Late Fall Walleye After Dark

Some of the best fall walleye fishing comes in the dark

by Craig Ritchie

It's hardly a secret that some of the best walleye fishing comes after dark, and never is this truer than in the late fall when the best fish in any given lake come shallow to feed heavily for the onset of winter.

As the days grow shorter and water temperatures in the shallows cool, walleye take their cue and begin foraging heavily. The good news for anglers is that their behaviour in late fall makes them easy to find and easy to catch, so it's a great time of year to enjoy steady action with bigger than average fish.

Joe Cutajar likes nothing more than easy night fishing for nice sized walleye.
Better still, you don't even need a boat to get in on the action. There are many places where it's possible to catch big fall walleye from shore once the sun goes down, and you don't need any specialized gear.

There are only three things you need to know.

(1) Location is Everything

There's an old saying that 90% of the fish swim in 10% of the water, and that's absolutely valid when we're talking about late fall walleye. These fish are only thinking about one thing - putting on as much weight as they can - so they're going to be totally focused on places where that's most likely to happen.

The truth is you can easily eliminate 90% of the lake by focusing on one simple element, and that's green vegetation.

I know what you're thinking - all vegetation is green, right? Well no, not in November it isn't. In fact it's quite the opposite, since most of the shallow plants start going dormant in late September or early October, their exposed bits turning brown, decomposing, and using up oxygen instead of giving it off.

Once that happens, small fish move out. By early November, there isn't a whole lot of green vegetation left, but the bits that do persist will have attracted almost all of the small fish to them. Walleye won't be far behind.

To find late fall walleye, do a bit of scouting by daylight, dredging shorelines that face the main lake basin in search of green weeds like thin-leaf cabbage. Most of the remaining live weed will be in deeper water - normally from 15 to 25 feet. Once you locate some green weeds, continue searching parallel to the shoreline and try to identify the edge of what will inevitably be a reasonably distinct weed line. Mark this on your GPS, because you're going to want to return to it after dark.

(2) Timing is Everything

Once you've identified a couple of good weed lines, and fixed their locations in your MFD, you're ready to catch fish. And while you can catch the odd walleye by probing bottom along these weed edges with jigs, the best fishing starts after the sun goes down.

In the darkness, walleye have the advantage thanks to that unique reflective membrane in their eyes - the tapetum lucidum - which gives them such exceptional night vision. Walleye won't be in the weeds when they're actively feeding, but patrolling the open water just off the weed edge, ready to pounce on any small fish that wander too far from the cover.

Usually the action starts getting good an hour or so after sunset, and lasts for a couple of hours before tapering off. On clear nights with a full or near-full moon, good fishing can last all night.

(3) Strategy is Everything

The actual fishing is super easy - position your boat a cast-length off the weeds then start casting. Since walleye are looking up to find their meals, I like to use great big floating minnowbaits that put out a bit of a throb when retrieved at very slow speeds. Bomber Long As, Rapala J11s and J13s, Storm Thundersticks and the like all work well in either steady or stop-and-go retrieves. Throw them to the weed edge, then work them back to the boat slowly, keeping them on the surface as much as possible.
Bomber Long A
Rapala J11 or J13
Storm Thunderstick
I tend to prefer bigger baits - think six inches or so - in bright finishes, which are easier for me to see. I don't think the walleye could care less since they're seeing a silhouette more than anything else.

I know some people who like to work big areas by trolling, but I prefer to sit tight and cast. If you do want to troll, use the electric motor rather than the big engine, and keep the power turned down low to reduce the amount of sound it puts out. Nothing will tip off the fish faster than a motor zipping along on high speed.

Don't believe me? Next summer try going for a swim while a friend runs your boat for you. Underwater, you can hear that supposedly silent electric motor from 50 yards away. The fish can hear it too.

Earlier on I said you don't need a boat to get in on the fun, so what about that? Easy - when scouting for spots try to find docks or low bridges that put you within casting distance of these deep weed lines that are facing main lake basins. Scouting around on Google Earth is a great way to start.

Whether you're on shore or fishing from a boat, late fall walleye are a lot of fun. The spots are easy enough to find, and the fishing is about as easy as it gets. Not that's a winning combo my any measure.

Big floating minnowbaits in the five to six inch range are tough to beat for night eyes.
Author Craig Ritchie
Craig Ritchie
About the author:
Over a near 40-year career as a full-time outdoor writer, Craig Ritchie has fished all over the globe for a variety of freshwater and saltwater species. The author of The Complete Guide To Getting Started In Fishing, he has written thousands of articles for magazines, websites and newspapers worldwide, appeared as a guest on several television fishing programs and won numerous awards for his writing and photography. He lives in the Great Lakes region where great fishing is as close as his own back yard.

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