By Corky Cramer
Walleyes have something in common with bats and owls – they’re more suited to nighttime activities than the glare of the noonday sun. They’d rather live in Moonglade than the Land of the Eternal Sunshine. Under certain conditions, such as following cold fronts, calm days or during unusually hot weather, walleyes are driven to the dark side by the bazillions.
Spring through early summer, a slip-float rig is the way to go at night, and few anglers know more about it than Wisconsin walleye guide Greg Bohn. Bohn is the author of several books and articles on the subject, and over the years designed plenty of rods, floats, leaders, rigs and jigs for slip-bobber tactics.
“The Thill Splash Brite really simplified slip-bobber fishing at night,” Bohn said. “It has electrodes that use the lake water to complete the circuit. When it hits the water, the light comes on. Pull it out of the water, and it’s off. That extends the life of a single battery from a night or two to 40 hours. It’s a center-slide float that works like a conventional slip bobber, so it’s user friendly.
“Night floats were bulky, less functional and less dependable until just a few years ago,” Bohn said. “Lighted bobbers were my main worry at night. Now that’s the last thing I worry about, so I can focus on location, boat position and putting more fish in the boat.”
The Night Bite
“I like the night shift on lakes that are tough daytime venues, or whenever conditions are bad for daytime fishing,” Bohn said. “I love it when I hear the daytime crowd complaining. That means the night bite will be hot. At night, we get ‘for real’ bites. Walleyes won’t drop it. I let the float go down until it’s almost out of sight. One of the coolest things every night is watching those lighted bobbers travel underwater. It’s exciting, so we wait until it’s several feet down before setting the hook.”
Early-season night spots tend to involve emerging weeds-first in shallow bays, then on shoreline-related points and sandbars, and finally on mid-lake humps. The first places Bohn looks in spring are bays 10-feet deep or less. Those bays will be choked out with weeds by mid summer. When weeds first appear, the growth is fairly uniform and easy to fish across-perfect conditions for float fishing.
Another key involves finding the warmest water available. Bohn said that walleyes will travel great distances to find warm water early in the season, so he keeps a close eye on his temperature readout. With no young-of-the-year perch or clouds of shiners out in open water yet, the warm bays are where the bait is.
“Fish are concentrated on those shoreline areas and walleyes are using the shallowest zones exclusively at night during the first half of the season,” he said. “There can be hundreds of walleyes shallow at night this time of year. Young minnows and perch never leave the weeds.”
When fishing these emerging weedbeds, Bohn likes to keep his bait suspended a foot or two off bottom. He likes it to be over the walleyes’ heads so they can see it more easily and for the convenience of not constantly snagging in the weeds all the time.
Cold fronts, high bright skies, flat-calm conditions and a lot of sun or heat make daytime fishing tough, but set up for a productive night-bite. When walleyes are inactive during the day, they normally turn on when the sun goes down, but according to Bohn a lot of anglers leave too early, and that the most productive times can be from 10 p.m. until 2 a.m. He always likes the hour around sunset, but that’s not what he calls night fishing. When he sees the daytime activity null, he prepares to stick it out for a long night.
Not all night are equal, though. Dead calm or post-frontal conditions can make the bite surge shorter in duration.
Bohn’s night fishing rig begins with 10-pound monofilament, a bobber stop and a Thill Night Brite or Splash Brite Slip Bobber.
“Below that I tie on a Thill Pro-Series Slip-Bobber Rig,” he said. “I have two types of snells I use for night fishing, one with a Tru-Turn hook and another with a Bobber Bug jig. They’re ready to go and at night that makes a big difference. Thill added tiny size #00 and #0 Flicker Blades for a little extra flash, so the live bait is more visible at night. The faceted bead reflects more light than a round bead. Everything was designed to increase productivity at night.”
Most of the time, Bohn prefers a lively shiner, chub or fathead minnow hooked through the skin between the dorsal fin and the tail.
“When the bobber gets busy and starts to dance, there’s a walleye looking at it,” Bohn said. “You see that a lot at night. Nervous minnows make the blade flash, and that triggers strikes. The Tru-Turn hook has the best hooking percentage of any I’ve tested, and it’s made with light wire so it won’t damage or wear out your bait. All the components are well thought out on these rigs.”
Bohn uses Bobber Bug jigs when he needs to anchor the minnow for less bait action. The most productive times to use the added weight of the Bug is when walleyes are inactive, such as after a front or when it’s dead-still. Walleyes won’t move far to chase a minnow in those conditions, so you want the bait easy to catch.
“In stable conditions when more walleyes are active, the situation is reversed and we combine a small Splash Brite, which requires less weight on the line, with the Tru-Turn hook. I use 1/16- to ¼-ounce rubber-core-style sinkers right on the rig, halfway between the bait and the swivel.”
Big winds and waves demand bigger bobbers and the ¼-ounce weight for proper balance, Bohn said, but he likes the smallest size float he can get away with. The smaller, lighter float means more freedom for the minnow when using the Tru-Turn hook rig.
Splash Brites have a buoyancy ring, showing where the water line should be for perfect balance. Add enough weight to pull the ring to the water line. Too much weight and waves will submerge the float; too little weight and there’s too much resistance when a walleye bites.
Active walleyes, in stable conditions, don’t mind chasing things down. When conditions drive them to the dark side early in the year, hang a suspended minnow over some emerging weeds.
“Lighted slip-floating is fun,” Bohn said, “especially when they take off like a remote-controlled submarine.”