One of the best cures for late summer’s rising heat and humidity is night fishing. In fact, some of the best anglers have taken their biggest walleye at night. But success requires you to understand the subtleties of fishing under the cover of darkness.
Seek shallow waters
By late summer/early fall, water temperatures start dropping, and fish start migrating to shore. In big, shallow lakes, walleye traditionally begin leaving the flats and their deeper environs. By mid-September through mid-October, they’re prowling in less than 10 feet of water much of the time.
Walleye can cruise in amazingly shallow waters after dark. I’ve taken them in no more than a foot of water at night. In fact, wading is sometimes easier than boat fishing. However, summer walleye are easily spooked and must be fished from a distance. Long-line trolling can be quite effective because it allows time for the boat to pass overhead and for the spooked walleye to regroup. When the bait finally passes fish, they hit it with a subtle, gentle tug.
Do your homework
Study your lake map in daylight and look for three types of water obstructions to locate walleye.
First, find the typical walleye structure composed of dropoffs, rock formations, points or inside turns. Then locate shallow structures usually found in the middle of the lake – mid-lake humps, rock piles, reefs, sunken islands, etc.
The third walleye-friendly structure is made up of weeds and wood, areas that might be classified as more bass or northern pike habitat but which see a host of walleye hanging out throughout the year. If you understand the predator-prey relationship, the reason fish hang out in weeds becomes obvious. If a walleye is placed in the lake as a fry, it becomes prey and naturally will find a place to hide. When the walleye grows up, it becomes a predator and instinctively knows to search weeds for prey.
Examine bottom terrain
When I first arrive on a heavily fished body of water, I start running the lake and looking for things that aren’t obvious to all anglers. For example, bottom changes. Consider running a straight shoreline break and see where it changes from sand into rock or mud into hard bottom. Watch for slight breaks in the weed line and small gravel patches near or within a weed line. Another of my favorite spots is near the entrance to a bay or harbor, especially if the entrance is narrow and there is at least 7 to 10 feet of water nearby.
Watch daytime clues
Another clue is the presence of baitfish, such as shiner. If minnows are abundant in the harbor or bay during the day, the odds are good that walleye will visit later on. Remember, these fish are patternable. It might take a while to get them figured out, but once the best fishing time is established, the fish will feed at that time – or close to it – the next few nights. But a change in weather can throw things off.
Use live bait or your favorite crankbait. On snag-free bottoms, a Lindy Rig is effective. On mud, weeds, submerged timber and rocks or boulders, a snag-reducing slip sinker attached to the Lindy Rig will keep you catching fish and not snags. The rig’s slower presentation gets most of the action, especially in shallow water. But faster-moving lures can really perk things up, too.
Sam Anderson is a professional walleye angler and president of Bay & Bay Transportation, a regional trucking company based in Minneapolis.