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Tempt baitfish with minnows in fall

Various fish species prefer different sizes of bait, which is especially evident while using minnows; a great presentation during fall. Big minnows will typically yield larger predator fish, while smaller minnows usually entice smaller panfish and gamefish throughout the autumn. (Jason Durham / For the Enterprise)

Baitfish are an integral part of catching fish of any species. Whether you're trying to catch walleye, northern pike, muskie, bass, panfish, bullheads or any other fish that swims, food is an essential factor that influences location and behavior.

Yet fish food, what anglers refer to as their presentation, isn't all the same.

Think of this from a homosapien perspective. We don't accept similar food varieties with the same enthusiasm. I like asparagus, not everyone does. Some people enjoy pie and ice cream, I personally don't.

Fish are no different in regard to food, even though their process to decide what to eat is very different compared to humans.

Neither human nor fish typically ingests the same meal every day over the course of a week, month or years.

Fish are probably more likely to feed on the same prey for a longer period versus humans because of a more limited variety of food. We could prepare steak numerous ways, but fish don't have spices, seasoning or stoves. They rely upon a limited supply of food options and fish location is directly related to forage location.

Keep in mind that steak isn't simply steak to humans and minnows aren't simply minnows to fish. Some species prefer certain food options while others differ.

Take the widely sought crappie for instance. Though crappie minnows (which don't actually grow up to become crappies) are a great presentation, angle worms, nightcrawlers and leeches aren't usually the crappies favorites. Yet, small jigs and miniature spinners that imitate insects and minnows perform well.

The toothy northern pike will grab just about any minnow, but their predatory nature is typically attracted to large, flashy forage. So a big minnow will get the pike's attention and trigger a strike, even though the fish may not be able to actually eat the bait. In other words, a 20-inch pike will greedily chomp onto a 9-inch minnow, though ultimately hooking the fish is difficult.

Sometimes anglers will catch a rock bass, perch, sunfish, crappie or bass and see the tooth marks of a pike or muskie that grazed the smaller fishes skin.

Those other fish can't be used for bait, but if some attention from a large predator fish is your desire, big minnows may be in order.

Walleye are a bit different. Their penchant for big minnows excels in the late summer and through the fall, but even small minnows like fatheads, small shiners and rainbows will catch a walleye or two throughout the four seasons. Don't forget about leeches and nightcrawlers too.

Maybe that's one reason walleyes can be a bit tougher to catch, since the size and types of baits varies so widely.

You may own a sonar that displays schools of baitfish beneath your boat.

On calm, warm fall days, the sonar might not show groups of minnows swimming near the warm surface water.

Walleye would love to eat them, but the typical bottom dwelling behavior of a walleye makes surface relevant forage practically useless.