Full Moon Monsters
I’m fishing in the black of night. Why? Fishing was slow during the day, so I’m trying to fill the box after sunset. As light fades fish become active, first baitfish show on the graph, suspended salmon show up out of nowhere. The first rod goes off, a second slam dunks and the drag is screaming. Fishing has gone from crummy at sunset to red hot when the lake is pitch black. Kings are ripping on lines fast as I get them in the water. It’s a scene of mayhem, complete excitement, sometimes confusion and a lot of fun.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m no stranger to night fishing. I love the wee hours for winter smelt on ice, the silence of a steelhead stream when glow bobbers pop underwater, the jerk of a big walleye when I’m trolling for midnight walleyes. But in recent years there is a growing army of Great Lakes trollers in search of hefty catches that work the night shift. What they have discovered is fantastic trolling, loads of big kings all night long. The hot action begins in late spring and when summer daytime fishing gets tough, you can annihilate kings at night. Here’s how.
Full Moon Monsters
Have you ever noticed how difficult it is to catch king salmon during the full moon period? Why? Well, because salmon feed heavily during the middle of the night, come daylight they are full, resting, getting ready to chow down the next night. The few kings you land at daylight are bulging with baitfish, because they munched down under the cover of darkness.
Full moon is the best time to fish at night. The light helps you to see the water, other boats and fish respond by gulping lures. My hottest period is three days before the full moon and three days following. Have you ever been on the Great Lakes during the full moon? The water reflects the moonlight and it is amazingly bright. Some nights you can see very well. There is something powerfully addictive about dancing in the back of the boat under the pale moonlight as a big salmon tugs on your rod and rips line from the drag. Perhaps the most interesting part of the night bite is the size of the kings you will catch. It seems that the cover of darkness brings out the aggressive behavior of large four year old monster kings that tip the scales over 20 pounds. Now, I’m not bragging, but last summer on a hot summer night I was trolling off Pentwater with Brandon Conner when a huge salmon slammed a white/glow Fishcatcher attractor trailed by a blue dolphin Howie fly. I battled the monster until it neared the boat and when we saw its size we about fainted. It measured 37 ¼ inches and bottomed-out my hand scale that goes to 28lbs. It is my opinion that denizens of the deep come out to feed under the cover of darkness.
My hottest months are July and August when the dog days of summer lead to warm nights, calm seas and the distant wail of gulls. Come sunset the kings seem to come from nowhere and slam anything you put in the water as the sky fades to black and the huge orange moon touches the horizon. It seems the big hawgs go on a feeding binge as darkness arrives; some of the largest kings I’ve ever caught came in the dark. Sometimes I’ll get up extra early, hit the water at 4 a.m. and when dawn arrives I’ve caught my limit and headed back to the dock when most fishermen are coming out or setting lines. Just take a peek at charter boat alley when kings are biting, most charter boats are on the water fishing before daylight.
During the beginning of the full moon concentrate on fishing during the brightest light, this is often sundown until midnight. As the month progresses and the moon comes up later, change your trips and start at 9 p.m. and fish until 3 in the morning. At the end of the full moon get up early, say 1-3 a.m. and fish until an hour after dawn.
Savvy anglers say night fishing is so productive because kings tend to shy away from boats during broad daylight. Some say they can see downrigger cables, cannon balls, lines running to Dipsy Divers in the gin clear water of the Great Lakes. Many fishermen are staying later on the water and starting before daylight to take advantage of low light conditions.
My strategy is simple: leave the dock late in the afternoon and return around midnight, clean fish, sleep until noon and do it all again. Last August the fishing was so easy I had coolers full almost every trip. This schedule brought hefty catches and I avoided the craziness at the boat launch during peak salmon season.
Nighttime salmon trolling has been so productive that most manufacturers have glow lures that fish absolutely love to eat. Today there are several glow colors that guarantee strikes and the new super glow paints retain their luminescence much longer. My choice is simple, for big water kings I like to feed them glow spoons. My top producers are Moonshine, Dreamweaver, Silver Streak, Stinger and Northport Nailer. I like green glow spoons. Moonshine makes a glow Mongolian Beef that absolutely drives kings into a feeding frenzy while other hot spoons are: Blue Flounder and glow Bloody Nose. Wolverine Tackle makes Silver Streak spoons in several glow colors and I’ve had great luck with Orange Glo egg and Wart Frog Glo. Look on line at; www.catchmorefish.com. Michigan Stinger at www.mistinger.com makes the Glo Ludington Special, Green Glo and Purple Glo.
In the pioneer days of night fishing glow J-plugs were used with good success. Last year I hammered big fish on the Dreamweaver glow plug with black ladderback. Come dark I’d set it 50 ft. back and send it deeper than other lines and it would get hit first, guaranteed. One night I caught all my fish on the glow ladder plug and nothing on other lures. On another occasion we went fishing at dawn after a heavy rain and all the kings came on the Dreamweaver glow black ladderback plug.
Flies and attractors are an important part of my trolling presentation for nighttime kings. I prefer to run 10-inch Spin Doctor or Fishcatcher attractors behind large Dipsy Divers. Favorite Fishcatcher colors are white/glow, black/glow and green/glow. Dreamweaver Spin Doctors come in a variety of king catching colors my top producers are: double crush glow, blue halo crush glow, glow frog and green double crush glow. Look on line at: www.dreamweaverlures.com and www.fishcatcher.com. I set attractors rod’s length, about 9 feet behind divers, followed by a fly 22″ behind the flashing glow dodger. Remember, flashers create noise as they swish though the water and kings are attracted to the sound or vibration in the water. The glow finish of flashers increases their potential, looking like a school of pulsating baitfish.
Some captains like to use glow flies come dark. My standard is a Howie Fly or Horsefly by Magna Dyne home of Northport Nailer spoons. Try www.howiestackle.com or www.northportnailer.com for information and color chart. My best Howie flies are: white, glitter green and glitter green/black/blue pearl. Horseflies that are 4″ long and proven king catchers include: green crinkle, seaweed and green ghost.
Most captains charge lures or flashes with q-beam lights or camera flashers before putting in water. I use a bright flashlight. Make certain your boat lights are functional before you go out and bring backup flashlights and batteries.
When trolling at night things can get hectic. When fish are pounding lures, rods are bent double and monster kings go bonkers you simply can not run as many lines as you can during daylight when you can see what’s happening. It has been my experience the more lines you run the bigger the tangles. I’ll never forget a trip to Ludington with my buddy Bryan Smith and his son Justin when night kings came calling. We had four fish on at once that resulted in two in the box and all our lines tangled into a huge ball. In the dark you can not see which direction kings are running and colossal tangles come easy.
When darkness falls scale back to downriggers and two Dipsy rods. I only run four lines off my 18 ft. Lund and if the bite heats up, only two lines. I could keep more in the water but bad experiences and big tangles with lost kings have taught valuable lessons. When you are hooking large fish, keep it simple.
Leave the leadcore, copper and wire at home. Try a simple V pattern with Dipsies highest on the outside and riggers or snapweights lines set deeper in the middle. You will find if you raise lines 10-30 ft. in the water column, you will more salmon when night arrives. Use the same rods and reels for day fishing but stealth tactics are not needed for night fish. During spring or when water temperatures cool below 60 degrees, you can use glow stickbaits off Church in-line planer boards tipped with a large glow stick attached to the flag using a rubber band. On line at: www.churchtackle.com.
Shorten leads to the downrigger weights after sunset. Come dark downrigger weights or snapweights become an attractor to kings looking for an easy meal. Try 20 ft. leads. Don’t be afraid to raise the Dipsy/spin Doctor offering above fish, into the upper thermocline. Kings will travel great distances upward to slam a lure. Don’t make the common mistake of lowering lines or fishing lures below salmon during night.
When darkness falls, have you noticed how the Great Lakes come alive, the sonar lights up with microorganisms, baitfish and huge V’s from patrolling salmon? With all the increased activity, kings in search of an easy meal will leave deep water lairs and suspend off bottom. They chase baitfish and will recklessly slam your offerings. Some savvy trollers target kings in the water column slightly above where they find kings during daylight. Perhaps the most important factor is bait. If you want to catch kings, lots of them, you need to troll lures around schools of baitfish.
Night fishing requires a keen sense of Great Lakes navigational skills, it’s not for everybody. Stay on shore if the waves are crashing and the weather looks bad or if you are a big water rookie. Obviously, you need to see what you are doing in the darkness and lights are essential. Savvy anglers rig spreader lights to light up the deck and water behind the prop wash. Flashlight, spotlights, headlamps and pocket lights are all needed for tying hooks, setting lines, selecting baits or netting fish. Don’t go out without standard safety equipment because accidents are more serious in the dark. Don’t take chances.
If you have trouble conditioning your body to night shift fishing, try drinking coffee. Another solution is 5-Hour Energy, a dietary supplemental drink high in vitamin B6 and B12, low in caffeine that provides hours of energy without the crash. I learned how to condition my body to the night shift years ago when I was a swing shift worker at Dow Chemical in Midland. The trick is to stay up late at night, go to bed after 2 a.m. get up late and start your morning when the day is half gone with a good breakfast. My standard is bacon, eggs, plenty of coffee and donuts to give my body a sugar high that will last until the sun sets. After that the fight of a big salmon will give you an adrenaline rush that will keep you fishing until midnight.
Kings are ready to bite all night. Sometimes the fast-paced action is reminiscent of the old days when seasoned anglers could fill the boat with silvery salmon. Michigan’s vast Great Lakes are waiting to be explored by those willing to brave the darkness. It is the last fishing frontier, newly explored, and the future will unfold the fantastic catches available to midnight nomads in search of kings. Are you willing to accept the challenge?