Gary Engberg and a walleye

Gary Engberg with a walleye below the dam in Sauk City.

By late October or early November, one of the best walleyes bites of the year is taking place on rivers throughout the Upper Midwest.

Many walleye anglers have put away their boats away by now and are concentrating their outdoor time on hunting. But there is a late fall river walleye bite that takes place on medium to large rivers in Wisconsin and throughout the Midwest.

Wisconsin walleyes have two major river systems that have all the necessary ingredients for good fishing. The Mississippi and Wisconsin rivers each have good walleye and sauger populations and dams up and down their waters. The rivers can be fished year-round and rarely freeze over.

The dams on the rivers serve as impassable structures for the migrating walleyes and concentrate the fish in large numbers below the dams. These river walleyes can be in deep water, shallow water, or anything in-between. Depth is not the driving force for river as it is for lake walleyes. What drives these river fish and determines their location is the current flow in the river. Good fall locations are not much different than the spring walleye locations. Areas below dams that hold will hold walleyes include current breaks, wing dams, river bends and turns, points, bridge abutments, feeder creek mouths, bottom depressions, rock piles, timber or wood, and deep holes.

The deep-water holes (scour holes made by high water) will hold large numbers of fish this time of year. Try fishing all over and around the scour holes because it will hold numbers of fish and large walleyes.

Remember, river fish are constantly fighting current, so they use the above mentioned structures for breaking current and conserving their energy. Typically, a walleye likes to wait behind current breaking structure and ambush any food that passes or floats by them in the rivers current. Walleyes can dart out, feed quickly, and return to their holding spot out of the main river current while conserving energy. These river locations are easy to find as you learn to “read” the river and the techniques to use to catch the walleyes is pretty simple.

I live on the Wisconsin River, so daily I can see what the water flow and current is and plan my fishing schedule.

I try to concentrate my fishing close to the dam and spillway areas where the fish will continue to concentrate as the fall and winter progress.

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Most of my fall fishing will be done within a mile or so of the Prairie du Sac Dam. As the river cools, most anglers will make the switch back to a live bait presentation. This means vertical jigging with minnows.

You want to be using fatheads and chubs. The baitfish and minnows of the year have grown all summer, so you need big minnows in the 4- to 5-inch range. Jigging means anchoring in likely walleye holding places near the dam. Try casting your jig behind your anchored boat and let the jig fall to the bottom and then lightly lift and drop the jig. Lifting the jig (lift the jig 6 inches to a foot) attracts the walleyes and dropping the jig lets the river's current to give action to the presentation as it falls back to the bottom.

Another trick is to add some bulk to the jig in the form of a piece of plastic on the jigs collar or a whole twister tail on the jig minnow combo. This bulks up the offering and slows its fall to the bottom. Most strikes occur when the jig is falling.

The Bait Rigs Sol-Poke jig works wonders in rivers with its slow fall, stand-up style, and wide hook gap. Colors can vary, so be sure, so be sure to use as light a jig as possible and still maintain a vertical presentation. You can cast and slowly retrieve a jig while anchored using the basic jig/minnow combo or just try using the jig and twister tail. I suggest the Kaolin’s brand of plastic in the 4- or 5-inch size. If you’re fishing Wisconsin waters, you can legally use three rods.

If the ideal setup while anchored is to vertically jig with one rod, cast with another, and put the third rod in a rod holder as your dead rod. Sometimes, I’ll rig my dead rod with a plain hook, a colored bead, and a split shot about 12 to 18 inches above the hook. I’ve had days when the dead rod caught all the fish. You have too be prepared for whatever the walleyes want on the day you’re fishing. Keep your presentation slow.

Berkley Fireline works well in these river situations. The “superfine” cuts the water and allows you to feel the lightest bite. I recommend using 14-pound test line which has a diameter of 6-pound test. The strength of the Fireline allows you to pull out of any snag you may encounter.

To compensate for the lack of stretch in the Fireline, try using a rod such as a G. Loomis SJR 721. Another good fall river presentation is the use of the three way swivel. Three way rigs attach your main line to two other, one with a weight as a dropper and the other to a lipless crankbait.

Some of the best fall locations are Sauk City, Wisconsin Dells, Castle Rock, Petenwell, and Nekoosa on the Wisconsin River. Good dam locations on the Mississippi River include Dubuque, Prairie du Chien, Genoa, Ferryville, LaCrosse, and Red Wing.


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Contact Gary Engberg, a freelance outdoors writer from Mazomanie, at gengberg@chorus.net, 608-795-4208 or visit him at http://www.garyengbergoutdoors.com.