Fall can be a trying time for walleye seekers. As water temps plummet, ‘eyes focus on steep breaks in deep water, where they can be hard to find and tough to catch. At least, that's the story during the day.
When darkness falls, gangs of hungry ‘eyes invade skinny water to harass baitfish. Often, the carnage occurs over shallow rocks and along weedbed perimeters. For fishermen willing to brave the blackness, it's a great time to troll crankbaits over high-percentage gorging areas, and the numbers of walleyes you catch (including trophy-size brutes) can be absolutely amazing.
Nowhere is the fall night bite more magnified than in a free-flowing natural river. By day, the fish are confined to deep pools, which are easy to find.
At night, they overrun predictable spots to fill their bellies, making the after-hours angling game a consistent producer for those who learn to play it right.
Few know the drill like fishing's Gemini twins, Scott and Marty Glorvigen.
Longtime NAFC allies who cut their tournament teeth on the Cabela's Masters Walleye Circuit, the Glorvigens have hammered out a fall night-bite walleye pattern on the upper reaches of the Mississippi that works wonders on small to mid-size rivers across the Walleye Belt.
When And Where
"You can catch river walleyes in and around holes during the summer and early fall, but the night bite for big fish really kicks in as the water cools down in late September and October," says Scott. "When the frogs start to cross the road in the fall, it's a sure sign the bite will be heating up." Sometimes, a river will produce oodles of small walleyes all summer, and then magically in fall the big fish turn on for one brief window of wide-open opportunity. For ultimate action, the Glorvigens prefer the jet-black nights surrounding the new moon, when walleyes' night vision gives them an advantage over forage like perch. "The three nights before and after the new moon are the best," says Scott.
Walleyes differ from many other freshwater fish in that the retina of their eyes contains tapetum lucidum‹a layer of reflective pigment that intensifies light received by the retina. It literally makes something out of almost nothing, allowing the walleyes to virtually see in the dark. Add the seek-and-destroy capabilities of their lateral lines and other senses and you've got a late-night feasting machine.
"There's definitely a fall bite on larger, channelized rivers, too," Marty notes. "Big-river walleyes begin their spawning migration in the fall, often schooling up in tailrace areas. Toward sunset and after dark, you'll often find them riding high on the front faces of wing dams, riprap banks and rocky points." While big-water fish are catchable, the Glorvigens have found that the small-river bite is better. Plus, it's vastly overlooked by walleye anglers.
"If you want a lot of action to yourself, head for a smaller river," Scott advises.
Location is critical. The Glorvigens key on flats adjacent to classic kidney-shaped river-bend holes, though midriver depressions can be ‘eye-catching as well. "The hole may be 15 to 30 feet deep, and the flats from three to seven," Marty explains. "The best flats are covered by baseball- to basketball-size rocks, and sandwiched between kidney spots.'" "We use sonar to scout potential areas in daylight, marking holes, flats and likely trolling passes with GPS," he continues. Plotting waypoints along the edges of the hole, then transecting the up- and downstream flats nearby helps you execute exploratory passes until you locate pods of walleyes.
Keep in mind, water levels and current strength can affect how far eyes will wander from their daytime haunts. "When the water is high, the fish won't move as far up the flat, and they're always closer to shore," says Scott.
Trolling is the name of the game, and proper tools include 8-foot, medium- to medium-heavy rods and line-counter reels spooled with low-diameter superline such as 10/2 Spiderwire or 10/4 FireLine. Tie a size 10 barrel swivel to the main line, then add a 5- to 10-foot lead of 6- to 8-pound green mono. Depending on depth and current, add a sinker ranging from a small shot to 1/2-ounce rubbercore just behind the swivel. A round-nosed snap completes the leader.
A variety of shallow-running stickbaits work. Scott and Marty favor size 9 or 11 Original Rapalas and 31/2-inch Berkley Frenzy Firesticks. "You wouldn't think color would be a factor, but we've found the four best producers are black back with silver sides; perch firetiger; blue back with silver sides; and orange-gold‹in tannic water," says Marty. Other must-have gear includes life jackets (worn at all times) navigation lights, flashlights and a 12-volt lantern. A headlamp is another plus.
To avoid nightmarish tangles, keep it simple. "Don't mess with planer boards or multiple rods. Just troll one line per person and hand-hold it as much as possible," says Marty. Use the line-counters to get lures occasionally ticking bottom. "We vary the presentation with rod sweeps and twitches until we get the right cadence," says Scott. "Sometimes it's a twitch-twitch-sweep; other times it's sweep-twitch-sweep. You have to experiment." The Glorvigens almost always troll upriver. It helps them avoid snags, as well as feel current changes that indicate eddies and seams between fast and slow flows. Such interfaces can be walleye asylums and fishing hotspots.
Big walleyes aren't the only source of adrenaline. Fishing in the pitch dark is a unique sensory experience. "You can't see anything, so your other senses are heightened. When you accidentally reel your rig into the rodtip, or something bumps the boat, your heart skips a beat," says Marty.
"I'm 44 years old, but when I'm nightfishing, I still believe in the boogey man," Scott adds with a laugh.
Fortunately, the only monsters you're likely to encounter will be of the sag-bellied, marble-eyed walleye variety. And that's reason enough not to be afraid of the dark.