Trolling the Night Bite for Walleyes

February 23, 2009 by  

By PJ Maguire

 

Trolling for walleyes at night can be especially enjoyable when daytime temps are above average

Trolling for walleyes at night can be especially enjoyable when daytime temps are above average

There are a lot of theories in walleye circles about when the peak feeding time is for walleyes throughout the year. It’s well documented that walleyes with their cloudy, marble eyes were designed to prey on baitfish in low-light conditions. So with that being said you’d expect the peak to often be early in the morning, after the sun sets, or in the light of night.

The lake I fish the most in Northern Minnesota is not a walleye lake. My father often said that if you want to catch walleyes you have to put the boat on the trailer and go to a different body of water. However, with funding from the Lake Association and the Minnesota DNR, they’ve stocked walleye fingerlings in it’s waters for over a decade. The lake is shallow and weedy with good natural reproduction on most species of fish. Largemouth bass and northern pike are abundant, as they are in most weedy MN lakes. Sometimes it seems like you have to fight through the pike and bass to get to the walleyes, which isn’t always a bad thing either. But one can only wonder how much the small pike and largemouth bass affect walleye populations when there is an imbalance.

Another element to Minnesota lakes you have to consider is the boat traffic coupled with water temps. As many lakes get busy during the warming summer days, including my clear-water home lake, the conditions warrant a ‘night bite’. As I got older we learned that fishing for walleyes on this lake during the day was a waste of time. The nighttime was the right time.

We started fishing for walleyes at night using traditional walleye tactics. Either we would drag leeches along the bottom, or fish with glowing slip-bobbers. It was easier then putting the boat on the trailer and we landed enough ‘big eyes’ along the way to keep interest. After having years of minimal success and fighting weeds along the way, we thought we’d try something new.

I have found that most of the walleyes that survive in these weedy lakes are decent size. They are aggressive too, and seem to hit artificial lures harder then live bait. Which was how we figured out that trolling was the best method of pursuing them. Especially trolling at night when the walleyes come up to feed, and the pike and bass lay low.

Trolling has allowed us to present different lures and different depths on different parts of the lake. Fishing is all about figuring out fish patterns, and then mastering them. Since the lake does not have a high concentration of walleyes, the fish are not found in large schools. Trolling allows us to cover a lot of ground and intercept the nomadic fish. Pay close attention to your speed, depths, and how high in the water column your bait is running. We’ve found some fish up high, especially during periods of bug hatches.

Trolling does not just mean that one cruises around the lake dragging a crank bait behind the boat. There is a method to the madness, and you’ll find that lakes will differ in their patterns. Most of the walleyes we catch in northern MN lakes are suspended around ‘sunken islands’ and weed lines. I try to troll along as much cover as I can, trying to stay around 10-15 ft early and 15-20 ft later in the season.

If you do not have success right away while night trolling for walleyes, don’t give up. Change gears and go shallow with floating plugs and planer boards, sometimes getting away from the boat is the ticket.

It is best to think in terms of quality rather than quantity when fishing for walleyes on non-traditional lakes. Just this summer I have caught numerous walleyes in the healthy 26-27-inch range while night trolling. At night it seems that if I hook into a fish, 90 percent of the time it is a walleye.

If you fish a weedy lake for walleyes during the day with minimal success, I suggest you give night trolling a try. You may surprise yourself and tap into an undiscovered secret on your lake. I have found that night trolling is typically the best early in the spring and late in the fall, but we see fish all summer long. And when the rod bows in the dead of night, you know your time was well spent.


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