Ted Peck: As moon waxes toward full, catching walleye demands night excursions
The next 10 nights offer the best chance of the year at pulling a trophy walleye from the Rock River and its tributaries as Wisconsin's favorite gamefish eases upstream to lay eggs over rocky-rubble bottoms in water with just a hint of current.
Walleyes typically spawn at night when water temperatures warm to about 45 degrees. Moon phase also plays a nebulous role in walleye spawning behavior, with fish most active three days either side of the full moon.
This month the full moon appears Tuesday, making tonight the prime time for both walleyes and those who would catch them.
Fishing at night is much more challenging, with muscle memory replacing hand/eye coordination in sensing and responding to a walleye's unique bite.
A sensitive rod, no-stretch braided line and sense of touch developed from making thousands of casts under daylight conditions combine in a silent scream of “set the hook” when a tap on that hook out in the darkness announces a walleye ready to dance.
The special sensation of a walleye's tap rates right up there with its excellence as table fare in rating this dual-dorsaled denizen of the low light as our favorite gamefish.
This is especially true when this physical fish whisper emanates from a source out there in the darkness.
Humans are visual creatures. Artificial light sources help us find success at night when integrated into our fishing routine. Cap lights have found huge acceptance in recent years. Taping a flashlight to the handle of your landing net is another ergonomic tool when dinner is splashing just an arm's length away.
Artificial light is actually a detriment when not actively involved in landing a fish or tending to another visual task, like tying on a new hook.
Snagging up is an inevitable component of night fishing with hooks performing their designated task in objects from branches to buttocks, accidents that easy to avoid when an angler can use his or her eyes.
Protective glasses are always a good idea. Readily available needle-nosed pliers are also a necessary item.
Although pre-spawn walleyes are cruising close to the river bottom as they move upstream, there is no need to maintain constant bottom contact with that jig or other lure at the end of your line.
A steady swimming retrieve is the best way to trigger a walleye strike under these conditions.
Make a cast and count down until slack in the line tells you the jig is on the bottom. Reel in and cast again, beginning the retrieve one or two numbers less.
Walleyes can relate to extremely shallow water at night. A 1/8- or even 1/16-ounce jig will produce more fish and fewer headaches between sunset and sunrise.
You can leave the minnow bucket at home on this fishing adventure. Plastics and bucktail on jigs and stickbaits such as Rapalas with the front treble hook removed catch far more fish than live bait at night.
The Menominee River at Marinette is one place where a stickbait usually produces more walleyes than a much cheaper jig-and-plastic when fishing the pre-spawn, night-time walleye bite.
You can look for walleyes to make their major spawning push during the new moon period, which starts in exactly two weeks on this northeast Wisconsin boundary river.
The peak of spawning activity on the lower Wisconsin River typically coincides with the run locally on the Rock River. Water temperature might trump moon phase on the lower Wisconsin this year.
The upper Wisconsin comes down primarily from the north, where water is still very cold, with Rock River traversing Wisconsin at more southerly latitudes. There is just one way to assess walleye activity in every river: Your line must be in the water.
Ted Peck, a certified Merchant Marine captain, is an outdoors columnist for The Gazette. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.