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Fishing the Midwest: Troll to find fish in the fall

Bob Jensen
Fishing the Midwest

To catch fish, you’ve gotta’ find them. That’s true at any time of the year. However, in the fall season, they can be in a lot of places, especially early in the fall. In the spring, the fish will usually be shallow. It’s spawning time, and the shallows are where they spawn.

In the summer, you can bet there will be fish in weedbeds and along weedlines as well as relating to structure. In some bodies of water, they’ll be suspended over deep water chasing suspended baitfish.

But in the early parts of fall, usually through mid-September and even a week or two later depending on where you are, you can find fish, again depending on the body of water, from 5 feet of water all the way out to 30 feet of water, maybe even a little deeper in some places. You need to cover water to find fish, and trolling is the best way to cover water in many situations. But when it comes to trolling, if we’re going to do it effectively, we need to do more than put a bait in the water, shift the motor into forward gear and hang on. To get the most out of our trolling efforts, we need to do some of the following things correctly.

Experienced trollers like to get as many lines in the water as the rules allow. Some states only allow one line, some allow two and you can use three lines in some places. If two anglers are in the boat in a two-line area, get four lines in the water. It works really well to attach in-line planer boards to the outside lines to keep the lines away from each other.

If walleyes are the target, we’ll be using either crankbaits or spinner-rigs probably tipped with crawlers. If trout or salmon are the target, lots of anglers go with spoons. Day in and day out, crankbaits will be the ticket for a wide variety of fish. A Hornet is kind of a hybrid crankbait that appeals to pretty much any fish that swims in freshwater.

Use baits in different sizes, colors and running depths. Keep trying different sizes, colors and running depths until the fish show a favorite.

Don’t troll in a straight line. Move forward in a slow “S” pattern. Turn gradually to avoid tangling lines. Notice when the strike occurs and on which line. As you navigate the “S” turn, the outside lines will speed up and the inside lines will slow down. If the strike comes on an outside line during the turn, the fish might be telling you that they want a faster presentation.

Keep an eye on your electronics. Modern electronics will help so much in trolling, especially if you have a mapping feature. You can see where you are in relation to dropoffs and you can drop an electronic marker when you hook a fish. If you’re on one of those bowl-shaped lakes where the water is no more than about 30 feet deep, you might see fish hugging the bottom out there. That’s when you could get a jig rod out and see if you can catch of few in the deep water. However, if you’re doing catch and release, those deep fish don’t release well.

When the weather gets into its mid- and later-fall patterns, the fish will become more predictable. Slower, more precise presentations will become more productive, although trolling will still catch fish right until freeze up. For now and the next few weeks, though, trolling will allow us to cover more water and catch more fish.

To see new and old episodes of “Fishing the Midwest” television, fishing articles and fishing videos, go to www.fishingthemidwest.com.