Fall Fishing on the Missouri River

fall walleye fishing

Written by Mike Peluso

ABOUT MIKE PELUSO Mike Peluso is an infamous North Dakota fishing guide that’s well known throughout the state. Mike prides himself on being consistent, as well as versatile on any body of water he fishes. Mike guides year-round, so you can find him on the water or on the ice. Give Mike a call for your next fishing adventure!

September 19, 2021

Near Bismarck, ND

Growing up here in Bismarck, ND was probably the greatest place in the world for me to grow up. I was so fortunate to have a mom who literally told my father he could fish as much as he wanted, as long as he didn’t leave me home. 

The backstory to mom giving Dad those orders back in the day is definitely for another story. I think for me where fall fishing on the river got really exciting is when the MWC Championship came to Bismarck back in 1986. 

Two guys by the names of Bruce “Doc Sonar” Samson and long-time guide Jerry Andersen found my Dad and he helped them win the tournament. I remember it so well! Babe Winkelman even brought his camera crew out to capture the tournament. Meeting him and these other guys at the age of 12, just completely lit a spark that continues to burn today. 

One thing is always for sure here on the northern portions of the Missouri River, the fish will show up both spring and fall. Spring is definitely more predictable than fall, always has been. The major factor in when the fish show up in the fall is the current flows. The Corp of Engineers control the flow, they usually back the flows off mid-September. How much they back these flows off depends on how much water we have in Lake Sakakawea, the feeder lake above the Garrison Dam, which is located about 50 miles north of Bismarck. 

The amount of water coming down the river will determine how early these walleyes begin to move upstream and how far they are willing to move upstream. The one area just south of Bismarck has always seemed to be the starting or stopping point for these fish. Fishing this river for over 40 years, I’m still not certain if it’s the starting or stopping point? Probably will never know the answer to this and to be honest, that’s OK. 

Another unpredictable player in fall fishing is the weather. My benchmark for when a bulk of the fish should be near town is the opener of deer season which usually falls that first week of November. The only problem we can have is early winter cutting us off from a great fall river bite. Although we have had plenty of falls where we fish all the way past Christmas. Those falls are the special ones for sure!

So how do I like to target these North Dakota sand lizards? For me it’s extremely hard to beat a JT Custom rod, the 7’ 1” JTX Ml with a 1/4oz Northland Jig tipped with a fathead minnow. I find while jig fishing these fall walleyes they really don’t necessarily like a fast-moving jig. Most of the jig fishing in the fall, unlike spring fishing, is vertically slipping the current seams. A Lot of times I barely jig, I can hold the jig just a couple of inches off the bottom and just let it sweep down super slow with the current. It’s an irresistible meal for these walleyes trying to bulk up for the winter. 

Another extremely popular way to catch these fall sleds is pulling the current edges with Flicker Shads or Shad Raps on my personal favorite Suffix Leadcore. The suffix lead is a narrower diameter lead core line and it seems to cut the current better than the rest. I know some reading articles like this may think this is a sales pitch.

I can assure you, I DO NOT use products I don’t believe in. I’m also a huge believer in concentrating on the details. Details for me, especially while running Mike Peluso Outdoors & Guide Service, are what makes the difference between putting fish in the boat and not putting fish in the boat. 

fall fishing
*Every fall is different. This fall is shaping up to be a challenge with very low water conditions. The one thing I can guarantee is the fish will show up! My guess is they will show up further south than normal. Probably the Cannonball area and south to Fort Yates will be best with some fish trickling north. The fall fish like current so they will stack up when they first start feeling this current. 

So what types of structure do these fall walleyes tend to seek out? I always like to try and visualize the river in reverse. This is hard for me to describe, but visualize the fish moving upstream. They like to find areas near current and paths of least resistance. I guess in short they are somewhat lazy while moving upstream in the fall. They will be in pretty big flat area spots or large troughs where again they are easy to get into. 

* This fall access is going to be an issue. I can see most ramps will be out of service with the low water. Trailers with rollers will be a lot easier this fall to load and unload. Also, when it is like this it is best to go with a buddy!

For me, the fall walleye season is always an exciting time! I love to think back on all the falls past. For me, I missed a few falls on the river while I was pursuing my hockey career. It was always hard for me to pack up my truck and leave because I knew I was leaving a great time to be on the water. I also knew that someday I would get a chance to be back out there and back out there I am! The month of Rocktober as I have coined it is just around the corner and that is the start of the greatest days we have here in

North Dakota. We just have to hope we have good weather into December so we can chase these fall walleyes on the Missouri River!

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