists?
Underneath The Ice, Too
The bluegill sample is not only for open water. Simply ask Roger Hugill, the Hinckley, Minnesota, space fishery supervisor for the Minnesota Division of Pure Sources. An avid walleye hunter—each competitively and at leisure—in addition to a longtime SCUBA diver, Hugill has noticed the predator-prey relationship between ‘eyes and ‘gills for years. He additionally notes that this relationship extends into winter on many our bodies of water.
“Bluegills will not be the perfect meals supply for walleyes, but grownup walleyes, being opportunistic feeders, often reap the benefits of the bluegill’s poor visible acuity throughout low-light conditions, and goal them as a meals supply,” he says. “A lot of the bluegills ingested by walleyes are one- or two-year-olds (following their second and third summer season of progress). I’ve even noticed lifeless or dying walleyes with bluegills too giant to swallow lodged of their gills and gullet. We all know walleyes goal bluegills.
“Spring and particularly fall are the occasions to focus on the bigger walleyes in a lot of our smaller lakes,” he continues. “The predator-prey relationship mentioned right here is vital in understanding walleye habits. “
Some fisheries specialists recommend that grownup walleyes truly prey on bluegills extra effectively than do smaller pike, due to higher visible acuity, and are starting to contemplate walleyes to be a extra environment friendly predator for retaining bluegill populations below management—and thus growing common bluegill dimension.
Larry Damman, a Wisconsin Division of Pure Sources fishery biologist based mostly in Spooner, notes, “There’s undoubtedly a walleye-bluegill connection in my judgment, although solely grownup walleyes appear to want and thrive on them. Bluegills are most susceptible to predators at evening, thus evening feeders akin to walleyes can catch them extra effectively than can different predators.”
Hugill says shallow flats (within the 6- to 12-foot vary) with aquatic vegetation are key areas to focus on bluegill-pattern walleyes anytime from early fall by early-ice. “Shallow water is much less of a deterrent to walleyes than most individuals suppose,” he says.
“Via electrofishing we often discover walleyes in shallow water, so long as there’s some aquatic vegetation to interrupt up the direct daylight. And keep in mind, the darker it turns into, the higher the benefit the walleye has over the bluegill; so low-light intervals are usually the perfect angling occasions. 4-inch-long sucker minnows, redtails (forged in open water or suspended below tip-ups), and similar-sized stickbaits (open water, forged, or trolled) are good decisions at the moment of 12 months.”
*Dan Craven lives in northern Minnesota and is a longtime contributor to In-Fisherman publications.