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Scott Rall: Slow is the name of the game for fall fishing

Scott Rall

Daily Globe outdoors columnist 

Fall fishing is one of the best times that can be had outdoors in southwest Minnesota. It will only be a few more weeks and shore fishing, for the most part, will be the only option. Fishing heats up in the fall because nature is telling the underwater inhabitants that the mean and lean times of winter will soon be upon them.

This increased feeding response in fish is nature’s way of saying fatten up now while you can, because as the seasons move to winter your feeding opportunities might very well be fewer and farther between.

Fish are cold-blooded. This means that the fish’s body temp is the same as the temperature of the water they inhabit. As waters warm up, fish become more active.

The same happens in the opposite direction as the waters cool. Cooler water temperatures slow down fish activity, and feeding is usually done less often and for shorter periods of time each day.

Fall is the perfect time to catch fish that (as I call it) are “putting on the feed bag.” Fish are driven to accelerate their feeding efforts by a variety of factors. The most commonly followed factor is water temperatures. As water temperatures start to drop, fishing activity by area fishers will start to increase. Late summer has the least amount of fishing pressure, and mid-late fall will see a big increase in angler activity trying to capitalize on this fall smorgasbord.

Fall fishing participants will start this season fishing from a boat very close to shore. A common term for this is beating the bank. They will position the boat a cast’s length from shore and move slowly along with an electric trolling motor casting either a shad rap or a mister twister. These are artificial baits that can be moved at differing speeds. Early fall will still use a faster retrieve, and as temps drop the fish will no longer be willing to chase a bait — so a slower moving presentation is required.

A shad rap is a wooden bait shaped to look like a small fish or minnow and generally fished a little faster than a mister twister, which is a small 3- to-4-inch plastic worm threaded on a weighted hook. For a very slow retrieve, a minnow can be added to the twister presentation allowing it to actually sit motionless on the bottom anywhere between the cast and its return to the boat. There will come a time when any fishing method that requires the fish to pursue the lure will result in no reward.

Another factor that I don’t think enough anglers pay attention to when deciding if they are going fishing that day or not is the length of the day. We have had some very warm days in the past few falls and water temperatures stayed higher than normal later into the months of September and October. Even if water temperatures are still a little on the high side, fish still sense the shorter periods of daylight and will start feeding more aggressively even if water temperatures are not the motivating factor.

It is when the fish’s activity level is so slow that still fishing will completely take over. At this late stage almost all of the boats will have been relegated to the storage shed. This is the time to let a medium-size chub or larger minnow sit stationary on the bottom.

This presentation requires the fish to expend very little energy to catch and eat it.

This is most often done with something called a lindy rig. This rig is made up of a hook attached to about a 3- foot leader and casted into the lake with a weight that is allowed to slide up and down the line.

This rig allows the fish to swallow the bait, and as it swims away in search of its next victim the weight slides freely down the line so the fish will not feel the resistance of having to drag the weight along. If the fish has to drag the weight along they will most likely drop the bait because they feel something unnatural.

This method will work right up until ice-up or when temperatures get so low that the water will freeze in the eyelets of the fishing rod and render the entire rig unworkable.

This time of year requires no can cooler for any beverage. Almost all shore fishing in late fall is done from an hour before sunset till your fingers freeze and send you home to warmer climates.

Now is the best time to enjoy fall fishing when the termperatures are cooling but are downright cold. A little bone fire and some shore fishing will result in a better-than-average chance of a walleye supper. The biggest fish I ever caught shore fishing was at the boat landing on West Graham Lake. The bullheads would just not leave my 4-5-inch chubs alone, so I bought three spearing chubs about 12 inches from the local bait shop and figured that if a fish was going to eat this bait it would have to be a big one.

After four hours I had not detected even one bite, but the day/evening was just beautiful and a hot dog over a small fire was the perfect end to a perfect day. As I wound in the line it became apparent that there was something on the other end. It was a 26-inch walleye that tipped the scales at about eight pounds. It must have swallowed this huge bait and just sat there napping from its great big meal. The hook was burried so I cut the line and sent the fish on its way.

No pictures except for the ones in my mental memory bank. Take an afternoon and park yourself on a lakeside and see if you can enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of a perfect fall day, and if you’re lucky even a walleye or two might be the name of the game for a fall fishing dinner after that.

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