RIVERDALE - An old axiom states that fishing after dark is better than fishing during the day. While it is true that many fish have physical characteristics that have evolved for effective nocturnal predation, fishermen are far better suited to angling during daylight hours.
There's another axiom often followed by fishermen, the one that states the best time to go fishing is when the fish are biting. That's easier said than done. Most fishermen go fishing when they have time to go and hope they will catch their share of fish. Daylight hours suit most anglers just fine. As good as the fishing can be after sunset, fishing in the dark is by no means easy. Adjustments must be made.
"You have to rely on the equipment and your sight," said Virginia Schiele, Minot, shortly after coming back to the Tailrace boat dock in the dark of night this past Tuesday. "You have to watch closely for other boats. There's a lot of things to watch out for, but I love it after dark. The fish seem to bite more after dark. That's the best time to go fishing."
Virginia Schiele, Minot, holds a nice catfish caught in the Garrison Dam Tailrace. Many fishermen are reporting similar catches in the Missouri.
Fishing during daylight hours on the Missouri River presents countless challenges with changing water levels, shifting sandbars, rocks, trees, current and variations in bottom contours. After dark, the challenges are magnified. A boater must keep a close watch on his electronics while being cautious not to completely rely upon them.
Fishing in the dark requires both listening carefully and watching intently for the presence of other boats. Motor trouble, even seemingly brief delays in starting an outboard, can lead to serious problems. Nevertheless, many anglers make the necessary adjustments that lead to successful fishing in the dark.
Tobi Opp, Pick City, says he fishes "about 100 days" in open water. He likes fishing the Tailrace. Opp was working the Tailrace waters well after dark one night this past week.
"Pretty slow, pretty slow," said Opp. "We caught a few walleyes but no salmon."
Opp and fishing partner Kori Schantz, Underwood, said they released the fish they caught. The catch for the evening included a paddlefish, one of the many varieties of fish that an angler might hook into while fishing in the Tailrace region.
"The paddlefish was the highlight. It was maybe 40 pounds, quite a little battle," laughed Schantz. "We caught a catfish and a few small walleyes and released them all. It was pretty slow. We knew after a while that was it."
Opp and Schantz say they have had better days on the water and had many photographs of rainbow trout, brown trout and walleyes on their cell phones to prove it. While Opp fishes the Tailrace often, last week's outing on the river was the first in nearly two months for Schantz. He had been keeping busy catching salmon on nearby Lake Sakakawea.
There's salmon to be caught in the Tailrace too. Hooking into a sporty salmon after dark can leave a fisherman wondering what the heck is happening. Salmon can make very strong runs, often punctuated with multiple leaps from the water. Mark Perham, Minot, and his fishing partner, Schiele, experienced good luck with salmon this past week.
"We started up on Sakakawea for salmon and didn't have any luck, so we came down to the Tailrace and did pretty good," said Perham, while reaching into his boat's livewell. "I think we have five walleyes, three salmon, a bass and a couple of catfish. It was pretty good variety. We had fun."
"It was awesome! Lots to do. I loved it!" added Schiele while showing off a nice catfish.
While walleyes are the most targeted fish after dark in the Tailrace, it is the variety of fish activity after dark that is most enticing to fishermen. Like all fishing, there is nothing automatic about it, but the Tailrace has consistently put fish in the boat for thousands of anglers this summer.
Fishing after dark isn't exclusive to the Tailrace. Both shore and boat fishermen have had successful outings after sunset on Lake Sakakawea as well, particularly in the area of Government Bay, where salmon can often be heard splashing on the surface in the dark of night.
"We heard they were biting, so we had to come out and try it," said Todd Mock, Minot, shortly after loading his boat in the dark at the Government Bay ramp this past week. "I don't do night fishing that much. It's a little tricky. You can't see where you are going."
"You can't see anything, but it's a lot more peaceful and more fun," added Jen Baker, Minot. "It was a beautiful day to come out here. We thought we'd try it and, hopefully, get a couple of big salmon before the run ends."
Although they had three people in the boat, there were no salmon to show for their efforts. Salmon fishing is often a hit or miss proposition, but when they make an appearance it can be explosive.
"We had one on. It took off like a bullet," laughed Mock.
Mock's boat was the last one off the water at Government Bay this past Tuesday. A short distance away, the Tailrace parking area remained lined with tow vehicles and trailers well after dark. Some boats were arriving two hours after sunset, preparing to launch while others were just returning to the dock. While fishing in the dark, especially at the Tailrace, is not for every angler, those who do so are often successful.