Fishing Come Fall
Now, and during the next month or so the lakes in Wisconsin go through a major change that drastically affects most fishing. The change that I’m talking about is one of the least understood concepts in all of fishing. This fall change is a ritual that happens in both the spring and fall of the year in most state waters in Wisconsin and the Upper Midwest. It is of utmost importance for any angler that wants to have success catching fish during the last month and weeks of the open water season to understand the concept of turnover. Understanding what turnover is and how it alters and changes one’s fishing plans is the key to catching many of the biggest fish of any species before the onset of the “hard water” of winter and the ice fishing season.
The first thing that one needs to understand is that water temperature has a lot to do with turnover and as I write many lakes in northern and central Wisconsin are getting closer to the magical time of turnover which is when water temperatures approaches the lower 50’s. Water is most dense and heaviest at 39 degrees F., and as the temperature increases or decreases from 39 degrees, it becomes less dense and lighter. In both the summer and winter, most lakes are maintained by a climate in what we call a stratified condition. The less dense water is at the surface of lakes and the more dense water is at or near the bottom. Turnover usually begins when water temperature is in the mid to low 50’s F.
During the fall, air temperatures cool the surface water causing its density to increase. The heavier and denser water sinks, allowing and forcing the lighter and less dense water to the lakes surface. This process continues until the water temperature at all depths reaches approximately 39 degrees F. Now, there is very little if any difference in density at this stage, allowing the waters to be easily mixed by the blowing wind. This sinking action and mixing of the water by the wind results in the exchange of surface and bottom waters resulting in what is called “turnover.”
Signs that a lake is experiencing turnover are; clear water lakes becoming “muddy” or cloudy and there often is an odor from the water which comes from the decaying vegetation from the lake’s bottom that is now coming to the top of the water column in some lakes.
During the spring, this process reverses itself. This time, the ice melts and the surface waters warm and sink until the water temperature at all depths reaches approximately 39 degrees F. The sinking combined with the wind’s mixing causes spring “turnover.” This is a general definition of turnover, but there are other factors which affect this action including lake depth and climate. Some lakes don’t experience turnover because they are shallow like Lake Winnebago or they have moving water which doesn’t stratify like a river or flowage (Lake Wisconsin).
The effect that this has on fishing is very noticeable. A lake in the process of turning has a consistent oxygen level throughout the lake and that allows the fish to scatter throughout the lake’s waters because it’s comfortable at all depths to fish. This can make fishing difficult because it’s harder to find fish, no matter what species you’re chasing. But, the fishes feeding pattern remains the same, so, if you find the right structure or forage fish, then you’ll find the fish that you’re looking for. Fish are still active, but they are scattered throughout the lakes and what you have to do is find where these fish are holding. I would try trolling crankbaits or crawler harnesses because you’ll be covering a lot more water which should help you find the fish that you’re chasing. Use your Lowrance electronics combined with a trolling tactic to find the fish that you’re after in the fall. Once you find the fish, then you can alter your tactics as you zero in and target the active fish.
Another and final thing to remember and take into account is that all lakes do not turnover at the same time. Try to find lakes that have experienced turnover a week or two earlier or have yet to turn for the best angling no matter what species of fish. Post-turnover is a great time for using larger baits and suckers if muskie fishing, since big fish will go on a feeding frenzy before winter’s freeze-up.
If you’re fishing for muskies always have a lively sucker near the boat for follow-ups (do your figure-eights) and be sure to use a quick-set rig (Bait Rigs) so that the fish can be safely released to be caught again. This time of the year when you’re after big fish be sure to have a large, quality net that will allow you to keep your muskie in the water as it is unhooked and the tools to safely release the fish including; a good set of pliers, hook-outs, a bolt-cutter for treble hooks, and a fishing glove for difficult releases. Make sure that your hands are wet when touching the fish and if possible keep the muskie in the water. If you are taking a photo, make it quick, use your hand to support the fish, and don’t touch the fish’s eyes.
A good suggestion on where to go is to fish the waters of northern Wisconsin where you have counties like Vilas, Oneida, and Sawyer where you can go this fall and fish more than one lake in the same day with a good chance at landing a hungry fall muskie. Anglers can go to the Boulder Junction area of Vilas County and find hundreds of lakes in a relatively small area where many of the lakes turnover at different times. This will allow you to fish many lakes which have “turned” or haven’t flipped yet. Good luck and handle those muskies gently!