In most lakes walleye continue to roam after dark during the post spawn, because perch spawn right after walleye, often in weed beds adjacent to the rocky shoals walleye inhabit. The perch, which don’t see well after dark, become easy target for walleye. On the other hand, Walleye have great vision and they can be easy to spot if you troll up moonlit eyes. I’ve spotlighted enough weed beds adjacent to note perch suspend in weed cover. Away from weeds they generally drop down and sit tight until light. Suspended perch seem easier for walleye to roust and eat after dark.
The option to fish at night can be a great equalizer in times of bad weather. Day or night, wind is always a killer, but cold fronts on the other hand don’t have quite the adverse on walleyes at night. If fishing is tough during the day, one of the best plans is to fish at night.
A simple set of patterns generally plays forth on most natural lakes at night. Long-line trolling still remains the most effective way for anglers to catch fish. However, shore casting can be even better if the angler has a classic spot to fish. Shallow rock reefs and points can be anchored to and fished, especially during prime times. A lot of anglers prefer to fish with slip floats at night on specific spots such as these.
Walleyes spawn on shallow, windswept, rock/rubble areas, so if they haven’t spawned, those are key areas to fish. Usually though, by the time most anglers are out fishing on most natural lakes and reservoirs, the walleyes have moved to areas of both rock and weed growth with poor water clarity.
In bodies of water lacking such weed growth, perch and other bait fish often hold onto sand grass flats at the same depth. For that matter, many prey-fish often spend all summer in the weed growth.
Where ciscoes are forage, often along with perch, some walleyes pursue them while others key in solely on the perch. Rock reefs are one location connection for ciscoes, but walleyes also seek bait fish along rocky banks with at least 4-5 feet of water not far from the bank – creating a sort of lip effect. Most of the best locations concentrate on the edge of the bar, well out from shore. That’s fine if weeds and rock are there – just don’t overlook checking the inside turns closer to shore.
No matter what shallow-running, minnow imitators you use, you will need 2 plug styles: 1. subtle-running (wobbling) minnow imitators such as the Floating Rapala; and 2. lazy, slightly wild-swimmer, such as the Bagley Bang-O-Lure. Once water hits the upper 50F range, harder swimming imitators such as the Reef Runner Ripstick begin producing. The #11 Rapala is the top all around size lure at this time, although the #13 works especially well sometimes as well. If I had to choose between the smaller #9 and the larger #13, I’d go larger. Another idea would be trying out some glowing bait. Glowing bait can increase visibility and help increase your chances of catching a fish. Worms tricks for walleye can also work as good bait when used correctly.
The simplest option to get a minnow plug to the depth you want is using Water Gremlin BB shot or 3/0 shot 12 to 18 inches in front of the lure. One BB shot gets a #11 with 100 feet of 14 pound Fire-Line out, and at a speed of 1 mph at 5 feet. 2 BB shot get the lure down another 3 – 4 feet, as does one 3/0 shot. one 3/0 shot allows the lure to run more precisely than a 2 BB shot.
The shortest line I run is about 25 feet, the longest is 125, with 100 being the standard. Fish don’t usually scoot off far from motor noise, as long as it’s steady. As a gas motor is actually quieter underwater than a trolling motor, proven time and again by tests conducted with hydrophones, but whether the walleye in each body of water would agree is another question entirely.
A stern light doesn’t seem to be an issue at night if the light is a steady source. You can slip something like an old sock over it which will reduce glow intensity, but still allow it to be seen by other boats. Shine a spotlight on most walleyes at night and keep it there, and it seems not to bother them, but move it around slightly and they get nervous.
An alternative to Fire-Line is 10-pound mono, but I personally believe Fire-Line is superior at night in most cases, hang the slightest weed at night and you can feel the vibration, something that can’t be done with mono-filament.
Anchoring and Casting
Anytime I know fish move onto a specific spot at a given time – often sunrise/set- I anchor and cast. The best way to learn where these areas are is to long-line troll. Once you know where such areas are, they usually produce year after year.
On one lake I fish, I can usually anchor at sunset on a few different spots and catch some fish until dark. At this point the walleye bite usually slows down and I begin to cover larger areas using long-line trolling. If you fish all throughout the night or in the early morning when the sun is rising, you’ll notice this pattern reverse. Good spots for casting generally increase in bite potential at sunrise compared to sunset. This is in part due to the fact that most fish use the morning as a last resort to stock up on food until they begin to feed again at dark.
For almost 2 decades my lure of choice has been the CountDown Rapala. Depth control is a primary concern for presentation and this plug makes it rather easy to control. Using 14-pound Fire-Line, a #7 CD runs about 3 feet down on a slow steady retrieve; a #9 about 5 feet; and a #11 around 7. Most spots you would normally anchor to don’t require deeper fishing than that.
The #10 and #12 Husky Jerks are just as effective when fishing in depths from about 3 to 7 feet. Walleyes don’t always hug the bottom on these types of locations. Both of these huskies tend to run at the same depth, which can be varied slightly depending on if you hold the rod tip high or low.
The other lure style is a jig weighing 1/4 Oz, dressed with a shad bodied thumpertail plastic about 4 inches long. The YUM G-Shad is a good option, so is the 4.5 inch Lunker City Shaker.
Fishing these Lures
I personally don’t believe all the hype when others argue that erratic stop-and-go retrieves are as productive as slow-and-steady retrieves at night. However, sometimes when fishing in clear waters, subtle stop-and-go fishing will get you results. For slow, steady fishing it often helps to adjust the wobble on the Rapala lures by slightly bending the nose eye of a plug down, to get the plug to wobble a little wider on a dead slow retrieve.
Most anglers tend to anchor with the wind at their backs, which makes casting easy. The main point is that you don’t want to anchor in the way of fish as they move shallow. Sometimes it’s best to “double anchor” (one anchor at each end of the boat to keep it in place) in shallower water then to cast out into deeper water. This trick does not work in heavy winds. Perhaps the best way to anchor, not considering all the factors on your lake, would be to set up well away from spots with the wind at your back, then use different lengths of anchor rope to get you in range (at least 75 feet) of where the fish are feeding.
In lakes and some reservoirs the best spots are usually “tube” areas at the mouths of shallower bodies of water or marshes. The main forages here are perch, bluegills, and other pan-heads that wander about the area. Other areas include mouths of feeder streams or any other narrows between lakes, or portions of lakes/reservoirs. Bridges are also other obvious spots to try. Sometimes lake outlets attract fish too, although this pattern is more noticeable during the fall.
Most of the anchor-and-cast areas mentioned earlier are good options for shore casters… if they can get to them. Lighted docks often attract walleye at night, even more so if the light is consistent and on every night. Marina docks often qualify too, so personal docks in lake areas where scattered walleye pass through, as long as the dock light stays on and consistent.
Generally speaking, any spot that gathers congregations of walleye during the day would be a good spot to try your luck at night. Walleye love to target panfish at night, so spots that gather panfish gather walleye. Also, points leading into bays make good spots.
Piers also make great locations to try, whether it be on large scale bodies of water like the great lakes, or a small local lake or reservoir. Again, the main key is that the pier is located in an area where walleyes migrate, or in a location that attracts feeding walleye. Most piers are known hot spots during certain times of the year.
Finally, barriers on rivers also concentrate fish for shoreline anglers, dams, shallow riffle areas, piers, big river bends, and in small rivers… even holes.
The shore-casters main lure choices still remain suspending lures such as: the #10 or 12 husky Jerk; countdown lures such as the #7,#9 or #11 Count Down Rapala; jig-and-shad plastic combos such as the 4-inch shad on a 1/4 Oz jig-head; and finally the Apex Wobble Worm.
Use the wobble worm over emerging weed growth that you can’t get the other rigs through. The other baits work well for just about any situation you come across, your main concern being depth control. Slow-steady retrieves are the norm. You need a flashlight, net, small lure box, probably waders and certainly warm clothing, plus a stringer for hopefully a fish or two to eat.
These early season tactics have proven to be successful, time and time again, while fishing fresh water lakes throughout North America.