With their marble like, reflective and light gathering eyes, walleye are made for the dark, and come sunset, they turn into a predator to be feared (if you’re a Dace). With the ability to see well in low to no light, they have a serious advantage over their prey when night falls, actively feeding all night long, making targeting them at night an effective tactic for ice anglers.
Recently, my wife and I loaded up our two labs, ice gear, and headed out for a night to take advantage of nocturnal walleye. We headed to a local lake; well known for it’s night-time walleye bite, as well as for spitting out some seriously big walleye. We drove about an hour from Thunder Bay, unloaded the ATV, and headed across the lake to our home for the night; a “cozy” ice hut we had rented from one of the resorts on the lake. We got out there with a couple hours of daylight left, got our gear sorted, holes drilled and lines out. Now this lake isn’t necessarily known for fast and furious action, and I’ve been skunked enough times here than to have high hopes, but magical things tend to happen at night, and 25 inch plus walleye aren’t uncommon, especially after night falls.
We got setup, hung some big suckers on our set lines, and got settled in over the flashers in the hut (hiding inside with the woodstove). Now I wouldn’t say the action was fast and furious, but as the sun got low in the sky, the fish started to show, and by the time darkness set in, we had landed a couple beautiful walleyes. It turned into a rather cold, windy night, so we ended up setting up inside the hut, stoked the woodstove, and went down to two lines inside the shack. As the night wore on, the fishing was slow and steady, and we landed about a fish an hour, but nice fish! By about midnight we had landed about 5 or 6 walleye, with the biggest problems being we had very few for the pan; they were all too big! In Ontario we can keep a total of 4 walleye each, with only one above 18”, and while it’s nice to keep one bigger fish, these were nearly all too big. We had managed to get one or two pan fryers, but the rest were well over 20 inches, being released to carry on with those big fish genes. It turned out to be a great night, finally pulling lines in around 2 am, opting to not fish overnight, as it seemed impossible to catch anything under 20” after dark. (Terrible problem to have, I know).
In many lakes, walleye turn on during low light periods, and usually as the sun sets, activity increases. If I’m fishing a lake known for nocturnal walleye, I’ll try to get out at least a couple hours before the sun sets, to get setup before the light fades, and also to fish that wonderful time as the sun is setting, which seems to flick a switch for feeding walleye. Come nightfall, I like to switch to big, obnoxious baits; like big suckers, and glow in the dark jigs (see sidebar). If I’m not spending the night, I like to be able to fish the last hour or two of daylight, and then stay at least a few hours into the dark, giving fish a chance to get into that nocturnal mode and find your baits.
When fishing at night, it certainly makes it more enjoyable if you have some sort of shelter; whether rental shacks are an option, or bringing your own portable shelter, be it a tow behind sleigh style or a simple pop up tent style you can carry out on your back. Having somewhere to sit and stay warm and jig inside sure makes nighttime fishing a lot more pleasant. It’s not a necessity, but standing around jigging in the dark isn’t always the most entertaining, and if you’re with a few people sitting around waiting for setlines, having that gathering place makes it a touch more social and fun. Ice fishing at night is a bit of an adventure in itself, giving you a bit of a change from the ordinary, and offering some great angling opportunities.
If you’re heading out at night, here are a few extra things to pack.
• headlamp (makes landing fish and rigging lines worlds easier).
• A good flashlight, for setting up and for checking set lines
• bells: clip ice fishing bells on your set lines to alert you of a strike
• glow sticks: attach these to your setlines, or keep them in the snow beside, to locate your lines in the dark
• lantern: it’s nice to have a lantern setup at the centre of your spread, giving you some ambient light (and a focal point to gather around if out in the open).
I like to rig up a setline with a larger bait, using a decent sized sucker or a large dace, usually rigged with a single treble behind the dorsal fin. I’ll usually set this up with a jigging rod on a rod balance, or tip up.
On my jigging rod, at night I almost exclusively run a glow in the dark Buck Shot spoon with a medium minnow hooked below the dorsal fin, allowing me to jig with it and also set it up as a set line if I want a break. The minnow on top of the rattle and glow of the Buckshot seems to really call in big, nocturnal walleye.