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Night Time is the Right Time for Walleye

By Bernie Schnieders

Have you ever experienced one of those hot summer days when the walleye fishing was just plain slow? As you sat and watched the water skiers and personal watercraft zipping around the lake, you’ve wondered what all those walleye were doing down there. Well chances are if it’s near the full moon phase, and the sky was clear that evening, those dormant day walleye would have turned on for a night feeding frenzy. That’s right I said the “night time is the right time” for walleye.

First you have to understand a little about the walleye (locally called pickerel). Start with the word “eye” in walleye, for the large, light sensitive eyes they have. Walleyes have acute night vision, making them an effective low-light predator. When the sun goes down and the moon comes up, walleye hunt baitfish, both suspended and along weed lines and bottom structure.

LOCATION & FINDING FISH

Chances are you’ll have to troll and cover some water to find walleye feeding at night. Prime night walleye locations include weedlines, large feeding flats, main lake points, narrows, wind-bashed shorelines, sunken islands and reefs and river inlet areas. In the spring to early summer I prefer weedlines and wind bashed shorelines, while in mid to late summer I choose sunken islands and reefs. In the fall, current areas and shallow to steep shorelines, which have had daily wind and wave activity, can be hotspots for night walleye.

TACTICS & TECHNIQUES

There are a variety of presentations that excel for night walleye including trolling and casting crankbaits, and using lighted bobbers with lively bait. If you camp or live on a lake with plenty of boaters, swimmers, and summer activity, I recommend giving night trolling a try for walleye. In the spring, flat-line shallow diving, floating crankbaits that imitate minnow presentations. I like crankbaits such as the Rapala (#9, #11, #13) floating minnow, Husky Jerk, Storm Thunderstick, Smithwick Rogue and Berkley Frenzy. Troll these crankbaits along the weedline edges, careful not to troll into the weeds, or you’ll be constantly pulling off weeds. Common spring depths are from 8 to 15 feet deep. Colors such as black and silver, blue and white, black and chrome, smoke, blue and orange, firetiger and watermelon can all produce good catches. A couple of small split shot several feet up the line can help get the lure down. I like to use a good baitcasting reel such as an Ambassador 4600 or 5600, with 10 to 12-pound test mono or Fireline. Superlines such as Fireline get the crankbaits down deeper and with no stretch in the line when you get a strike. I long-line up to 150 feet of line behind the boat, and check the trolling speed by watching the crankbaits in the water. Trolling speeds from 2 to 3.5 mph work well for walleye. If the crankbait is not running straight you will have to tune you’re lure by adjusting the eyelet with a needlenose pliers. Occasionally I’ll use “glow in the dark” phosphorescent strips or lures, recharging them using a camera flash or flashlight.

By the mid to late summer period. Many night-feeding walleye are setting up on sunken islands and humps during the moonlit periods. Prime humps are between 10 and 20-feet in depth, and I’ll mark such positions into my GPS or use a marker buoy so I can find them again in the dark. Most night trolling is done between 12.00 p.m. and 4:30 a.m. For reef trolling, use a 3-way rig, including a 3-way swivel, which as a 1 to 2-foot dropper line with a large weight. The weight can be any type; however, a bell, egg or crimp-on sinkers work the best. I generally use a lot of weight, i.e. in the 1 ½ to 3-ounce range, and I’ll use lighter line on the dropper, so if I get snagged I’ll generally break off at the weight and get the crankbait back. I’ll run a 6-foot leader of 10-pound test limp mono line to the crankbait which is attached by a crosslok snap. Run floating or shallow diving crankbaits, so you’re not constantly in the rocks. Keep the presentation near vertical, and have you’re weight touching or ticking the bottom. You’ll find you’ll get a lot of snags until you get the hang of it. Casting diving crankbaits on the shallow shelves, reefs and current areas, and using lighted bobbers with lively leeches and minnows also works well for night walleye.

I’ve found that 3 days before and after the full moon (that’s next week) is the best period for night walleye fishing, although I’ve also done well during the last quarter. Other ardent night anglers have told me that the moonlight didn’t make that big of a difference on their outings. However, moonlight can make things a lot easier as your eyes can adjust, and your visibility is better on moonlit nights. Some night fishing tips include: 1) never take a gas Coleman lantern in the boat, use electric lanterns or flashlights, 2) a rubber landing net makes removing fish and treble hooks much simpler and quicker, 3) play it safe and have all proper running lights; it’s required by law, 4) two people in the boat makes for less foul-ups when long-lining crankbaits, 5) don’t forget to bring you’re camera for a photo of that “once-in-a-lifetime” trophy. Not only can you catch the big one, but also the average size always seems to be bigger at night, so please remember to “Conserve for tomorrow, practice catch and release today!” Be prepared and play it safe on the water; daytime and nightime.