Dog Days and the Summertime Blues

Published 9:53 pm Wednesday, June 27, 2012

By Bob & Ginny Riege

With the heat and humidity rising and everything slowing down I know that there is no better cure for this summertime blue feeling than to hit the water at night. You may have heard that there are a few people out there who catch ol’ marble eyes day and night, with some of their best catches coming under the cover of darkness. In fact, some of the best fisherman around have taken their biggest walleye at night. That in itself is reason enough for me to make a few night trips for walleye every year.

By late summer to early fall the water temperature starts to drop off; the fish start to migrate to shore. In big shallow lakes like Mille Lacs; for example, walleyes traditionally begin leaving the flats and their deeper environs by this time. By mid-September through mid-October they’re prowling in less than 10 feet of water much of the time.

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Most fishermen would fish the obvious structural elements. The key to catching fish here consistently, however, is effectively identifying spots that gather and hold most fish.

When night fishing you have to do your homework during the day looking for three types of structure to locate fish. First of all I look for the “typical walleye structure”, this is comprised of drop-offs, rock formations, points, or inside turns. The second type of structure is the shallow structure that is usually found out in the middle of the lake. These types of structures might be classified as mid-lake humps, rock piles, reefs, sunken islands, etc. These areas are dynamite during the mid summer months and often times over looked by most weekend anglers. The third type of structure that I love to fish are weeds and wood.

Again this type of structure might be classified as more bass or northern pike structure, but a lot of walleyes hang out in heavy weeds and wood throughout the year. If you understand the “predator prey relationship” weeds become an automatic structure to key in on. Simply put, if the walleye is put in the lake as a fry it becomes a prey and naturally will find a place to hide. When the walleye grows up it becomes a predator and instinctively knows that the weeds are a place to look for prey. I try weeds in the summer time, because I am almost assured of catching some really active fish.

Each fish species has its own life style and even within a given family of fishes, there are subtle differences. Walleyes and saugers may be found in the same body of water, but they are not the same fish and show distinctive preferences and habits.

A basic familiarity with the lake and the structures of the lake you’re planning to fish at night is important. Looking over your map will give you a chance to discover where these fish might be and shallow water obstructions before the evening comes.

When I first get on a heavily fished body of water, I’ll start running the lake and looking for things that aren’t obvious to all anglers. For example the things like bottom changes. You might run a straight shoreline break and see where it changes from sand into rock or mud into hard bottom. You may even discover a rock pile that doesn’t show up on a lake map.

A lot depends on the type of lake you are fishing. Maybe I’ll find weed-oriented walleyes, and I may look for little breaks in the weed line rather than big elongated points off shore. I’ll run a straight break and suddenly I might see a little inside turn or little turning point down the weed line, places that aren’t so obvious. Another gold mine for ol’ moon eyes is small gravel patches near or within a weedline.

One of my favorite spots to look for nighttime walleye is near the entrances of a bay or harbor, especially if the entrance is narrow and there are at least seven to ten feet of water nearby.

The key to a productive area is the presence of baitfish such as shiners. If minnows are in the harbor or the bay during the day, walleyes will visit at night. Check the area to be fished during the day and see if there is an abundance of bait. If there are lots of minnows, the odds are good that lots of walleye will visit later on.

These fish can be very patternable. It might take a while to get them exactly figured out, but once the best fishing time is established, the fish will feed at that time, or close to it, the next few nights. A change in weather is the primary factor that can throw off this timing.

On snag-free bottoms a Roach Rig is effective. On mud, weeds, submerged timber and rocks or boulders, a Rock Runner Slip bouncer attached to the Roach Rig will keep you catching fish and not snags. This slower presentation gets most of the action especially in shallow water. Early, late and at night faster-moving lures such as a #5 or #7 Shad Rap really perk things up. That’s when I particularly like to cast an artificial minnow into the shallows. One specific rock pile I regularly fish, the bait must be retrieved very rapidly near the surface to avoid snags. In the dark of the night, when a walleye hits during such a retrieve, my rod is nearly torn from my grasp. That will get your blood pumping and I guarantee, you will not feel blue about summer fishing.

What most walleye fisherman fail to realize is that walleyes can cruise in amazingly shallow waters after dark. I’ve taken them in no more than a foot of water many times at night. In fact, wading is sometimes easier than boat fishing then. Even during the heat of midsummer, walleyes can move into very shallow water during periods of poor light. However, summer walleyes are easily spooked and must be fished from a distance.

The long line trolling reduces feel but allows time for the boat to pass overhead and for the spooked walleyes to regroup. When the bait finally passes by the fish, they hit it with a subtle gentle tug, rather than smashing the bait.

Long-line trolling is a very effective method to use on summertime walleyes. Not only can you use live bait, but crankbait fishing is very productive during the summer months as well.

As the temperature rises I am heading for the house and a good day of sleeping in the air conditioning. You see I have found the cure for the dog days and the summertime blues.