At a very basic level, I know what autumn turnover is. As air temperatures drop, the water near the surface of lakes and slow-moving rivers cools and then sinks. This forces the water near the bottom to rise, and the water literally turns over. During this transition, mud and organic matter from the bottom of the lake gets carried upward and the clarity of the water, for a short time, becomes murky. For most people, autumn turnover goes unnoticed. For fishermen and fisherwomen, it marks the end of summer fishing. The fish move in response to the temperature changes, and the fishing hotspots of July and August stop producing good catches. I’ve always thought that the fish stopped biting as winter approaches, but from everything I’ve read about turnover, the fish are still hungry. They are just hard to find.
I seldom catch fish on my autumn fishing trips to Canada, northern Minnesota, and northern Wisconsin. Over the past three years, I think my fall trips have produced a total one walleye and a couple of snaky northerns. If anyone needs substantiation that the reasons for fishing are much more than catching fish, they need only to look at my fishing patterns in late September and early October. If I wanted to catch fish, I’d stay home to fish the Mississippi River and possibly catch my limit of panfish and small-mouthed bass. Instead I go north and pretty much get skunked. Of course, the Upper Mississippi changes with the seasons just as much as any body of water, but because the current in the big river mixes water year ‘round, it seems to me that fish in the Mississippi react differently to turnover than fish in north country lakes.
I just returned from my annual outing to Phillips, Wisconsin. It’s an unusual trip, because I head north with six or seven other guys, but I usually am the only one who fishes. Everyone else is there to grouse hunt. After breakfast each morning, they head for the woods, and I go to one of a dozen lakes within a ten-mile radius of the cabin where we stay. This year, Tom’s gout was acting up, so he went fishing, too.
As usual, I caught almost nothing, and Tom did no better. Still fall colors were out, the weather was sunny and brisk, and at the end of each day, we met up with our hunting friends and listened to stories about ruffed grouse and woodcock. I don’t hunt myself, but I like to hear hunters talk about their dogs. Tom and I were supposed to reciprocate with tales of our own adventures, but we had none. We had to admit that the most exciting moment during two days of fishing was the first hour of our first day when we realized that our boat was sinking because we’d forgotten to put in the drain plug.