By Tom Pettengill
Walleye are a cool-water fish. Not cold-water like trout and salmon and not a warm-water fish like largemouth bass or channel catfish. Cool-water fish like intermediate temperatures. Walleye are the most active during the late spring/early summer and fall months. As summer gives way to fall walleye sense the approach of winter and put on the feedbag.
There are a couple of major differences between walleye behavior in the spring and the fall. In the spring walleye are generally shallow or moving into shallow water. As the water continues to warm after the spawn they really start to feed. But food is scarce. Most of their forage hasn't produced young or the young are so small that walleye haven't taken notice yet.
However, in the fall there is usually an abundance of forage. Everything has spawned and although the young forage fish have been eaten all summer there are still a lot more small fish for walleye to eat than there will be the next spring. The abundance of forage means that walleye don't have to search as long to get a meal.
Feeding periods in the fall are shorter and this makes it harder for anglers to be present at the right time. Also, as water temperatures continue to cool the amount of food that walleye need lessens. Fish are cold-blooded organisms and their body temperature is the same as the water. As the water cools further and further from ideal conditions their metabolism slows and food requirements are reduced.
As water temperatures drop, typically the forage fish that walleye feed on move deeper. Walleye that were 10-20 feet deep during the summer and early fall are going to move to 30-40 feet by October and November and may be 50-70 feet in the winter. The walleye will be close to their main food supply. If the small perch in Yuba and Deer Creek are in 50-60 feet of water then that's where the walleye will be located.
Fishing for cold water walleye
You should begin your focus by fishing during the prime times around dawn and dusk. If walleye aren't going to be feeding very long you want to focus on the times of day when walleye are most likely to be active.
Begin your search in deeper water off the same areas you found walleye earlier in the year. Search deep humps and the deeper parts of points that extend into the deepest areas of the reservoir. Small areas with rapid changes in depth aren't very productive areas to troll.
You'll be most productive fishing jigs or spoons. Jigs tipped with half a night crawler or a piece of minnow or fish meat will work best for these deep-water fish. If you're vertically working jigs and spoons, work the lure with short hops. You can do the same if you're drifting slowly. Vary how much you work the jig or spoon to see if the fish want a very subtle or more aggressive presentation.
In 30-50 feet of water you'll probably need a lure from ¼-½ ounce. In 50-70 feet of water you'll need a lure from ½-1 ounce. If you don't catch a fish in 10-15 minutes move to the next spot. Remember the prime time may be an hour or less and you should just keep moving until you hit a spot with active fish. If you only have a few spots fairly close together just keep moving from one to another.
If you have a good fish finder with zoom capability and you're searching a point or hump with a flat or gradually sloping bottom, don't fish an area unless you can see fish on or near the bottom.
On steep drop-offs you won't get a true reading of the bottom or the fish because you'll only see the bottom where the edge of the signal cone first touches the bottom (the shallowest point). You could have several feet of water below where the bottom appears and fish you cannot see. (Last winter on Pineview I was fishing a step area and let out 8-10 feet more line than what the fish finder showed for the depth, and I found a big school of perch I couldn't see on the graph.) So, on steep drop-offs you'll have to fish to see if fish are present.
Tackle For Cold Water Walleyes
You'll need the best graphite rod you can afford. Good graphite rods will let you feel those deep subtle bites before the walleye has a chance to spit out your bait. Since much of the fishing will be vertical or nearly so you don't need an expensive reel to make long casts but you want a reel that will hold a hundred yards of line and the reel should have a good drag system.
Deep-water fishing is a time when your choice of line can really be important. The new no or low stretch lines will really make a difference. Lines like Fireline, Fusion, Spiderwire, etc are smaller in diameter. They don't stretch and they help telegraph a bite up to you. Monofilament really stretches as you get more and more line out.
As you fish deeper and deeper it gets harder to get a good hook set. These new lines really help get good hook sets and help you feel light, cold-water bites. You'll want to fish with 4-6 pound test line. Use the lightest line possible. You get a more life-like action on lighter line and fish cannot see the smaller diameter lines as well.
You'll need a variety of jigs and spoons in sizes from ¼ to ¾ ounce. If you're vertical fishing with bait, short-shanked jig hooks work better than the longer shanks. If you plan to add a plastic grub body then the long shank hooks are necessary. Have a variety of colors. Try some bright orange, red or chartreuse as well as natural and metallic colors. Kastmasters and Hopkins spoons are good choices if you want to use spoons rather than jigs. A piece of fresh sucker or carp meat on the spoon can really improve success.
There you have the basics of cold-water walleye fishing. So get out on one of Utah's walleye waters and try your luck at fooling ol' marble eyes.