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Bring on the Night and Catch Bass After Dark

If you can't stand another hour of daylight bass fishing, hit the water after sundown.

Bring on the Night and Catch Bass After Dark

Points and flats adjacent to deep water are prime locations to target bass when the sun sets. (Shutterstock image)

  • This article on bass fishing is featured in the West edition of the June-July issue of Game & Fish Magazine, now on sale at newsstands across the country. Learn how to subscribe

First, the obvious: It's hot out there in many places across the region. The sun can really punish an angler bent on fishing between dawn and dusk. It'll sap your energy, harm your skin (without proper safeguards) and warm the water to the point that fish demand deep shadows or deeper water. It can also bring out water skiers, jet skiers, swimmers and pleasure boaters—all fine people if they would simply stay on the shore.

With so much competition for a placid piece of water and so much need for relief from the heat, the obvious answer is to fish at night. It can also be the correct answer. Here are three questions to determine whether nighttime is the right time on your favorite summertime bass lake:

  • First, is the water clear with two or more feet of visibility?
  • Second, does the lake get a lot of boat traffic?
  • Third, do you want to catch more and bigger bass?

If your answer to each of those three questions is yes, night fishing during summer is the way to go. It takes some getting used to, but night bass action is often much, much better than battling it out under the heat and glare of the sun with dozens or even hundreds of other boaters, all searching for a little bit of vacation fun.

Three factors will help you get the most out of summer night fishing for bass: understanding the basic seasonal patterns, factoring in moon phases and planning and preparation for fishing after dark.

SIZING UP SUMMER

Summer is a mixed bag. On one hand, bass can be lethargic in the extreme heat. On the other, summer is predictable and the most stable of the four seasons. The best summertime bass patterns for daylight fishing typically involve deep water (in and around the thermocline where temperature and oxygen levels are attractive to bass), current or dense cover that provides lots of shade. If you have those elements or conditions, you can probably catch bass during the day, but it might not be easy, especially if the lake is crowded with other boats.

Legendary underwater cinematographer Glenn Lau spent more than 15,000 hours filming and observing bass below the surface. Co-authoring his book Bass Forever was an advanced course in bass behavior for me. In Lau's experience, big bass shut down almost completely during the day, when many anglers are on the water. That's when they move into the heaviest cover they can find (usually near deep water) and are extremely lethargic. However, once the sun goes down, things change.

bass caught at night
Spinnerbaits and topwaters excel for the night bite. Opt for dark colors that silhouette well against the sky. (Photo by Keith Sutton)

MOON MATTERS

The moon's impact on Earth is considerable even if it's hard to quantify or define. It creates our tides, innumerable animals breed or hatch in synchronicity with the moon and human violence has long been linked to moon phases. For generations, anglers have tried to decode the moon's influence on fish and forage. While it would be disingenuous to say that anyone has it all figured out, there are some truths that are not simply self-evident. They're indisputable.

Just like the sun, the moon rises in the east and sets in the west. Unlike the sun, which we orbit, the moon orbits the Earth and completes a full circuit every 29 1/2 days. When the moon rises at about the same time the sun sets, they are oriented in such a way that the moon is fully illuminated. This a full moon.

When the moon rises at about the same time the sun rises, and sets at about the same time the sun sets, we can't see it very well. This is the new (or dark) moon. After the new moon, we can see a little more of the moon each night. After about a week, the right half of the moon is visible. This is the first quarter moon. In another week or so, it will be full. A week after that, the left half of the moon is visible (third quarter moon). Then the new moon comes again and the process repeats.

Legions of amateur angling astronomers have tried to explain and predict the impact of the moon on fish behavior. In fact, there was a time when every newspaper and outdoor magazine would publish moon tables in every edition and issue.

The tables typically identify the times when the moon is directly overhead, underfoot or on the horizon. Major feeding and activity periods occur when the moon is directly above or below. Minor periods occur when it’s halfway between those points.

Conventional wisdom says that night fishing is best around the full moon because it’s brighter and the bass—sight feeders—can see better. Conversely, the theory is that daytime fishing is better during the new moon because the nights are darker and it’s harder to see.

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The same baits you'd expect to get bit during the day will work for you at night, but certain bait styles shine in the summer darkness, especially topwaters and spinnerbaits. With either, you should opt for dark colors because they silhouette better against any light in the sky.

Topwaters and buzzbaits can be particularly strong around the full moon because they show up well against the bright night sky. Big, single-spin spinnerbaits fare best around the new moon. Forget the erratic retrieves that might trigger a daytime bass. Stick with a steady retrieve so the bass can zero-in on the bait better. Use a trailer hook on spinnerbaits and buzzbaits to reduce missed strikes.

And all those spots that you'd love to fish during the day but can't because they're beaten to a froth by jet skis and swimmers? Well, they're all yours after dark, and they're often loaded with bass when the sun goes down. Target points and flats near deep water and you should be in the action.

SAFETY FIRST

Having a dozen rods on the deck of your boat next to a baggy landing net is not a big problem when the sun's out. At night, it can turn you into a cautionary tale. The more you streamline your gear, the better off you'll be and the less likely you are to break something precious—like your neck.

Don't forget to hydrate, even at night, but be extra careful with drink bottles. Stow them away when you're not actively drinking from them and throw them away when you're finished. If you step on a capped drink bottle, it's going to roll and you’re going to fall.

Tying knots or finding the right bait is a challenge at night without proper illumination. Get a light, such as the Streamlight Bandit, that clips on the bill of a cap. Or use the utility lights in your boat, but mask them with red or green cellophane or a light coat of reddish nail polish so you won't be blinded by white light, which will destroy your night vision for several minutes. Another alternative is the Firefly (see below).

If you're unfamiliar with the body of water you plan to fish at night, get out there before dark to launch your boat, get your bearings, identify some landmarks you'll be able to find in the dark and generally learn your way around. That'll pay off if you stop fishing before dawn and need to find your way back to the ramp or dock.

If you have GPS, turn it on before you ever start the engine. It'll track you as you fish, leaving a nice trail you can follow to get back home. But don't rely on GPS exclusively. Carry a map, too. Murphy's Law has a way of popping up on any fishing excursion, but when it happens after dark, it can be especially troublesome.

Finally, take a page from the book of every pilot: Have a plan and tell someone on shore where you’ll be going and when you should be back. Night fishing is productive and a lot of fun—but only when you’re safe.

Light Up the Night

  • Onboard illumination for hardcore nightime anglers.
bass fishing at night
Firefly Marine offers deck lights for the bow and elevated stern lights. (Photo courtesy of Firefly Marine)

In 1993, Chad Watts and a couple of friends built a custom stern light from a telescoping cane pole. An old reel-oil bottle served as the globe for the bulb. It illuminated their boat from high above—like a full moon on demand—drawing bugs away from the anglers and offering just enough light to see quite well. It worked great.

Then life happened. Work and family obligations separated the group, but Watts never forgot about the light. Recently, Firefly Outdoor & Marine was born, and the Firefly has become a beacon to night anglers everywhere.

Watts makes both bow and stern lights that meet Coast Guard standards for running lights. The short bow light will cast a faint glow at your feet and help you to see in front of the boat, while the stern light rests atop a flexible pole that can handle running speeds of any bass boat on the market.

The light poles come in a variety of colors to match your boat. A set of bow and stern lights costs about $220. For more information, visit fireflymarine.com.




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