This time of year, the bank fishermen find their way out to the north dike to do some night fishing at Willard Bay, and the numbers of eager anglers is fascinating to me.
Most are of the opinion that any fish is a good one at night. But it seems wipers are among the most coveted to catch.
If you have a certain spot you like to frequent along the rocks, be sure to get there early to stake out your ground. Early could mean several things here. Some fishermen don’t show up until after 10 p.m., while others like to get out before the sun goes down. Most anglers are polite enough and keep their distance from you, so you feel like you have room to cast and retrieve without feeling cramped or in danger of getting tangled.
The hoots and hollers along the rocks generally signify a catch. On a slow night, it sure does get quiet on that dike. But generally someone will pick up a fish here and there — enough to keep you interested. On a good evening, the fishing can be fast and steady.
If you feel adventurous and want to give this method a try, here are some of the things you might want to bring along. First of all, make sure to have some bug spray. The bugs aren’t too bad in early May, but the mosquitos can carry you off if you’re not prepared for them later in the season. Long-sleeved shirts and long pants can go a long way toward protecting you against biting insects, at least until the weather gets too hot to warrant being so fully clothed. Also make sure to have shoes that allow you to walk on the rocks that are scattered all along the dike. You won’t want to slip and fall here. Many a fishing pole has been shattered this way, and many hips and rumps bruised as well.
You’ll want to pack in as light as possible, but still bring all the necessities you’ll want before you call it a night. A small cooler along with your tackle box isn’t too much to carry. Just be sure you can make the hike all in one trip.
For tackle, the choices are as varied as the anglers who go out for the evening. To attract wipers, for example, you may want a rattling, high vibration lure that will give off sound to help the fish locate your bait. Rattle traps and such are quite good, and can either be fished alone at the end of your line, or in conjunction with a lighted bobber that will help you to recognize the direction of your line. You won’t need the bobber to recognize a bite; the wipers are tough enough to let you know. Even a walleye will hit these lures furiously enough that even in the dark there is no mistake about hooking into a fish.
Crappie fishermen will often let the crappie just come to them, catching them while fishing for wipers or walleye. Unless, of course, they are targeting just the crappie. But a small jig and grub below a bobber will help you recognize bites. If you get into a school, multiple fish are certainly possible. But then, a mixed bag of eating-sized fish is a great combination of tastes on the dinner table.
Some like to chase catfish, and will use nightcrawlers, dead minnows, cut bait and stink baits to bring in these whiskered predators. If you stand your rod up in the rocks, either watch carefully the end of your pole, or get a bell to top off the rod so that you can hear in the dark that you’re getting bit. Cats offer up a great fillet, and can make a fish fry a real success. But so can the other fish available at Willard Bay.
Try a variety of artificial lures, mostly of the minnow-imitation design that mock the gizzard shad. Jigs will also work, and can be quite effective when cast parallel to the shoreline. If room allows, casting along the rocky edges this way can pick up fish that have moved into shallower water to feed. I’ve found this to be good for the occasional walleye, while casting into deeper water is better for the wipers at night.
Nonetheless, the surprises you can have while night fishing at Willard Bay are numerous, and can be quite exciting. Whether you take off out onto the rocks, or haul your boat along for the evening, you’ll likely have some successes as you fish the big bay. As you get some experience in with the night trips, you’ll become better acquainted with the tactics that work for you — and you’ll get to enjoy the company as well.
Brad Kerr is an avid angler who can be reached at email@example.com.