Mention “autumn” to non-fisherperson and visions of colorful fall foliage and orange pumpkins will likely come to mind. But for anglers, the visualizations are quite different: deeply bent fishing rods and exceptional-size freshwater gamefish in their landing nets.
With the arrival of fall, cooler air temperatures and shorter daylight periods gradually lower water temperatures over 10 to 12 weeks through the 60s, 50s and 40s – until skim ice appears on still water usually in the latter part of December. During early stages of cooling, feeding activity increases for many species in the waters of Pennsylvania’s Great Lakes Region.
While an unusually large specimen of a fish may be caught practically any time, anglers generally catch a higher proportion of larger-than-normal gamefish during the fall – particularly species like walleyes, muskies, northern pike, largemouth bass, and smallmouth bass. Some lakes will also yield exceptional crappies, bluegill and white bass at this time.
Applying a very broad brush, most lake-bound gamefish species will be feeding shallow until water temperature reaches the mid-50s, willing to hit action lures moved a moderate pace. These baits may include topwater, spinnerbaits, crankbaits, swimbaits and hard jerkbaits. But once water temperature falls below 50 degrees, most gamefish will shift to somewhat deeper water. Slower moving lures such as bottom bumping swimbaits, jigs and jigging-style lures typically produce.
Pictured: Walnut Creek, Erie County. Photo by Darl Black
At some point in the water temperature curve, intense feeding gradually slows for certain species – although gamefish in rivers tend to be more active longer into late fall.
To get in on the action this fall, consider fishing waterways that consistently produce your targeted species at this time of year.
- Pymatuning Lake: walleyes, crappies, yellow perch, muskies.
- Conneaut Lake: largemouth & smallmouth bass, crappies, bluegills.
- Shenango Lake: smallmouth bass, crappies, white bass, hybrid stripers, walleyes.
- Lake Wilhelm: largemouth bass, crappies, muskies.
- Presque Isle Bay: northern pike, largemouth bass, yellow perch.
- Lake LeBoeuf: muskies, crappies.
- Allegheny River: smallmouth bass, walleyes, muskies.
- Justus Lake: muskies, smallmouth bass.
Pictured: Walnut Creek steelhead trout. Photo by Darl Black
No, we haven’t overlooked the elephant in the room – Lake Erie and its tributaries. Even non-anglers likely know something about the awesome steelhead trout run that takes place in Lake Erie tributaries in the fall. Of course, the strength of each year’s run is dependent on water flow in the streams and the number of adult fish returning to spawn. Besides steelhead, numbers of brown trout also enter the streams early in the fall. In addition to the spawning run into the tributaries, large lake trout from the depths of Lake Erie make a journey to the nearshore shoals in order to spawn. In the fall, Erie relinquishes its title as Walleye Capital to become Trout Central!