Fishing // Article

Fall is Prime Time for Fishing

By Erica Wacker

With cooler weather, more active fish and a beautiful backdrop of changing leaves, fall is one of the best times of year to fish in Minnesota. Depending on the area and the size of the lake, walleye, muskie, northern pike, largemouth bass and crappie, as well as trout in the southeast Minnesota streams, are all biting.

“Everything bites better in the fall,” says Paul Nelson, a veteran fishing guide in the Bemidji area. As the fish try to fatten up for the coming winter, many species are more active during the day as they look for food, and also start gathering into larger schools. Fall is generally considered the best time of year to catch trophy-size fish.

Fall fishing from a motorboat

Fall fishing along the Lake Country Scenic Byway near Park Rapids

Early in the fall, baitfish move into the shallows to spawn, causing the walleye and other predatory fish to follow. Later in the fall, most gamefish move deep on lakes with a thermocline (a separation of the warmer, upper layer of water and the cooler, lower layer of water). Their preferred location is often the steep drop-offs to deep water. Throughout the fall, areas with remaining green weeds are prime fishing spots.

Despite this being a time of transition, a jig and minnow is usually the best presentation no matter the depth. Another rule of thumb is to "go big and go slow." The baitfish are at their largest size of the season so this is time to upsize your live bait. And since all fish are trying to conserve energy, use a slower presentation.

Northern Minnesota

Lakes such as Red and Winnibigoshish do not have a thermocline so fish are more likely to stay close to shore in the fall. On lakes with a thermocline, including Cass, Bemidji and Leech, fish tend to go deep. Before heading out, check with a local bait shop to learn if the lake you plan to fish has a thermocline, and if so, what the status of lake turnover is.

Further north, the annual fall run of walleye takes place on the Rainy River in September and October. The slow-moving river features 40 miles of navigable water, beginning at Lake of the Woods and heading east along the Canadian border. Anglers can watch the fall bird migration and marvel at the autumn leaves along the way.

Man holds 30-inch walleye caught on the Rainy River 

A 30-inch walleye caught on the Rainy River / LakeoftheWoodsMN.com

To the east, Lake Superior tributaries come to life in the fall with migrating trout and salmon. The holes at the bottom of waterfalls are often teeming with trout and salmon preparing to spawn. Fish the streams and rivers during low light hours. Fly anglers will want to try flashy streamers and small egg flies. Anglers using spinning rods generally do well using spawn bags and nightcrawlers.

"Fall is arguably the greatest time of year to fish the North Shore," says Jarrid Houston, of Houston's Guide Service. "Chasing the returning fish from Lake Superior is a wonder that everyone should experience. Pure magic!"

fishing on mille lacs lake at sunset

Fishing on Mille Lacs Lake at sunset

Central Minnesota

On deep lakes with a thermocline, such as Gull Lake, Ten Mile Lake and the Whitefish Chain of Lakes, look for schools of fish at the deepest breaklines. Once a school is located, drop a live-bait rig tipped with a minnow, leech or crawler.

"Fishing throughout central and northwest Minnesota is truly spectacular in September and October," boasts captain Josh Hagemeister, of Minnesota Fishing Guide Service. "The fall equinox triggers all species of fish to feed heavily in preparation for the winter months, and the combination of low fishing and boating pressure and stable weather patterns contribute to the great fishing success in the fall."

Man and dog fly fishing in southeast Minnesota

Man and dog fly fishing in southeast Minnesota / Wayne Bartz

Southern Minnesota

In southeastern Minnesota, the trout are active as they get ready to spawn in October and November. “By fall, they are in their best condition all year long,” says Vaughn Snook of the DNR fisheries office in Lanesboro.

The aptly named Trout Run Creek in Fillmore County is the area’s most popular stream for fly fishing. For casual anglers and kids, rainbow trout are stocked through the fall in downtown Chatfield, Spring Valley and Preston. Also in Preston, the National Trout Center provides information on local waterways, as well as trout fishing tips and training.

Erica Wacker

Erica Wacker is a Midwesterner through and through, growing up in Illinois, going to college in Wisconsin, and settling down in Minnesota. She loves to run, travel with her family, and go to concerts to relive her youth.