Walleyes After Dark: Mining Gold on the Graveyard Shift

Ice fishing at night is when the big walleyes bite.

A classic pattern might start in deeper water. Then, when the sun hits the horizon, intense fish activity starts on top of the point and might last half an hour. Often after this intense flurry we quit marking fish and assume that the bite is over. The bite might indeed be over if we don’t adjust, but we can keep catching fish if we move with them. Of course, there are also basin and transition bites like what we often see on Red Lake and Mille Lacs after dark. Perhaps the toughest aspect of catching walleye well after dark is forgetting some of the lessons we learned during the day.

Finding and catching walleyes often is all about reading structure and focusing on edges. After dark however, you can throw that edge mentality out the window. We often find walleyes roaming away from structure well after dark. Large expansive flats in shallow water are favorite locations. That 4- to 6-foot-deep sand flat of several acres might be void of walleye activity during the day. Even sunrise and sunset patterns seem to revolve around structure that breaks into deeper water. In the middle of the night however, walleyes often push up and roam much shallower water than what some anglers envision.

On some fisheries, walleyes also are more apt to eat much higher in the water column well after dark. Many times, we’ve caught more walleye after dark by fishing halfway down in the water column. These are often big fish, too. Dead rods and tip-ups with big bait work well for these fi sh.

Like any other time of year, full moon periods can make some after dark patterns better. Often, however, feeding windows happen in intense flurries through the night. Don’t expect activity all night long. Wait out the windows because 90 percent of the activity can happen during 10 percent of the time.

My favorite after-dark locations and patterns are not necessarily classic walleye structures or breaklines close to deeper water. Typically, large flats or even basins and large shelves shine after dark. I use the whitetail deer analogy a lot when describing walleye patterns and movements. During the day, deer might follow an edge but come middle of the night, they are more apt to be standing out in the middle of a soybean field of several hundred acres. Walleyes can also be just as random after dark.

Because the exact location of fish can be so random on large flats and shelves, fishing these locations takes a certain kind of mentality. You can spread out tip-ups to increase the chances of contacting these roaming fish or you can fish out of a shelter, However you do it, in this situation, you have to realize that the fish need to find you. This isn’t a situation where you can move around effectively to find these random fish. Set up so that at some point during the night, these fish find you. The beauty of fishing well after dark is that these fish will be looking for you. What makes after-dark patterns for walleye so much fun is that these fish are typically much more aggressive and looking for a meal. The bites are often much more intense. These fish often peel off much more line off a tip-up, for example, or hit a lure repeatedly.

When fishing after dark, I am a big proponent of glow finishes on lures. They’re not always necessary, but many times we almost immediately caught a fish after charging up a lure. With live bait on tip-ups, don’t hesitate to use larger baits up to 8 inches long. Clip the tails of rambunctious chubs and suckers so that they can’t trip flags or pull the roller around the spool. Strike indicators are nice to have on tip ups. Other nice tools for the graveyard shift include head lamps and LED lights for inside shelters. LED lights have replaced a lot of traditional propane lanterns.

If you like ice fishing for walleyes, you’ll love the February issue of MidWest Outdoors magazine, available the first full week of February at a newsstand near you, or by subscribing on our website.