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By the Light of the Harvest Moon

By Bernie Schnieders

It was a cold, clear night and the moonlight reflected off the water with an iridescent glow. John Mason and I trolled up the slope from the lake basin, and as I turned the boat to parallel the shoreline, John yelled out “fish on”! I put the motor into neutral, turned it off, and then quickly reeled in my line. “Don’t horse it”, I said, “we’ve got all night”. The long bouncer rod was bent over as John strained to put some tension on the fish. The fish stayed down in 20+-foot depth, making deep pounding headshakes and runs. “This will be a good eye,” I commented, and our faces bristled with grins. I shone the flashlight beam into the water and we got the first glimpse of big glowing eyes and white-tipped fins. When the fish saw the light and the boat, its powerful tail made water fly as it took yet another run. Finally the big walleye lay atop the calm water, and I quickly scooped it into the rubber landing net. A 29-inch trophy walleye by the light of the harvest moon!

What’s so great about night fishing for walleye? Well, part of the fun is the anticipation, kind of like when I was a kid, and I could barely sleep the night before a fishing trip. It’s waiting for the right night; getting the weather; preparing the boat, rods, rigging, lures, and camera. It’s the camaraderie of friends; the fresh coffee on the drive out to the lake; arriving at the launch site just as or after everyone else has left the lake. It’s the experimentation and figuring out a pattern that’s working, and it’s the peacefulness and serenity of the night. Actually it’s all of the above, plus when you hit it right you’re in for terrific fishing and a shot at some real trophy walleye! Yes, you have to love walleye fishing to fish at night.

Night Presentations and Tactics

There are several walleye presentations that excel at night. My favorite is trolling crankbaits several days before and after the full moon. Look for a moonlit nights with few clouds, and while calm will work, I’ve also had some great fishing on windy nights. Key night presentations include long-lining shallow-diving and floating crankbaits along weedlines, feeding flats and shorelines in the early summer months, and using bouncers, 3-way rigs and deep-diving crankbaits during the later summer months. You can also cast diving crankbaits if the conditions are right, and don’t forget to try lighted slip bobbers with active leeches and big minnows to catch night walleye.

KISS: Keep it simple in the boat! Two anglers will keep the time consuming foul ups down to a minimum. Longer rods and reels loaded with 8 to 10-pound test line work great for night fishing. I use an Abu Garcia bait casting reel loaded with 10/4 Fireline as my main line. Fireline has little to no stretch, so you feel bites instantly. A rubber net makes landing the fish and getting the hooks out of the fish and the net easier. A release cradle also assists with live releases and photos. Make sure you have a gas trolling motor so you can get the speed down to 1½ to 2 mph. I can even troll with my 90 hp Mercury four-stroke outboard, getting the rpm down to slow trolling speeds. I always check how the crankbait is running by using a flashlight and observing it beside the boat. If a quick tuning is in order, I use the needle-nose pliers.

Make sure you watch your sonar or fish finder. On many nights, walleye will rise off the bottom. If the walleye are up, long line large (4 to 6-inch), minnow imitating crankbaits such as Rapala Floating (#9, #11), Frenzy Minnow, Husky Jerk, Thunderstick, Poe’s Minnow and Bomber Long A’s. If walleye are down and even on the bottom, such as in the late summer and fall, use a large bottom bouncer (4-ounce) or a 3-way rig with a large bell weight (3-ounce plus), and have a 6 to 8-foot leader, a cross-lok snap and a floating crankbait. I lift and drop my cranks and weights up and down off the bottom, to entice strikes. Black and silver, blue and silver and blue with orange and gold have been some of the most productive colors for me. Phosphorescent lures and glow strips can also be used on crankbaits, and can be charged with a camera flash or a flashlight. I like to cover water, trolling zigzag patterns along weedlines, drop-offs and from the deeper basin, up the slopes to shallow water feeding flats. You can also cast or long line deeper diving crankbaits such as the Deep Frenzy Mag Diver, Frenzy Diver, Wally Diver, Hawg Boss Super Toad, Poe’s Competition Series and the Timber Tiger DC-16. Rattles, vibration and an erratic action are all good features for diving crankbaits.

Make sure you have a couple of good flashlights, and even an area light. Don’t use a Coleman (naphtha) lantern in the boat. Running lights are mandatory for night fishing and make sure you play it safe and wear that floater coat on the water. Have a trip plan and let someone know where you are going and when you plan to return. My best action has come between 12:45 and 3:00. Be advised that not all night trips will be successful, but experimentation, experience, and finally confidence will produce some truly terrific walleye outings. Handle and release those big breeders carefully. The next harvest moon is only a couple of days away! Good fishing!