“Workin’ on our night moves, trying to lose the awkward teenage blues” You totally just sang along with it didn’t you?!?! Everybody has to love Bob Segar and it brings me right back to my awkward high school days! But the heck with Bob Segar and the high school blues…this is about the pursuit of giant elusive finned nighttime water beast!! I will never forget the early trips to Holter Lake with dad chasing big browns and walleye as a kid. Boy oh boy my momma would get furious at us when we would get home at 2:00 AM or later. But telling the stories to my pals at summer camp, of the eight pound hen walleye that crushed my jointed fire tiger rapala made it all worth it! These are the magical memories that one will hold onto forever and never forget. In fact, they are the glorious poison that infects one’s veins to turn them into a lifelong fish-head guru angling machine!
It is so incredibly hot out right now you might as well preserve your propane and cook your walleye fillets right on the sidewalk. The next couple weeks are calling for temps nearing the 90 degree mark across Montana. The water temps on most Montana bodies of water are now above that 70 degree mark making the daytime fishing very tough for big browns and walleyes. As the late summer heat turns on, the daytime fishing usually turns off. This is when we switch gears and start planning our night moves on our local lakes and rivers. If you are going to battle the daytime heat, remember to bring sunscreen and lots of drinks (ie. water and gatorade). The extreme heat can make for some pretty miserable days on the water in my opinion. The good news is that there is a cooler approach to fishing the late summer/early fall heat. So if you’re looking to avoid the hoards of jet skis and sweat pouring down your face while fishing this late summer into fall, this is the blog for you.
Opposite of the springtime, when the fish move shallow to the warmer water, in the late summer they retreat to the deeper cooler water during the daytime hours and become dormant. Brown trout and walleye can still be caught during the day, but with much less success. Have you ever wondered why people always talk about fishing a mud line or stained water? It is for the exact same reason the finned water beast hunt at night. You guessed it…they have a HUGE sight advantage over their prey. Just like in the movies when someone loses their glasses then gets devoured by a dinosaur because they can’t hide or see the danger coming. Brown trout and walleye (along with largemouth bass) have the best visual spectrum at night, making them very proficient hunters in low or no light conditions. Telemetry studies have shown that large brown trout will travel up to four miles a night with one thing on their mind…delicious juicy baby muskrats!! Let’s just say if I was a yellow perch I would most definitely be hiding under a giant rock from dusk until dawn.
Both browns and walleyes move out of their deep water haunts at night and move shallow to target the different forage. For all you elk hunters out there, it is no different than Mr. Big sneaking out of his hiding place after dark to mow down some delicious grass in the parks. But just like the big ol’ walleye, you can bet your behind the big bull will be back in his hideout by daylight. The good news for us is that we can fish at night! This is where you come into play and intercept the fish of a lifetime. There is a tremendous amount of water in lakes and rivers and trying to cover it all in the daytime is impossible. Not to mention the fish are inactive and might not bite anyways. At night, you eliminate ninety percent of the water and are targeting active and less weary fish fish. I don’t know about you, but upping the odds is a bonus in my book. Sounds like a slam dunk right? Not so fast folks, it might not be blistering hot, but it takes a lot of effort and discipline to fish past the twilight hours.
I can remember a hot August night last summer where I had to fight off clouds of bats and gnats and hundreds of nasty spiders. I was fishing below Hauser dam and the ground was alive with spiders and at one point I had over a hundred spiders on my backpack (and a few crawling up my leg). This makes it tough on a guy when he wants to get into his pack to switch baits or grab a drink!! But by mentally beating the pestering insects and putting in my time, I landed one of the best browns of my life. I can still feel the vibration from that brown when he smashed my 3/8 ounce Supercraw Glass Minnow equipped with a 4” Berkley Gulp Minnow!! What an awesome night in the books!!
Night fishing can be friendly to both shore and boat anglers alike. When fishing from shore you are a bit more limited, but still have plenty of opportunity. When fishing from a boat it opens up a wide continuum of different approaches to targeting big browns and walleyes (same approach works for both species…BONUS!!) The two best methods are casting to shore and trolling adjacent to shore. Some would argue that trolling is more effective because your bait is continuously in the water, but casting has a large chapter in my book of night moves. Regardless of the method you will choose, it is a good idea to start in the daylight hours to familiarize yourself with the water. In this day and age, a guy could even burn a trolling track line on your GPS during the day to make it less difficult to stay in the zone during the night. Always use extreme caution navigating at night and always take it slow. And if possible, always go with a partner because night fishing tends to bring on the hebee jeebies!! We don’t need any Davy Jones’ Locker incidents out there!!
This is my favorite technique when fishing at night because it is active and you can place your bait exactly where you want it and give it the action you want. And trust me; there are not a lot of things in this world better than getting smashed by a 30” walleye in the dark right at the boat. Our favorite three lures for casting at night are:
1.) Jigs-always use a little heavier jig (3/8 oz) for better feel at night and don’t be afraid to beef up the profile with a 4’’ Minnow Grub or cutbait.
2.) Blade baits-These babies have an intense vibration for calling fish and are awesome for casting applications.
3.) Crankbaits-Tried and true, the most effective tool to cover water and catch fish at night. The jointed Rapala #7 Shad Raps are my go to lure! They have an awesome vibration and dive to the perfect depth for casting to shore.
Here are a few solid tips on casting during your night moves adventure:
–You will need a high beam headlamp to accurately cast to shore. You want your bait to hit within inches of the shoreline. We use a 200 lumen headlamp.
-Always let your crank bait sit there for a moment before starting your rhythm back to the boat. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had walleyes and browns smash my bait on the top of the water.
-Remember we are targeting active fish so covering water is the name of the game here. If Mr. big is around and hungry…he will bite. Don’t get hung up in one spot.
-Target the same structure you caught fish on earlier in the year. They will come back to their same hunting grounds at night.
Precision trolling at night can pay huge dividends and fill a camera SD card quickly if done right. Trolling shorelines at night is awesome because you can pull your presentation along a shelf and the fish will come out and attack your bait. Or you can troll a flat and present you bait just above the fish. Either way, I get excited just thinking about watching my bomber long A getting let out behind the boat. Here are our favorite trolling baits:
Bomber Long A’s and Rapala Husky Jerks-a lesser action than most plugs, but sends an irresistible wounded baitfish message.
Jointed floating rapala’s-our favorite and most successful method to catching browns and walleyes at night. We like to add a ¼ ounce keel sinker 24-30” up the line to get the bait to the desired depth.
Rapala Shad Raps-Again the #7 size is out favorite. This is a great tool for the outside rod that runs deeper. Shad raps will usually run 8-12 feet down.
Here are a few solid tips on trolling during your night moves adventure:
-Again, you will need a headlamp for retying, unhooking fish and many other obvious reasons.
-We try all different depths but as a general gauge we mainly target 8-15 feet of water when trolling. In certain circumstances like fishing a very steep bank we might be in thirty five feet of water but only yards from the shore. Fish lying close to the shore will come out and smack the bait as it goes by.
-Speed is another tool that you can play with. I know a lot of successful night trollers that pull at speeds of up to four miles per hour. We usually never go much above two miles an hour and focus between 1.5-2 mph.
-We usually let out about a hundred feet of line behind the boat. If using side planers not as much is needed since they don’t scare the fish. In my experiences side planers are a nightmare in the dark!
-Always pump your rod forward then throw it back letting the line go slack. We call this the super juicy trolling fish call!!
-Troll with your electric motor when possible to add to the stealth and be as silent as possible in the boat.
And as an all-around super tip: ALWAYS USE THE FULL MOON TO YOUR ADVANTAGE. It does three very important things:
It lights your way!
It casts a very nice silhouette across your bait which will let fish see it from much further!
It will immensely add to the heebee-Jeebee factor!
Last of all please check your local waters regulations on legal fishing times. Have fun, be safe and start practicing your “Night Moves.”
(Written by Trevor Johnson of Kit’s Tackle)