July 26, 2016
Summer temperatures in mid to late summer have waters in most parts of the country at their peaks. Such times are hard on the fish and the fisherman. But that doesn't mean we have to stop chasing those green fish we love so much.
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.
The feeding habits of bass change during the months of extreme heat, and the bottom line is it is more comfortable for the fish and us. So, with that in mind, next time you're faced with scalding daytime temps, try bass fishing at night with these tips & techniques.
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.
Fly-fishermen take their share of nighttime topwater bass with bulky spun deer-hair and rubber-legged bugs. They are easy to construct and float forever when liberally treated with fly floatant.
The sound of a bass slurping a bait or fly can trigger a reaction by even the most seasoned fisherman. Do not strike. Resist the temptation. Don't strike until you feel resistance. More fish escape when the fisherman reacts too quickly than too late.
DARK SIDE OF THE MOON
Talk to three different night fishers about the best moon phase to fish and you'll likely get four or more different opinions. Some say fishing is best on a full moon as the fish are more willing to feed at night. They believe the moonlight allows the bass to better see their prey. Certainly the bright moon allows for easier boat navigation and the ability to spot and avoid obstructions.
Others prefer the new moon when the night is darkest. They assert that the big fish feel more secure and are willing to move deep into the shallows to aggressively feed. New moon fishing is easier on water you know well and where you have the locations of boat-damaging obstructions memorized. It's no fun to center-punch some nearly invisible large woody debris on an unfamiliar lake.
A bright moon, full or partial, will affect where you fish just like the bright sun will affect where you fish. Bass are ambush predators. The moon, especially when low in the sky, throws shadows on the water. Bass use the shadows as ambush sites. Look for shadows created by trees, bushes, rock ledges and docks and target those areas. If the areas have deep water nearby, move them up to the top of the list.
Here's a couple of other thoughts. In the summer, bass home in on food and your bait using their lateral line to detect both noise and vibration. That means light or lack of it is of little moment to a bass on the prowl. Conversely, in those areas where winter bass fishing happens, bass seem to hunt more by sight. Try to get on the water on clear, moonlit nights for the best fishing. Even better winter, fall and early spring fishing can be had on mild, warm nights.
The key to night fishing is being at the right place at the right time. The best cast, the best retrieve and the best lure won't catch fish if you're not on fish when they want to eat. Pay attention to moon shadows and hit the prime holding spots when bathed in moon shadows.
Feeding times are dictated by water temperature. In the West, the desert summer sun doesn't set until after 9:00 p.m. and it takes a few hours for the water to cool down sufficiently for the bass to start feeding. A cool downslope breeze hastens the process. Still night air delays the temperature drop. For any given day, Eric Clapton got it right when he sang "After Midnight."
The best fishing continues until the first hour of daylight. As the season progresses into fall with less daylight and less daytime heating of the water, the feeding time and quitting time advances. And under all circumstances, the best time to go fishing is when you can.
Black bass feed in an exceedingly wide range of water temperature -- from a bone-chilling 38 degrees to hot tub-like 88 degrees. They are most efficient in the 55- to 75-degree range, so that is the range night fishers should target. Experience indicates there are some ledges in the temperature range where fish eat the most.
For example, in the spring when the water gets over 47 degrees, the fish start to feed. In the fall, when the water drops to 62 degrees, the fish get dialed into binge feeding. They stay on the chow line until the water drops below 54 degrees. Fishing can continue as the temperature continues to drop, but it's not nearly as pleasant as going out on a warm summer night.
The question of where to fish at night is mostly answered by fishing the same type of places you fish during the day. In the dog days of summer, the bass may be holding over rockpiles in 30 feet of water. As the water cools, the holding depth changes. The bass are still structure-oriented and temperature-driven. They still need to combine their need to eat with their need for security.
That puts a premium on places where the deep water that provides security, is close to spots where forage foods like baitfish and crayfish can be found. Steep points of land, deep-water docks, submerged islands and rockpiles are all underwater restaurants where little bits of food congregate and get eaten by bass. Shallows filled with weeds and lilies may hold only a fish or two. To find that isolated fish, position the boat so you can cast parallel to the shore and retrieve along the outside edge of the vegetation.
Until then, give bass fishing at night a try. It's a great way to escape the heat, and who know's, you might just catch your biggest bass ever!