One of the best times to be out on the water, is that time period after most boats have gone in for the evening. Nighttime is a great time to be on the water, especially if you were stuck in the office rather than the boat on that sacred fishing opener weekend.
Fishing at night in May and early June is an under-fished time period that can reap large benefits for anglers who try it. Night fishing is a ton of fun and best of all you don’t have to compete for the best locations..
With all the crowds on the lake during the walleye opener and Memorial Day weekend, walleye can be pressured from their traditional haunts during the day. Move into those places near dark and most of the boats are gone.
A note of caution: night fishing is not recommended for the ill-prepared. Anglers who fumble around during the daytime are likely to have a disaster at night. Also, be sure that your lake is open for night time fishing. Mille Lacs has a night fishing ban right now and a few metro lakes have some special regulations regarding fishing at night.
Night fishing requires a boat without too much clutter, lighting that is hands-free, and a life jacket should be worn at all times. If you’ve never fished the lake before, be sure to have a good map and don’t just rely on your GPS. Mapping software is another great tool, but there are hidden rocks even on lakes with detailed mapping technology.
Some anglers like to tape a flashlight to their landing net but most prefer to wear a headlamp. A good headlamp runs around $20 and must be easily turned on and off.
Getting on the water before the sun sets is best if you can do it because you can get set up while there’s still daylight. Not only that, but the night bite begins before the sun sets so consider it getting out there early.
Walleye like to move from the depths up to the shallows at night, especially during this time of the year. A large flat with emerging weeds is a great location, especially if it’s adjacent to an area with current such as a channel or narrows. Try trolling the seven to 12 foot depth range with a shallow-running Rapala just ticking the tips of those fresh-growing weeds.
Inside turns of underwater structure can be especially good in depths ranging from a few inches deep on down to 12 feet of water. If you arrive before dusk, start at the deeper locations but once night settles in go shallow.
Livebait rigs with or without spinners are great for fishing the lowlight period as the sun is setting. A leech, minnow or crawler will each work but it’s always best to have each along with so you can key in on the most productive lure. Nortland Fireball jigs tipped with livebait are also quite effective.
A jig tipped with a Northland Impulse artificial bait is also very effective and can be easier at night when checking the condition of your bait is not as easy. The scent given off by the Impulse baits attract walleye that more drawn to scent during low-light periods.
Crankbaits are not to be overlooked, especially once the sun has set. A shallow-running or countdown Rapala minnow is effective when long-cast over shallow flats at night. Clackin’ minnows, raps and X-Raps are also great options. Longlining these same lures while using the electric trolling motor or a controlled drift with a driftsock are also quite effective.
No boat? No problem!
Another great thing about nighttime fishing in the spring is that you don’t need a boat to get to the walleye, you just walk out there and they’ll come to you. Many anglers in boats find themselves in depths of two to three feet of water, which anybody with waders will tell you is an accessible range of water.
It’s a lot of fun to be out there in your waders and I’d say it’s a more rugged experience than fishing from the boat. I’ve gone wading numerous times and had tremendous success. I still prefer to be in my boat but wading out to a shallow flat at night is a surreal experience. You have the stringer tied to your waders and your minnow bucket is tied to you as well—if you get a good bite then back up and get ready for a real in-the-water battle.
My favorite method is to pitch a Fireball jig tipped with a shiner up into a shallow point or flat that is adjacent to deeper water. Some of my favorite locations on Lake Bemidji are Diamond Point and the fishing pier by Lake Irvine. On Cass, I like the area around the channel that flows into Pike Bay.
Safety is extremely important with this scenario, however. I always wears a lifejacket while night fishing with waders and take along a powerful flashlight. You will have boats out there with you and if somebody wants to cruise over the shallows at a higher speed you need to be able to signal to them that you are out there just as you would if you were in a canoe or kayak.