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Night Walleyes on the Flats

by In-Fisherman   |  August 1st, 2012 0

Peepers haunt the boat launch. Wet tracks lead up the ramp from the black water, but the parking lot is empty. The last boat has been strapped down and towed home. Moonglade shimmers on the surface of the lake. Time for the night walleyes.

Early season walleye fishing offers lots of options. Most fish are shallow most of the time. By shallow, we mean 1 to 8 feet. Most of the walleyes I catch this time of year prowl shallow flats, in water less than 6 feet deep, even in the daytime. But at night, the bite can be furious in 2 to 4 feet in many different types of water.

My focus is on natural lakes in spring. Walleyes can make dramatic movements this time of year, and rivers can be downright perplexing or unbelievably productive. I’ll stick with the consistent bite. In natural lakes around here, I know I can land five fish in the toughest possible conditions.

Like the year I convinced John Storm, then of Storm Lures, my partner in the Minnesota Governor’s Opener, to go out at midnight instead of dawn. “It’s going to snow tomorrow, John,” I warned. “The temperature’s going to drop, the wind’s going to blow, and the fish won’t bite. Your call.”

He looked out at the dying sun, the temperature already dipping below 40F. “It’s brutal right now.”

I smiled. “And it will be twice as brutal tomorrow.” He opted for midnight and we went out and caught six nice walleyes in a slight breeze, even though my sonar failed in back and John had to sit up front and bark out readings from the bowmount unit all night. On the following day, I found no other guide that could report having more than two walleyes in his snow-laden boat. Most were skunked, and the list included a number of other angling luminaries that had to fish the daytime bite.

Compared to them, I’m just another guy in a walleye boat around here. But, when conditions get tough, darkness can even things out for us lesser luminaries. The night shift is a good thing to keep in mind when adversity hits.


Walleyes spawn just after ice-out. By the time the season opens in Minnesota (early May), the spawn is over. In the Dakotas, where the season doesn’t close, shallow night fishing can turn on immediately after the spawn — or as soon as ice leaves the lakes. In states where the season opens at some point in spring, count on walleyes invading shallow flats during the day on the opener, if they have cover from clouds and wind. In sunny, calm conditions, walleyes wait for low-light periods. In any conditions, however, at least some walleyes will feed at night. Every night. All spring long.

If you know where walleyes spawn, use that as a reference point and start tracking backwards, toward summer habitat. Walleyes are moving this time of year, but not fast. In natural lakes, they tend to concentrate around shallow flats (areas where, as a general rule, the slope is less than 5-percent) where perch gather to spawn. Perch begin to spawn as the water approaches 50F. Since perch use weeds and other secondary cover to spread their sticky strings of eggs, weedflats or areas where gravel and weeds coincide become prime areas at night. Walleyes have a vision advantage over perch in darkness, and everyone knows perch are the walleye equivalent of pizza to a human.

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