Fall Night Fishing in Western Reservoirs
By Ron Boggs, Fall 2020
The horse of a walleye in the photo – a 15.51-pounder that ate a Bomber 15A on Sept. 1 – is the product of more than 30 years of fall reservoir night fishing. In that time, I’ve narrowed down some of the keys to this night bonanza, with one definitely being the moon!
You don’t need a full moon, but you do need enough light to see shore. In most cases, Western reservoir walleye fishing involves following sharp bottom contours, which requires being able see the shoreline for perspective, even with great electronics helping guide the way. We call it the full moon bite, but really, anything bigger than a half moon is sufficient. Clear skies are nice, but sometimes the moon backlights thin, hazy clouds to make the entire sky light up like a lampshade. So don’t rule out those high-haze fall nights.
Another key to fall night fishing is having your hard baits ready for battle. In my circle of friends, we keep a separate set of boxes for night lures. Ideally, each will have already produced multiple fish, whether by day or in the moonlight. That way we aren’t doing much experimenting in the dark. We trust each lure as a proven producer.
My Bomber Long A 25A box covers the deep Columbia River night fishery with a second box of 8A and 24A models for slightly shallower Columbia stretches. For us, the deep Columbia fishery is 100 percent trolling terrain. It’s tough to cover miles of 20-foot-plus waters with a casting approach.
For Missouri River reservoirs I carry a big box of proven Bomber 15As and a backup box of 7As in case the bite is deeper than expected or in case I plan to cast a rocky shoreline that’s too deep for the shallow running jerkbait style 15As. The 7A doesn’t have that typical Long A profile. However, it casts really well with traditional casting reels, seldom snags in rocks and dives quickly enough to follow typically steep contours on Western waters. But that’s the Plan B approach. The 15A, with its long, slender profile, fills the Plan A agenda, whether trolling or casting the shallows.
An often-overlooked factor in night success is decluttering the boat. All backup rods need to be stowed out of the way. Extra boat seats, coolers, boat bags… stow ‘em or dump ‘em into the pickup truck. You’ll find that tangling line and lures is easier in the dark than you’ve ever dreamed possible, so do what you can to minimize the extra baggage you may have had in the boat prior to dusk.
To keep track of the clutter that’s trying to tie your rods in knots, you’ll want a few headlamps. Yes, a few! One night last fall I was by myself in the boat when I drained the batteries in my favorite headlamp. No problem, until I checked two more headlamps that were weakly casting a dim light. I ended up getting to headlamp number five before I got a strong beam! Good thing I was way overprepared. Note: I now carry a box of batteries in the boat!
One more lesson I learned on the Columbia River that applies elsewhere: track your trolling passes in daylight. On the Columbia there are times you must dodge commercial salmon gillnets. I can assure that you don’t want to tangle in a net in the dark with heavy current threatening your very existence. Map out the net locations in the daylight. That helps you avoid various risky obstructions AND gives you a visual track on your GPS plotter screen for use in the dark when you really need it.
This should be your plan no matter where you fish under the moon. Trackplot it during daylight so you have less surprises in the dark. We’ll talk about the ocean-going barge traffic that shows up in the night to scare you witless in another article someday. Or maybe I’ll block that from my memory for sanity sake?! Be aware that commercial vessels are not interested in our pesky little boats, so it’s on all of us to captain our boats safely in commercial waters.
On reservoirs with varying water levels, which are common in the West and some with more than 20 feet of variability, it’s of tremendous importance to run that daytime trackplot! Last week’s trolling passes may be irrelevant when the water level changes. Conveniently, you can dial in your Bombers in daylight while building your trackplot. It makes for a long night later, but the time spent during the day makes the time you spend later even more productive.
So get out your MPF 50 moonscreen to avoid moonburn, build a box or two of trusted night baits and pre-fish with trackplotting to enjoy the fall night fishing you’ve always wanted to have! And when you think that’s me in the boat beside you, don’t bother to wave. It’s too dark to see you, even in the moonlight!