Feeding Time

Take Your Pick: muskies, brown trout, steelhead bass, or walleyes. When the weather cools down, the fishing heats up.

Field & Stream Online Editors

When it comes to angling, fall cannot be beaten. Cooling water and shorter days bring a flurry of red-hot fishing just about everywhere, from monster muskies and wall-hanger walleyes in the north to newly awakened largemouths down south. Steelhead are in the rivers now, swimming upstream and getting ready for spring spawning. Brown trout are moving even more quickly. They'll spawn in October or November, and these great beasts of trout make themselves vulnerable as they run upstream. It's tough to make choices when you'd rather gobble down the whole dessert tray. So I inevitably fish myself into exhaustion in October, knowing that winter will shut things down all too quickly. Here's a quick guide to the best of fall.

**MUSKELLUNGE **
THE SCOOP Muskie fishing heats up as the water cools; October and November are traditionally the prime months for monsters. In many lakes, fish that went deep or otherwise seemed to disappear in summer's doldrums move shallow again: not back into the now fading lily pads of shallow bays, but back around main-lake points, rock piles, humps, and other structure adjacent to deep water, where they feed-and strike-with newfound aggression.

The fishing is never easy, not even now in the best of seasons, and it can be hours or days between strikes. You might, on the other hand, have one of those miracle days when you'll boat a half dozen muskies, one of which may be a lifetime fish of 40 or 50 pounds.

**GEARING UP **If you're trolling, which accounts for the best numbers and sizes of fish, choose jumbo, deep-diving crankbaits based on the depth required in your trolling pattern-commonly 8 to 10 feet deep but varying by lake.

HOW TO SCORE Muskie fishing can be extraordinarily complex, but here's the most basic version. Get the skinny from local tackle shops, which will either connect you with a guide or steer you to the best area. Then, a good lake map will allow you to plan some trolling patterns covering the edges of reefs, points, and other structure. Trolling speeds are fairly fast, often 4 to 5 mph, which gives a muskie less decision time and can provoke reaction-style strikes.

WHERE THE ACTION IS For abundance of fish, Michigan's Lake St. Clair is North America's hottest muskie lake. For real giants, check out Lake of the Woods on the Minnesota-Ontario border, the French River delta region near Ontario's Georgian Bay (Lake Huron), or the St. Lawrence and Ottawa Rivers north and east of Lake Ontario. Any of these could produce the next world-record muskie.

[NEXT "BROWN TROUT"] **BROWN TROUT **
**THE SCOOP **Unlike the other fish on these pages, brown trout are fall spawners, which makes their behavior more predictable. Starting as early as August in some areas, brown trout are on the move. Great hulks of trout swim into the spawning tributaries of major lakes and reservoirs. Their movements are somewhat similar to those of steelhead: working upstream at night, holding briefly in a dawn tailout, then hiding in deep pools or under a logjam during the day. By October, this movement is well established just about everywhere, and it's time for you to hit the water.

GEARING UP These can be big, aggressive fish, so don't wimp around with what you throw. In most places, you need big, ugly streamer flies or minnow-imitating spinning lures to provoke strikes. Most streamers will be 3 to 5 inches long, ranging in size up to 2/0. Spinfishermen should throw trout-pattern Rapala or Storm ThunderStick plugs.

**HOW TO SCORE **In general, and because trout are moving upstream, the upper reaches of major rivers are best. If there's a dam blocking trout passage, fish the first mile or two below it. Later in the season, you may start to see spawning redds in shallow gravel areas. If it's legal, you can target browns that are actually spawning. During the day, ough, they're apt to be hiding under nearby cover or adjacent deep water. I happen to think that fishing over brown trout that are actually on their redds is unethical, and I don't do it. But that's your choice.

WHERE THE ACTION IS I've caught fall browns in Montana's Bighorn on October mornings so cold I had to chip the ice off my rod. And I've caught lake-run browns in New York's Salmon River almost by accident while targeting fall steelhead. Just pick your favorite brown-trout river and go for it.

[NEXT "STEELHEAD"] STEELHEAD **
**THE SCOOP
They come quietly and with a persistence built over centuries of migration. They are steelhead, giant rainbows entering autumn rivers from the ocean or the Great Lakes, moving slowly upstream by twos and threes to hold quietly in winter pools before spawning in early spring. Steelhead are generally of two types, so-called summer-run and winter-run. Summer-runs enter rivers as early as July in some places but more commonly in the fall.

GEARING UP Spinfishermen do best with medium- to soft-action rods of 9 to 11 feet. Fresh spawn sacs (salmon roe) are by far the best bait, fished under a slip-type bobber with enough weight to tick bottom on a drift.

Flyrodders usually fish in one of two ways. A slow-swinging wet fly on a 10-pound-test tippet is traditional, fished with 9-foot or longer rods of 8-weight or greater. The other method uses a strike indicator and nymph combination very similar to what's used in trout fishing.

**HOW TO SCORE **Most major steelhead rivers in the Lower 48 are well known. Once you find a stretch of river that holds fish, though, there's at least one thing you should do differently from most people. Fish early, meaning at first light. Steelhead move upstream at night. At dawn, they stop to rest in the shallow, smooth tailout of a large pool just above a rapid or riffle. The first fly or bait through that water in the morning is the best shot at a fish that anyone will get all day.

WHERE THE ACTION IS Among Great Lakes tributaries, it's usually only the larger rivers that have fall runs. New York's Salmon River should be hot now, and the fishing will be picking up in Michigan's Muskegon. Farther west, the Deschutes and Grande Ronde Rivers in Oregon, along with Idaho's Clearwater, are favorites. British Columbia steelhead, meanwhile, are the holy grail.

[NEXT "LARGEMOUTH BASS"] **LARGEMOUTH BASS **
**THE SCOOP **Patterning fall bass is a problem. That's because largemouth lakes are so varied nationwide. A deep, clear western reservoir is very different from the broad shallows of a Florida lake.

The bass pros who get interviewed by magazines or thump their chests on TV seem fond of declaring that they've found the ultimate fall pattern. But that's only true of wherever they happen to be at the time. Keeping that in mind will help to keep your own fishing from getting stuck in a rut.

GEARING UP In northern lakes, bass tend to move to deeper weedbeds and structure and become somewhat less aggressive in cooling water. Crankbaits that run at medium depths, jig-and-pig combinations, and drop-shot rigs are all effective now. Shallow southern lakes are also cooling, but not as much. The bass that hunkered down in the shade of thick hydrilla mats and refused to move during August will now be a little more aggressive, chasing a spinnerbait or gulping a Senko.

Flyfishermen should shelve poppers and topwater bugs in favor of minnow-imitating streamer flies.

**HOW TO SCORE **If I had to pick a universal lure for fall largemouths everywhere, I'd pick a jig-and-pig. That's a versatile rig I can work shallow in Florida and deep in New York. The only exception would be in deep, clear western reservoirs where drop-shotting and other finesse techniques pay off better.

WHERE THE ACTION IS Fall largemouths don't move hundreds of miles like steelhead; they often shift no more than a few hundred feet. So fall hotspots are the same, all-season perennials you already know. If I had my druthers, though, I'd be fishing the Potomac River region near Washington, D.C., Rodman Reservoir in north Florida, Texas' Lake Fork, or the California Delta region near San Francisco.

[NEXT "WALLEYE"] WALLEYE **
**THE SCOOP
Walleyes in many major lake systems make a massive fall migration, often staging in or near large river mouths. This may be partly a precursor to spring spawning farther upstream, but it's probably most related to baitfish movement. Schools of emerald shiners, small shad, ciscoes, and alewives tend to move inshore, where water temperatures are more stable in the fall, frequently packing into river-mouth harbors and bays. The walleyes are close behind. This sometimes brings trophy fish uniquely within casting range of shore-bound anglers, especially those adventurous enough to wade after dark.

GEARING UP Long casts while wading work best for covering as much water as possible. That means you'll need a 7- to 9-foot spinning rod. Baitfish-imitating plugs are essential. Floater-divers like regular Rapalas and Rebels can work well; also carry some suspending jerkbaits like Lucky Craft Pointers to work just a little deeper.

HOW TO SCORE First, check with an area game warden or fisheries biologist to make sure the river mouth, harbor, or bay you're targeting has a fall influx of both baitfish and walleyes. Then survey the area in daylight, looking for fishable jetties and piers, plus bars, reefs, flats, and points that you can wade safely at night. Retrieve lures slowly and steadily. If that doesn't work, try adding stops and twitches. And never shine your flashlight over the water that you're working-it will spook the fish.

WHERE THE ACTION IS Most big lake systems in the heart of Midwestern walleye country offer at least some of this fishing. The lower Maumee, Sandusky, and Huron Rivers along the Ohio portion of Lake Erie usually have fall runs. In Michigan, the Saginaw River on the Lake Huron (east) coast is an established fall hotspot, but there are many others. BR>
WHERE THE ACTION IS Fall largemouths don't move hundreds of miles like steelhead; they often shift no more than a few hundred feet. So fall hotspots are the same, all-season perennials you already know. If I had my druthers, though, I'd be fishing the Potomac River region near Washington, D.C., Rodman Reservoir in north Florida, Texas' Lake Fork, or the California Delta region near San Francisco.

[NEXT "WALLEYE"] WALLEYE **
**THE SCOOP
Walleyes in many major lake systems make a massive fall migration, often staging in or near large river mouths. This may be partly a precursor to spring spawning farther upstream, but it's probably most related to baitfish movement. Schools of emerald shiners, small shad, ciscoes, and alewives tend to move inshore, where water temperatures are more stable in the fall, frequently packing into river-mouth harbors and bays. The walleyes are close behind. This sometimes brings trophy fish uniquely within casting range of shore-bound anglers, especially those adventurous enough to wade after dark.

GEARING UP Long casts while wading work best for covering as much water as possible. That means you'll need a 7- to 9-foot spinning rod. Baitfish-imitating plugs are essential. Floater-divers like regular Rapalas and Rebels can work well; also carry some suspending jerkbaits like Lucky Craft Pointers to work just a little deeper.

HOW TO SCORE First, check with an area game warden or fisheries biologist to make sure the river mouth, harbor, or bay you're targeting has a fall influx of both baitfish and walleyes. Then survey the area in daylight, looking for fishable jetties and piers, plus bars, reefs, flats, and points that you can wade safely at night. Retrieve lures slowly and steadily. If that doesn't work, try adding stops and twitches. And never shine your flashlight over the water that you're working-it will spook the fish.

WHERE THE ACTION IS Most big lake systems in the heart of Midwestern walleye country offer at least some of this fishing. The lower Maumee, Sandusky, and Huron Rivers along the Ohio portion of Lake Erie usually have fall runs. In Michigan, the Saginaw River on the Lake Huron (east) coast is an established fall hotspot, but there are many others.