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How many of you troll for night time walleyes?  Put your hand down you are looking at your computer!  How many of you are successful and catch double digit numbers?  Night time trolling can be a fun and productive way to catch walleye.  You can catch fish all night long in big numbers and trophy sizes.  I am going to let you in on a few tricks and secrets in this article to help you master the night bite.

In my previous article “Sizzling Early Spring Shore Fishing” I covered throwing stick baits from shore at night to increase your odds of landing that trophy fish of a life time.  In this article I will tell you the equipment you need for trolling at night and show you some of my favorite baits that are successful year after year.  Trolling at night can be tricky and there are some dangers that come along with the darkness.  It’s time to let you in on one of my favorite ways of fishing and to tell you a few fish stories along the way.


BAIT!  Look for bait an hour before dark and that is where you start trolling.  In many western waters there are huge schools of shad that roam in massive bait balls suspended in the middle of the lake.  Some lakes have bait such as rainbow smelt or alewives and they too travel is bait balls that can turn entire stretches of water orange and yellow on your Lowrance.  This is a clue!  This is the promise land.  Locating the bait before dusk (game time) is a great first step to a night filled with disappearing planner boards and constantly saying one more fish and I am going home before the sun comes up.  Many times you will find the bait suspended 10 to 20 feet below the surface over deep water and there lurking like Jaws to the sides and below them will be the marble eyed predator just waiting for the cover of darkness to ambush the bait as it migrates towards the surface.  Bait fish are actively feeding in the dark on zooplankton and other small forage.  They are using the same feeding tactics of low light feeding as the walleyes are about to use on them.  This is an exciting time of eat or be eaten.  This is also a time of great opportunity for you to present that crank bait mixed in with all those bait fish and looking so enticing.  As the evening approaches dusk and into the first hour of darkness, you will see that bait rise to just below the surface and the feeding frenzy will begin.

EQUIPMENT!  This isn’t your Grand Daddy’s way of fishing.  Night trolling takes some practice and patience.  You will have tangles and messes and the occasional issue with equipment.  With all that said it’s not much different then trolling during the day, it just takes a little more situational awareness.  First thing you need to do when it gets dark, is to be aware of the light on your boat and how it affects your night vision.  Turn down the light on your Lowrance and situate yourself with the shoreline so you don’t accidentally troll into dangerous areas.  Next; get a head lamp to keep your hands free for reeling in and remove all those treble hooks from the fish.  Last; go to the dollar store and buy glow sticks.  Chartreuse green is the best color for this.  I have tried them all and the bright green shows up the best.  The flags on your Off Shore planer boards have slits cut in them.  The thin and light weight glow sticks last forever and easily slide in the slits cut into the flags.  Make sure you push them far enough down so there is equal amounts of glow stick hanging below and poking above the flag.  This helps maintain the balance of the board and keeps it from being top heavy.  If you are going to be long lining rods off the back of your boat you can pick up small glow sticks that will attach to the tips of your rods so you can see the strike.  I usually get mine from Walmart and they cost a couple bucks.  If you don’t want to use those or forget to grab some, a little electrical tape and the same glow sticks for your boards will do the trick.  I have tattle tale flags on my boards and they work great for night trolling.

If you don’t know what a tattle tale flag is, it’s an add-on to your planer board that allows the flag to be pulled down signaling when you have a fish or when your crankbait is fouled.  Tattle tale flags are definitely useful at night but are not necessary.  Most nights the fish are so aggressive when they strike, the board disappears below the surface!


CRANK BAITS!  Which bait to use is going to be trial and error.  I love night trolling because so many different baits work.  It really is a time to pull out all the crank bait boxes and mix and match.  This is when owning the original Precision Trolling book or downloading the life time app on your phone is very important.  Knowing the running depths of your crank baits is important all the time, but when you mix and match different styles of baits it is crucial to know how you are covering the water column.  I like to run shallow running stick baits on the outside boards because I tend to run a lot of line behind the boards to get them to that 5 to 8 foot depth.  I chose deeper running baits for my two inside boards.  This type of set up allows me to do a couple things.

  • Run the shallower running baits on the outside so I can swing those closer to shore without getting hung up as much.
  • The deeper baits on the inside prevent fish from striking those deeper baits and drifting to the back of the boat and tangling the shallower running baits on the inside boards.
  • This arrangement also allows me to run baits staggered down the water column along the break of a shore line.


COLORS!  This is completely up to you.  What color are you most confident in?  That is the bait you run.  I prefer natural looking colors.

  1. Silvers or Gold’s
  2. White
  3. Purple
  4. Clown
  5. Fire tiger

I usually start with colors in that order.  I live and die by Berkley Flicker Shad and Flicker Minnows.  I also like the Strike King Walleye series and have had a lot of success on the Storm Smash Shad.  Rapala is still a favorite for subtle baits and I am not scared to throw on a Cotton Cordell Wally Diver.  I love to mix and match and see what is working on that particular evening.  I have also found one color works early in the evening closer to dusk, while another works better in the dark.  If I am legally able to run six rods I will commonly run Rapala originals off the back of the boat on lead core and I am never surprised to watch those rods light up with fish.


I HAVE A SECRET!  If I see stubborn suspended fish five to ten feet off the bottom in 20 or 30 feet of water I will put a crawler harness on lead core and run four rods at stagger depths off the back of the boat.  It usually doesn’t take long before I am consistently catching those fish.  I have told this to many people and they think it is odd to fish spinners with nothing but a swivel and lead core, but to do it at night is just crazy.  Don’t be afraid to mix it up.

Night time fishing can be some of the most fun and productive fishing you will ever do.  Be creative with your approaches and how you make night fishing work for you.  Be extra careful to avoid getting your hand hooked and always be aware of where you are on the water.  Look for other boats on the water because the vast majority of boaters are terrible at night and they have no idea you are fishing with planner boards extended to the sides of your boat.  Alternate your speeds and use “S” turns to give those suspended fish a chance to strike a bait that suddenly stops on an inside turn.  Usually the most difficult part for me is deciding when to leave the actively feeding fish so I am not exhausted the next day.  Well I take that back.  We fishermen can sleep enough when we are dead!  Go get em!

photo-may-13-10-45-48-am By:  Josh Sheldon