Two fisherman on the lake in the fall fishing

By: Joel Nelson

We’re in an August lull of sorts right now, and that kind of fishing can certainly extend into September depending on the weather. Still, I’m given a bit of hope by the cooler nights and drier days. That fall-like air is always an indicator of better angling, or at least better fishing yet to come. On the other side of the spectrum, the dreaded late-summer heat spells that so many favor can simply kill bites that are otherwise keyed up and ready to go.

Right now, water temperatures are at their peak and fish are pretty satisfied. It takes a precision presentation with several factors in your favor to make them eat. Be it wind, early or late feeding windows, or maybe just the proper imitation of whatever they’re preferring at the moment, you have to do a lot “right” to make things happen during this time of year.

Contrast that to the fishing we’ll see in October, maybe hopefully even September. Baitfish will be migrating in preparation for winter while cooling temps allow fish to be comfortable in more depth zones, especially shallow. Those seasonal changes will trigger more aggressive behavior, and get fish going on a variety of patterns in many places throughout any system. In other words, you won’t have to be doing as many things “right” to get fish to eat then.

Still, fish need to eat and they’re out there to catch during this time period, it’s just easier to do so when the weather more resembles fall than summer. Think of cooler nights that give way to calm mornings, and wind systems out of the northwest that brings such air and stirs up the bottom end of the food chain. On a recent trip for gills and crappies, we found aggressive schools of quality sunfish placed exactly where you’d expect a walleye. We used some side imaging to follow a great rock outcropping of only the biggest and greatest concentrations of boulders. That rockpile happened to be at the tip of a main-lake point, and even better, it was getting ample wind from the Northwest. Perfect for Minnesota’s state fish, but also some of the biggest bluegills in the system.


Two youth fisherman holding up bluegills they caught


Live bait is a good option during this time period, as some extra scent and realism make for easier fooling of especially panfish and walleyes. That doesn’t mean that fish won’t eat artificials now, however, as the other direct from lifelike and slow, is loud and proud, with the latter being especially effective during those bite windows to elicit reaction strikes. Crankbaits and big plastics with ample vibration are great options during this time period, provided you’re not throwing them during the heat of the day.

Rivers are another prime-time opportunity right now, no matter the weather. As lower flows settle out towards fall, fish in small rivers especially start to lose some underwater real estate. That puts them in more predictable locations at the bottom end of runs where the only deep water of the river exists. Smallies, walleyes, and catfish will all pile into these pools, usually still in different portions of it, but they’re pretty willing to eat what comes by. They too are more aggressive in cool stretches as the hottest part of summer goes on.

Weather in general is a tricky deal for anglers. The best days of course are any days you can go out and fish, but if you’ve got your pick, consider stable weather above all else. Big swings in temperature, in either direction, aren’t exactly favorable to the bite. That said, lasting changes of 3-5 days or even more are the kinds of weather you’re looking for. In this case, that would start with a cold front that ushers in drier and cooler air to stay. The first day or two may be challenging, but the fishing will get better moving into the end of that system, usually just before some southerly winds bring the heat back into the equation. Avoid those stretches, especially moving deeper into the fall, as they may be the most comfortable yet least productive.

Big thunderstorms are less common during this time period, and usually when they exist, follow the hot weather that’s been detrimental to fishing, so your pre-frontal conditions are less key. For that reason, I’m not as glued to the barometer this time of year as I am so many other times. I still will avoid spiking high-pressure fronts, cool or warm, as again, I’m looking for stability more than anything.

Another key for me during this time of year is perch, crappies, and gills, really whatever is willing to cooperate. I’m of the opinion that too many anglers fish for predator species all year like it was early June. Instead of catching these fish at will, the way the angler wants to catch them, they could focus on all kinds of other species in different places that bend a rod as well. I find each of those species will often play ball when others won’t, extending the summer fun well into fall.

No matter what you chase or where you do it, it’s important to get out when you have time. If that’s 1 pm on a hot September Saturday, it still sure beats house chores or work. For those with some flexibility and willingness to watch the weather, you’ll be rewarded with even faster fishing by coordinating your calendar with the weatherman.


Fisherman dragging a jig when fall fishing

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