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Walleyes: Search for them high and low, shallow and deep

Jeremy Anderson caught this nice 11th Crow Wing walleye in 22 feet of water. Other local lakes provide walleye action from shallow to deep water this time of year. (Jason Durham / For the Enterprise)

I get a lot of phone calls and e-mails from anglers wondering what depth the walleyes are wandering during particular times of the year.

I try my best to offer insight, but in reality, walleye location on one body of water may contrast their location on a differing body of water, especially during fall.

Backtracking to spring, the lakes begin the season with rejuvenation. Plant and animal life is thriving after reproduction and much of the activity takes place in relatively shallow water. That water is warm, has an ample supply of dissolved oxygen and plenty of forage.

As the larger lakes warm beneath the summer sun, the water slowly stratifies into three distinct layers. If you had a cutaway view of the deepest portion of, for instance, Long Lake, the top layer would be the warmest, with plenty of oxygen. Wind and even boat activity aerates the upper layer of water.

The middle layer, also called the thermocline, has cooler water, which a number of fish and forage species desire during the hot months of July and August. The thermocline also has enough dissolved oxygen to support animal life. This section of water is quite attractive to fish, but can be difficult for anglers to effectively fish. The thermocline can vary in terms of its starting depth and how wide (deep) it extends.

The bottom layer of deep water contains very few, if any, fish, at least when the water is stratified in mid to late summer. The water is cool, which fish like pike, walleye, white sucker and cisco desire, but there isn't enough dissolved oxygen to support fish life for an extended period of time.

That base layer of undesirable water varies in terms of its starting depth from lake to lake.

For instance, commonly during late June, Fish Hook Lake won't have ample oxygen to support fish for extended periods further than about 25 feet deep.

This concentrates the fish and eliminates huge sections of unproductive water for anglers.

However, fall changes everything on the area lakes. As the water gradually cools and the autumn wind churns the lake surface, the water temperatures begin to blend together. Oxygen levels in deep water also elevate.

The lake is no longer sectioned, segregated and departmentalized. Any square inch of water could feasibly have a fish swimming in it.

Some anglers theorize that walleye move shallower during the fall. Ciscoes begin spawning in the shallow water (that's right, a fall spawn) and walleye capitalize on the process. Yet not every lake has ciscoes. However, I have had some wonderful success fishing for shallow water walleye in the fall, so I would confirm this theory.

Other anglers contend that walleye move deep in the fall since large schools of minnows wander into the deeper water. After catching deep fall walleye on Fish Hook, Long and Big Sand (60 ft) I would confirm this theory too.

In other words, if you want to catch fall walleye, be prepared to search high and low, shallow and deep.