Every August the tackle-shop talk turns to fishing at night, and with good reason. Higher water temperatures and bright sunshine drive fish deeper in the water column and into deeper cover. But at night, areas seemingly barren during the day come alive as predators come out to hunt in the darkness.
The best part is, your kayak is the perfect platform for taking advantage of the opportunities the night presents. The yak is more mobile than a shore expedition, and the plastic yak bounces off rocks much better than a fiberglass hull!
Night fishing isn’t for everyone. You lose many of the visual cues that you get during the day, and sight fishing can be tough (but not impossible). For those of us with busy schedules though, night fishing can be a real treat, especially during the heat of summer.
Getting out in the kayak at night introduces a certain element of risk, so taking a few extra safety measures is essential. The most important safety measure is to always wear your PFD. Remember that you are wearing the PFD for emergencies and not convenience – keep it on at all times. Fishing with a buddy is helpful too; not only can two anglers cover more water, but you can also watch out for each other. At night it is important not to step outside your skill set; don’t fish more challenging water than you usually do, and don’t make trips you wouldn’t normally make.
Night anglers can get by with a few basic tools. The most important ones are a GPS, a radio, and a good light. It can be pretty easy to get disoriented in familiar waters at night, especially when the lights on shore go out. A good GPS can keep you from hitting the rocks or running too close to the bar where the waves are breaking. It can also keep you in the fishy water and help you pinpoint where the bite is. A radio is invaluable for communicating with your fishing partners and is vital in an emergency. It is easy to get separated at night and a radio will help you reconnect. Lights are very important in high traffic areas, and I recommend having both a permanent pole light and a flashlight handy. There are many good quality headlamps available, but my go-to light is a floating hand-crank flashlight. After many trips cut short by dead batteries and after dropping my flashlight over the side multiple times, having a light that always works and doesn’t sink is important to me!
When we talk about night fishing in New England, generally that means stripers, but don’t overlook freshwater as well. Those bass that have been hiding deep in the lily pads all day are cruising at night looking for something to eat. Consider all your options and try your local bass pond in the dark! If you have never fished for stripers at night, it can be a real eye opener. Spots that are seemingly lifeless during the day can be wide open at night, sometimes with fish much larger than the day. Night fishing isn’t a cure-all though, and when fishing is tough, the night bite can be slow too.
When picking your spots for your night forays, stick to familiar areas, at least for your first few trips. Shoreline that you know like the back of your hand during the day can be difficult at night, especially where there are few lights or no moon. Keeping good marks on your GPS and marking your starting point is helpful to keep your orientation toward your fishing structure as well as getting you safely home. There are many areas of the coastline that are reasonably well lit from city lights and street lights. A nighttime yak foray doesn’t have to be a long-distance adventure, as fish often move right in to the shoreline at night.
Tackle choices should be kept simple because untangling a line or retying lures isn’t always easy in the dark. If you aren’t used to a baitcasting reel during the day, don’t bring it along at night! Rigging rods with different lures or baits will allow you to switch tackle without having to tie knots in the dark.
One of the top tactics for stripers at night is trolling a live eel. Eels are big bass candy! I don’t spend much time fishing bait and mostly focus on fishing plastics. I prefer to fish lures with single hooks at night and plastics like Hogys or Slug-Gos are perfect for single-hook rigging, whether on a jighead or an offset worm hook. Whether I use plastics or hardbaits, I usually stick to dark colors at night, but I haven’t found a color that doesn’t work at night! You don’t necessarily need to slow down your presentations at night. We may have a hard time seeing what is in the water, but stripers sure don’t. My go-to retrieve at night keeps the lures zipping along, but just like during the day, bass will go through periods when they like the baits moving really fast or really slow.
In the salt, I tend to fish areas that have enough light from shore that I can see what I’m doing, but most ponds I fish have enough trees around them to block out most of the man made light. So in freshwater, I focus on baits that I can fish by feel. Largemouths are a good target at night and more active than most other freshwater fish in the dark. Topwaters are fun because they often leave a surface wake in the moonlight, and there is nothing like hearing the bass explode on it. Spinnerbaits can be deadly, and the vibration of the blades will help you focus on working the bait around cover; you should feel it bouncing off the structure you are fishing. Plastic worms are killer and can be fished weightless and worked on the surface and allowed to sink around weed edges. Walking a worm across lily pads in the dark can produce some startling hits!
One last tip for night fishing: the best fishing usually occurs at least an hour after it gets dark. In both fresh and saltwater, the evening bite often tapers off some as it gets dark, but at some point, those fish get going again. So don’t get discouraged if you get out in the light to scope things out and don’t keep catching right after darkness falls. Give it an hour and try again and I bet you will catch some fish.