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Summer Night Tactics For Big Catfish

Summer Night Tactics For Big Catfish
One of the best things about summer is catfishing, as there is just something about sitting in a boat or on a bank with a line in the water. Nights are great because of both terrific action for cats and cooler temps. (Photo by Keith Sutton)

summer night catfish
One of the best things about summer is catfishing, as there is just something about sitting in a boat or on a bank with a line in the water. Nights are great because of both terrific action for cats and cooler temps. (Photo by Keith Sutton)

Catfishing gets better when the weather warms, and summer night catfish fishing offers hot action, cooler temps.

Despite what many novice anglers think, summer is not the best season for catching catfish, especially when fishing is restricted to daylight hours. Most whiskerfish spawn this season, and when laying or protecting eggs in underwater cavities, fish eat very little and can be hard to find and catch.

Summer cats also hold in or near the thermocline in stratified waters, adding to the difficulty of finding them.

None of this should stop folks from fishing in June, July or August, however. There are tactics that can be employed to increase odds for success when temperatures soar. The best, perhaps, is to focus fishing time during the hours between dusk and dawn. 


Being familiar with prime catfish habitat in a lake, pond or river is important when night fishing. Searching for spots in darkness on an unfamiliar body of water is a good way to get lost or hung up on a stump, sandbar or something worse. It is better to fish familiar waters or conduct some scouting during daylight hours. 

Putting waypoints in a GPS is helpful if fishing from a boat, and before fishing consider flagging fishing areas with marker buoys. The best places tend to provide catfish with distinct travel routes from deeper daytime haunts to shallower near-shore reaches used for night feeding. These include points, humps, creek channels, ledges and ridges. 

To avoid problems prepping gear in the darkness, it's a good idea have fishing combos rigged and ready to use and to organize the tackle box before fishing. Be sure to have fully charged batteries for all lights, and if necessary, carry extra lantern fuel and mantles. Boat fishermen will want anchors with an adequate length of rope to hold the boat stationary, and all night fishermen will want a good supply of insect repellent or devices, such as a Thermacell, to ward off mosquitoes.

Night fishing requires specific safety precautions as well, particularly if fishing from a boat. Be sure the craft is outfitted with proper navigation lights, all of which are in working order. Carry a spotlight or flashlight to watch for obstacles and signal presence if another boat approaches. Operate boats at slower speeds and watch for other vessels. Wear a lifejacket and kill-switch at all times. And be sure to let a friend or relative know the fishing location and return time.

summer night catfish
Light is a crucial element of night catfishing, so be sure to plan ahead for both rigging and fishing. (Photo by Keith Sutton)


When bank fishing, a campfire often is built, the rigs are baited and cast, and the rods are propped on forked sticks or placed in holders while participants sit and talk. A cat probably will bite sooner or later, and the action starts. But if not, it's an enjoyable outing anyway. The camaraderie makes it worthwhile.

If the action part of the outing is as important as the aesthetics, be sure to pick a site within casting distance of prime catfishing areas. This might be a clearing on shore near the outside bend of a river, a spot under a shady tree beside a farm pond levee or a gravel bar adjacent a deep hole on a small stream. The best areas have flat, brush-free banks where casting is easy.

Place rigs in a rod holder properly set in the ground, put the reel in free-spool, flip the bait clicker and relax until the action starts. This technique is excellent when targeting trophy catfish that tend to roam at night in search of prey.

[bcplayer list_id=5781356163001]

 Click the video link above to get great catfishing tips for your future trip.


While bank fishing is probably the method of choice for most night fishermen, a boat offers mobility, which can increase catches. If fishing a spot for a while and the fishing is unproductive or the bite stops, folks can move quickly to another spot. The range is limited only by the size of the fuel tank.

Night fishing from a boat also allows more effective use of specialty lights that can help attract catfish. These work by attracting tiny animals called zooplankton, which attract baitfish, such as shad and minnows, which in turn attract predator fish. Blue cats, channel cats and flatheads often will gather near or in the circle of light to feed. 

The use of lights in this manner certainly isn't mandatory. Catfish can use their turbo-charged senses of smell and taste to quickly zero in on bait, even on pitch-black nights in highly turbid water. But using lights to attract forage fish can greatly enhance one's opportunities for hooking some big whiskerfish.

Early fishermen often used torches to illuminate the water when night fishing. Lanterns also have been used for decades, including the venerable Coleman lantern, still a mainstay among many night fishermen today. 

One of the earliest specialty lights used for night fishing was a traditional floating model featuring a Styrofoam flotation ring surrounding a white, sealed-beam light similar to a vehicle headlight. This type of light, which includes products like Berkley Floating Light and Optronics' Floating Fish-N-Lite, is inexpensive and still widely available. Most run off 12-volt systems, with alligator clips attached to battery posts for power. The angler places the light (sometimes several lights) beside the boat where it floats with the beam of light pointing down to attract minnows and shad, and, consequently, catfish. 

catfishIn recent years, floating lights with more energy-efficient LED or fluorescent illumination have become widely available. Also, green lights have become available in addition to white. Power for these models may come from standard 12-volt alligator clips, a cigarette-lighter plug or alkaline batteries. A molded handle on some of these units (Optronics' Floating Fish-N-Lite, for example) allows them to double as spotlights, camp lights or boat lights. The best also have safety fuses and long, insulated cords. One innovative model, Optronics' model FLL-712UV Floating Fishing Light, has a built-in black light on top to help illuminate line.

Also now available are submersible lights that slide beneath the surface and light up the depths. Battery-powered, 12-volt, LED and fluorescent models are available, with white or green lights.

Many submersible models are weighted internally or otherwise constructed so they sink immediately when put in the water. Berkley's Underwater Fish Light Rattle is such a light. Others such as Bass Pro Shops Submersible Fish Lights sink only after the addition of a weight to a swivel clip on one end of the light. These float when unweighted, so the user can vary where they are positioned in the water column for increased versatility.

Submersible lights that use fluorescent bulbs often are available in different lengths as well. Bass Pro's Submersible Fish Lights, for example, come in 9-inch and 21-inch sizes. Hydro Glow manufactures lights up to 4 feet long.

>>More about Catfishing

Fishing lights are available in two primary colors — white and green. Some might wonder why red lights aren't used, or blue or purple. Why white and green? And which color is better? Does it really matter?

Darrell Keith, founder of Hydro Glow Fishing Lights in Dawsonville, Ga., has spent years studying how lights attract fish. He says white and green wavelengths of light are most attractive to plankton. Plankton is a primary food of many baitfish, so when plankton gather in the lighted portion of the water, baitfish move in to enjoy the banquet. The baitfish in turn attract catfish and other game fish looking for an easy meal.

"Plankton migrate to light for reproduction," said Keith. "And green has the best ability to cause this to happen. White works, too, but white light is absorbed very quickly in water. It doesn't penetrate very deep so it's less effective than green, which maintains its color character at much greater depths."

In some experiments, Keith put five different colors of lights in the water at the same time, and green always attracted bait (and thus sportfish) far better. This fact is common knowledge now among manufacturers of fishing lights, so green lights have quickly become prevalent. White lights are still available and effective to some extent, but not as effective as green. So purchasing green lights probably is the best option. Even adding a green light to sets will increase the effectiveness of illumination efforts.


When arriving at fishing spots, position lights on one side of the boat and turn them on to illuminate the fishing area. Floating and submersible lights can be used separately or in combination, but combinations — a pair of floating lights positioned above two submersible lights — tend to be more versatile, lighting multiple levels of the water column, while also providing more above-the-water lighting for tying knots, hooking bait and unhooking fish.

Folks can start fishing immediately, but keep in mind that catfish probably won't show up until baitfish appear. This may take anywhere from five minutes to an hour or more. If in a good fishing area, baitfish will soon gather around the light. At first there may be only a few, but where shad and minnows are plentiful, a whirling mass of small fish soon will be swimming in the lighted water. If the water is clear enough, folks may actually see catfish running through the schools of baitfish.

These cats can be caught in many ways. A weighted live minnow or shad beneath a slip cork is a good enticement, as is a piece of cutbait impaled on a hook and allowed to flutter down through the water column with no weight or float at all. In fact, almost any bait normally used for enticing catfish can be used when night fishing. It is not necessary to use baits that match the baitfish attracted to the plankton. When catfish shown up, they'll eat anything that tastes or smells good to them.

At times, the best fishing is within the circle of illumination created by the lights, but on some nights, folks will catch more catfish by fishing dark water at the edges of light. This may indicate there's structure near the place they're biting and none where there's no action. Moving the lights or boat to get positioned more directly over the fish may help.

Determining the proper depth to fish is perhaps the biggest challenge. If the lake is clear, catfish may be at 15 to 30 feet, sometimes more; in stained water, 5 to 15 feet; and in muddy water, typically less than 5 feet. The key to success is presenting baits at the level where fish are feeding, but not too far beneath or above the strike zone.

Targeting catfish after dark provides lots of time to sit and socialize with fishing buddies. Anglers of all ages enjoy the thrills, the laughs and, most of all, the companionship an after-hours catfish junket provides. 

So give night-fishing a try this season. There's no better way to catch some pole-bending whiskerfish when the heat is on.

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