Being out on open water after dark can be a spooky experience, but its definitely a great time to be fishing for walleyes. Legendary Hall Of Fame Anglers Keith Kavajecz and Gary Parsons explain the tactics you’ll need to know to try some night time walleye fishing yourself.
If you’re looking for some true excitement to warm up your late fall fishing, have we got the solution for you. Forgo basking in the warmth of a midday sun, and plan your outings around the pitch of darkness. Fishing under the moon of a November night means it’s cold, spooky, and definitely outside anything resembling a comfort zone … but it’s unbelievably exciting and most definitely the time for catching the true monster walleyes of the year.
Keith & Bruce De Shano “Why”, you might ask, “would I want to go out in the middle of the night to catch walleyes when I can catch plenty of them in the day?” The answer … It’s a pure adrenaline rush! There’s magic to night fishing, especially in the late fall. The air feels clearer, the stars appear brighter, and the fish are bigger, more plentiful, bite better, and fight harder than the ones you’ll hook during the day. It’s the action that walleye dreams are made of, and, depending on where you’re fishing, you could have it all to yourself.
Many walleye waters produce well this time of year, but few produce the size and numbers of fish that the Great Lakes fisheries do. Traditional late fall haunts would include Lake Michigan’s Bay de Noc and Little Bay de Noc Huron’s Saginaw Bay, and the central basin of Lake Erie. While we’ll describe some of our favorite techniques for tackling the night bite on these waters, keep in mind that these tactics can be adapted to many lakes throughout walleye country.
First of all, you need to understand where walleyes are located this time of year. During the day, it’s still open water that holds fish, although they will be found much closer to shore than they were in mid-summer. In the fall of 1998 for instance, Keith and a film crew for Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World television show found good numbers of Lake Erie’s central basin walleyes within five miles of shore during the day. The fish were suspended 20 to 25 feet down over 40 to 50 feet of water. While the fishing was good, it was merely the “tip of the iceberg” of what could be expected later. The area was littered with small groups of walleyes roaming open water, but it was the night-bite the crew was after, when these fish would begin moving in from the basin and concentrate to feed.
Predicting the walleyes’ movements shoreward was not that difficult. They staged along the transition break where the soft basin turned to rock, (around the 20 foot mark), a place where baitfish gather. Keith found just such a transition about 1/2 to 1 mile off shore in the Sandusky area of Lake Erie, and the fishing was dynamite!
Whether you fish Lake Erie, Michigan’s Bay de Noc, or your home lake, look for walleyes suspended at night, often hanging only a few feet below the surface over a rocky bottom. Larger stickbaits like Storm ThunderSticks and Rapala Husky Jerks are great lure choices. The subtle action of these shallow running baits make them especially attractive to walleyes in the cooling waters. Start off running the baits 120 feet back on 10# Trilene XT. That set-up should have you running in the 6 to 8 foot range. For best results, troll ’em slow … really slow! A good kicker motor like the Mercury 9.9 and 15 hp 4-Strokes easily troll down to 1 to 1.5 mph which is the ideal speed for triggering fish.
Even under the cover of darkness, walleyes can be spooky, so running the baits away from the boat as much as possible is essential. The easiest way to do this is to use in-line boards like Off Shore Tackle’s OR-12 Side Planers. If you have trouble reading bites on boards in the daylight, you can imagine how tough fishing them at night can be. Off Shore Tackle offers the OR12-12NL, or “Night Light”, to help solve this problem.
The handy light easily snaps on the flag of the OR-12 Side Planer, and flashes with a red beacon, making it easy to keep track of boards on the darkest autumn night. One of the biggest problems you’re going to have fishing at night is navigation. Some of the best fishing will occur on cloudy nights or during the “dark-of-the-Moon” period, meaning it’s going to be pitch black out there. A GPS mapping unit can make getting to your fishing spot, and more importantly, back to the ramp, much less nerve racking. The best way to go is to get out on the water before dark and “map out” your fishing areas on your GPS. You can lay down a plot trail, mark your waypoints, and have a very usable navigation map that you can follow when the sun goes down.
Other essential night fishing equipment would include a good quality high-power spotlight, a couple good flashlights, and for those really frosty evenings, a small space heater for warming cold fingers. Keep the boat as clutter-free as possible. Anything that could cause a small problem in the daytime will create pure havoc at night. You don’t want to be tripping over excess rods, tackle bags and coolers trying to get to the net when your fishing buddy is trying to land his “wall-hanger”.
Keith in his 100MPH suitWhile a good fall bite on most waters begins in October, the closer it gets to “ice-up” the better the fishing usually gets for that really giant fish every walleye angler dreams about. If you’re willing to brave the icy conditions, a bonanza of monster walleyes few fishermen will ever experience is waiting for you. A word of warning in this “Shangri-La of dream trophies” … you have to respect Mother Nature! If you get wet or cold, you’re going to suffer … and that will quickly put an end to your fun fishing trip. Quality water-proof, insulated cold-weather clothing is a must. Layer to stay warm and dry, with good long johns, heavy insulated coats and pants, warm, dry boots and top-of-the-line rain gear like Bass Pro Shops 100 MPH Gore-Tex rain suit, to shed off the cold and water.
Sure, you can have some good fall fishing when the sun is out … but why not go for the true adventure. Make night time the right time to warm up with some hot walleye action. That way you can save your weekend afternoons for raking leaves, Christmas shopping and watching football, (not necessarily in that order!).