Shallow-water weeds begin to die as the water cools, causing oxygen levels to decline. As innocuous as that may sound, it precipitates a vicious gathering of scales and teeth. Baitfish and panfish are driven from lush, shallow sanctuaries toward deeper water. There they find one final layer of protection: The deep weed edge.
In fall, everything gathers on deep weed edges. Bass, walleyes, pike and other predators sense the plight of their deeply hidden quarry and are already there. Perch will be there, along with crappies and bluegills, attracted by the gathering of smaller baitfish and invertebrates. It’s the biggest concentration of species in one area of the entire year.
“Big walleyes — and lots of them — find those last remaining growths of deep weeds in fall,” says Greg Bohn, perhaps the world’s foremost authority on using slip floats for big walleyes. “Main-lake weedlines tend to be best. Some walleyes have been roaming deeper structure, some have been in open water and some have been using deep weed edges all summer. But in fall, ciscoes begin coming toward shore to spawn. Emerald shiners come out of open water, too. Plus, you have the converse movement of other shiners and panfish from shallow weeds toward the deep edge. All those movements tend to focus the bulk of the walleye population on the deep weed edge.”
The best weed edges have a few things in common, according to Bohn. Spots where deep water bends in toward a big weed flat are prime. Anyplace you find big boulders near or on a deep weed edge, you will definitely find giant walleyes. And, wherever other pieces of prime structure coincide with lush, deep weeds in fall, such as a main-lake point or offshore hump, walleyes will be there.
Walleyes use these spots day and night. Bohn approaches them in various ways, but his favorite presentations involve live bait under a slip float.
“During the day I use Thill Pro Series Slip Floats,” Bohn said. “The stems are tipped with brass grommets so the line slides easily through them. At night I use Thill Splash Brite and Nite Brite Floats. Water finishes the circuit on the Splash Brite, so it’s on the moment it hits the water and it’s off the moment it comes out.”
While watching the float he may pitch a Fuzz-E Grub and work the edges or vertical jig it. Most deep weed edges are going max out at 15 feet deep, so he prefers a 1/8- to ¼-ounce jig on 10-lb. line. He suggests 15-lb braid for slip-float fishing.
Under his slip floats, Bohn uses pre-tied Thill Pro Series snells, which are offered in two styles. One terminates in a Lindy Bobber Bug Jig, and the other in a Tru-Turn hook.
“Thill snells have 1/16- and 1/8-ounce Bobber Bugs, and I use both,” he said. “Hooks tend to be better on calm nights when we’re anchored, and I use the Tru-Turn series with a #2 hook. I like a big hook in fall because the biggest walleyes in the lake come out to play.”
Bohn tips jigs and bobber rigs with crawlers and a variety of minnows. Big, bouncy crawlers hooked through the nose are big-fish baits from summer into fall, but at some point minnows will become more effective, especially for bigger fish.
“Thill rigs also feature small Indiana blades and red, faceted beads, which reflect and flash brighter at more angles than a round bead, helping attract walleyes to the rig,” he said. “The blade doesn’t need to spin to add a little noise, flutter and flash. At night, I’m trying to keep the bait within 3-feet of the bottom. Walleyes won’t drop it at night. I let the float go down until it’s almost out of sight, and it is so cool watching lighted bobbers travel underwater. We wait until it’s way down there before setting the hook.”
Of all the varieties of aquatic vegetation, Bohn says cabbage is best, but that walleyes will use coontail, milfoil and a variety of weeds when cabbage isn’t present, providing the weeds are healthy, green and thick. He tries to suspend a tail-hooked or nose-hooked minnow within a few feet of the weed edge, or he lets the wind push it right up against the weeds. A tail-hooked minnow is more active and appeals to active fish, while a nose-hooked minnow tends to stay put more and is more appealing to neutral fish.
“Every day and every night we try both jigs and hooks with live bait,” Bohn said. “I never know which one will be more effective, but walleyes will tell you soon enough. If we’re drifting or moving, jigs keep baits down in the strike zone better. I tend to anchor at night, but you want that bait anchored, too, so walleyes can zero in on it.”
By Nathan Shore