Fall is here, and in a matter of days, the Harvest Moon will be upon us. This is a magical time of year for fervent walleye anglers, when many of us launch the boat during the dinner hour and fish well into the night, with rod tips and tackle boxes illuminated by the light of the full moon. Rapidly cooling water temperatures, dying shallow weeds, and annual movements of baitfish and perch coalesce to bring large numbers of oversized walleyes into the shallows, where they can be tempted by well-presented crankbaits. Double check your navigation lights, buckle your lifevest, fill the thermos with coffee and digest these night trolling tips; they will help you catch more walleyes on your next trip.
First, pay attention to your speed. Resist the temptation to just drop the kicker in and go. Your trolling speed should be closely correlated with water temperature. A good starting speed for October full moon trolling, assuming water temperatures in the low-mid 50s, is 1.6 to 1.8 mph. If your favorite waters are warmer, then a speed closer to 2 mph might be appropriate. Likewise, if a mid-week cold front has knocked the water temperature down a bunch, then be prepared to go slower. Speeds of 1.6 to 1.8 mph and slower are easy to obtain with a kicker motor. However, if your boat is not so equipped, there are a number of ways to get down into the proper speed range, without having to constantly take the main motor into and out of gear. My favorite method is called the “bow brake”. Drop your bowmount trolling motor into the water, and turn the lower unit perpendicular to the long axis of the boat. This will knock 0.2 to 0.3 mph off your trolling speed, so if your big motor trolls down to 2 mph, the “bow brake” method will help you hit the fall trolling sweet spot. Just don’t forget to stow the trolling motor before you head to your next trolling run!
Second, think carefully about lighting. As night falls, “less is more” when it comes to lighting in the boat, so that your eyes can adjust for optimum night visibility. Turn down the backlight of your fishfinders to a low level. Other on-board lighting should stay turned off unless needed for dealing with a fish or preserving a memory with a digital hero shot. Many anglers use a headlamp to help illuminate their work area, but in recent years, I’ve discovered a handy alternative that prevents me from blinding other members of my fishing party with my headlamp as I swing my head from side to side. Rather than a headlamp, I give everyone in the boat a small, gooseneck, clip-on LED light. You can find these at bookstores where they are sold as night reading lights. Designed to be clipped onto a book, they also attach perfectly to any number of locations in my boat, and conveniently, right onto the straps of my lifejacket. The light from these LEDs can be directed straight down, exactly where I need it for tying knots, unhooking fish, or pouring another cup of coffee.
Finally, consider going natural on clear walleye waters. Look carefully at the head of the next walleye you catch. See those big, reflective eyes? The walleye is a visual feeder. Bait profile and action will help draw a walleye near, but the visual impact of a bait’s pattern or color scheme will either seal the deal, or send that walleye back to the depths. On clear walleye waters, consider pulling natural patterns to ensure that more walleye encounters end with bites, fights, and wet nets. Realistic patterns and color schemes on hard baits from Savage Gear, like the 3D Minnow, have proven to be extremely effective in my boat as we chase fish across the walleye belt. The profiles and features of these lures are based on actual three-dimensional scans of live minnows, and this bio-mimicry is the perfect recipe for fall walleye success. Use the available moonlight to help you select a finish; a bright night with few clouds calls for a reflective finish, while matte finishes will be prime performers on overcast nights with limited moonlight.
The next month will feature many big walleyes caught, photographed and released as shallow, heavily feeding fish intersect with informed, determined anglers. Put these tips to use, and your hero shot will be loved, shared, pinned and retweeted throughout the walleye belt. Be safe, and enjoy your nights chasing walleyes under the Harvest Moon.