My watch read 8:30 p.m. and my buddy and I were just getting on the water. The last day-cruisers were heading for the dock, the bikini-clad beach babes were long gone and the jet skiers were running out of fuel. Soon we would have the entire lake to ourselves. Just imagine — all that water, all those fish. No need to dodge careless boat drivers. No need to worry about swimmers roiling the shallows. No need to slather on sunscreen to protect against skin cancer. Regardless of what we all learned in kindergarten about having to share in order to get along, there was no need. We were the only boat on the water heading into the gloaming.
WHY NIGHT FISHING
There are many answers to the question. First, night fishing for bass is the most exciting time of the day to catch bucketmouths and bronzebacks. Second, it extends the fishing day beyond the daylight hours. Third, it transforms the fishing experience from “been there, done that” to something approaching other-worldly. Fourth (and perhaps most importantly), more big fish, the truly trophy fish, are caught at night. That said, if things that go bump in the night make you think of the “Blair Witch Project,” maybe you should stick to the boring, safe daylight.
It’s different after dark. We humans depend on daylight for sight. While the night diminishes our sight, it engages our other senses. The night reveals itself to our ears. We hear the frogs croaking, the watery ripples as a beaver or muskrat slips beneath the surface, a bass crashing bait somewhere in front of the boat. We smell the weed beds, the tules and shoreline rather than see them distinctly. The world feels small and close, limited in size to the blurred edge of our seeing. Casting in the dark is like dancing to the blues; you feel the rhythm of the line loading the rod, the muscles automatically respond. It’s easier to concentrate on each cast, each retrieve, as all the visual distractions of daylight are gone. It’s just you and your line disappearing into the darkness.
Before hitting the lake in the evening, take a couple of minutes to make sure the boat running lights all operate properly. Lamps burn out, fuses blow and corrosion causes problems on even the best-maintained boat. Check for fresh batteries in a waterproof flashlight. There are some great headlamps that feature dual colors; bright for locating obstructions, red for tying knots without destroying night vision. Use a spotlight sparingly. It trashes your night vision and destroys the sense of isolation for any other boat that might be on the water.
Try to launch close to where you intend to fish to avoid long runs back to the ramp in full darkness. Keep your boat speed down and your running lights on. Make sure your life jackets and throw bag are handy. Minimize the clutter in the boat. Have pliers in a belt sheath. Nippers, hook hone and other favored accessories can be on a lanyard around your neck, ready for use without having to fumble around. Fish with a partner and let someone know where you intend to fish and when you’ll return. Finally, check the weather before you head out. No fish, not even the largemouth of a lifetime is worth dying for.
The gear used at night is a scaled- down version as that used in the day, with two exceptions. Some night fishers use an ultraviolet light and fluorescent line. The line literally glows in the dark and makes it easy to track the bait into the darkness. The fancier versions of the UV lights can be charged and operated wirelessly. This minimizes the risk of tripping on the 12V cord running across the boat deck. They also have one or more other rows of LED’s in red, green or white. The white is used when docking the boat after a successful adventure.
It’s a good idea to leave most of the rods at home. A single misstep on a boat festooned with rods can mean a high-priced daylight visit to the sporting goods store. Take what’s needed for topwater baits because that’s the most fun way to night fish. Replace treble hooks with a single-point hook with the barb pinched down. It makes releasing fish easier and less likely for a hook to get stuck in you or your buddy.
The best night baits share two common characteristics: Mass and color. Bulky crankbaits, spinnerbaits, and buzzbaits move water and draw attention. Rattles add to the commotion. Color is simple. Like in fashion where the little black dress never goes out of style, black is the color du jour. Some fishermen paint the spinner and buzzbait blades black to go with the black skirts. Others favor a two-toned bait consisting of black and red, chartreuse or blue. The reason for black is that it provides the most contrast when viewed against the night sky from below the water by the lurking bass. Just to spice things up, take a white spinnerbait to use on a full moon night.
You want to push some water, make noise and create vibrations that attract fish. You also want to hook every fish that hits. The slow and steady retrieve is the best combination for action and hooking up. Don’t use a stop-and-go action after dark. Bass have difficulty locating the source and unless they’re right under the lure, won’t come to a sound they can’t locate.