Summer Nights For Trout

Along the northern Gulf of Mexico in the summer, the daytime temperatures can be brutal. But after dark, it's much more comfortable -- and the speckled trout are still hungry! (August 2007)

Photo by Ron Sinfelt.

Anyone who has read a few years' worth of magazine articles about saltwater fishing has probably seen one or two on fishing for seatrout under lights at night. And I'd bet a fully-rigged fishing boat that one of the main perks listed in those descriptions of this summertime opportunity was that it beat the heat.

That is indeed a perk -- but of much greater importance is the ability of lighted water to concentrate these fish during a time of year when daylight hours often find them well scattered and difficult to locate on a consistent basis.

Reaping the greatest benefit from fishing under the lights requires some basic understanding of and adherence to particular practices. Lighted water can be found along commercial wharves, private docks, marina piers, and other similar structures where work is performed or safe after-dark access is required.

Generally, the lights creating the brightest water are the ones that should be prospected initially. While most lights may produce a few fish just after full dark, the best action usually doesn't begin until much later.

In any case, if you notice work being performed around a promising spot, or people are already fishing there, it's best to go find some other lights. And never disembark from your boat in order to fish directly from such structure unless you have explicit permission to do so!

On locating an inviting glow, approach it at dead idle and, if possible, from its upcurrent or upwind side. Look for indications of bait -- skipping shrimp or flicking baitfish, for instance. If any such activity is present, even if there aren't any signs of feeding trout, the spot should be given at least a few speculative casts.

Set the anchor so as not to put the boat in the lighted water. Although you may occasionally notice a fish slash through or pop a shrimp within the brightest water, it's at the edge that many more may be waiting in ambush. Therefore, it's best to make your casts around the perimeter of the glow as well as directly across the brightest part.

Contrary to what any skipping shrimp or flicking minnows may imply, it's usually best to allow your lure to sink a bit before beginning your retrieve. Of course, if a wide-open surface melee is taking place, your tactics should be adjusted upwards a bit toward the surface, but generally, the best procedure is to work the lure just above the point where the light ceases to penetrate the water column. That's rather difficult to determine while standing several yards away in a boat, but if the spot seems promising and you're still not getting bit, try working a few casts a little deeper to probe the darker water below. If that doesn't produce any action and the night is fleeting away, try another light.

There are typically some lights -- even though they may not be the brightest -- that are almost always the best. This is usually the result of something different in the area, such as a small hump or hole, commingling currents, or other type structure. When you find a productive light, remember it -- because it will be productive again.

Of course, the action you find at any light is usually dependent on what you're offering the fish. Successful night fishing requires some finesse, and that extends to the type of lures and tackle as well as to the presentation.

For consistency, think small and simple. I've had nights when I tallied around 50 specks in a night while my nearby counterpart has taken not very many! The reason was clear: He was fishing with a rather large jig/soft-plastic combo on a leader festooned with beads and bangles and suspended beneath a large popping cork. Meanwhile, I was working a much smaller and lighter lure. The shallow fish on that quiet night couldn't stand the racket his rig made both on impact and while he was working it!

With perhaps one exception, targeting lights should never be done with anything more than a 1/4-ounce jig-head dressed with a 3-inch grub. Use a leader of 20-pound fluorocarbon that is around 3 feet long, but tie it directly to the jighead and the line. Don't use any snaps or swivels. At times your terminal gear must be scaled down significantly to generate any action at all. I generally use a 2 1/2-inch grub on a 1/8-ounce jighead. A very large percentage of my nighttime trout fell to that combination.

On several occasions, and for reasons known only to the specks, nothing was happening around some well-established lights, yet I could hear the intermittent pops of trout striking in the dark surrounding me. Casts with the jigs I normally used were futile in this case.

I finally decided to try a 2-inch weighted popping cork fastened to the leader about 1 1/2 feet above the jig. Using such a rig is a complete waste of time when the specks are feeding where they should be, but when they choose to dine in the dark, the popping cork gets their attention. In this instance it began putting fish in the boat.

Another odd event can also call for different tactics.The appearance of large numbers of very small minnows beneath the lights can change the fishing. The speckled trout gorge themselves on these baitfish, focusing intently on small prey. At this time, conventional saltwater lures just won't do the job.

It's usually best to allow your lure to sink a bit before beginning your retrieve.

This is a time to try smaller crappie jigs. Those can be made of hair or synthetic fibers, or can be plastic grubs. The best of them are around 1 1/2 inches long. Translucent colors with metallic sparkles are usually best.

Since these lures weigh only 1/16 ounce and their No. 6 or 8 wire hooks are easily bent, some unusually light tackle is required to best work them. Rest assured that, sooner or later, you'll hook a fish that will eat you slap up. But without the light gear and tackle, you're unlikely to hook any size of speck.

In these instances I use a light-action 5 1/2-foot rod and matching reel with a capacity for perhaps 100 yards of 8-pound monofilament line. Such a rig can cast a 1/16-ounce crappie jig around 40 feet with relative ease. Just be sure you tip the rig with 3 feet of 16- to 20-pound fluorocarbon for a leader.

Another good option for coping with these conditions is to fly-fish. On still nights, and in water less than 5 or 6 feet deep, that's the best overall light-fishing technique there is.

If you're inclined to try the long rod, I suggest using nothing heavier than an 8-weight outfit with a floating line finished with a clear intermediate-sinking tip. Clouser Minnows in size No. 2 in your favorite color pattern should work. A very lightly weighted and rather sparsely tied size 8 bucktail is another good choice, especially when the tiny baitfish are present.

The fact of the matter is that night-fishing for specks under lights is possibly the best opportunity on the Gulf Coast for a newcomer to fly-fishing to get his or her feet wet.

But no matter your preference in tackle, this action is a great way to catch a bunch of summertime speckled trout.

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