As the days grow longer and the water temperature rises, locating and targeting fish can become easier at times but poses unique challenges depending upon fish species, water temperature, weather, and time of day. Intense fishing pressure and boat competition for prime fishing locations can cause larger fish to retreat to heavy cover and deeper water. You may be surprised to hear that targeting bass and panfish at night can be a very effective summer tactic. With a little front-end prep-work, night fishing can be an effective way to catch larger fish. Of course, you need to make considerations that are unique to fishing in the dark.
At most, have three rods on the front deck of your boat. Tripping over equipment and breaking rods is not the way you want to spend you evening on the lake. Consider using small tackle storage containers that you can keep on your person to eliminate the need to run back and forth to larger storage compartments. A great piece of advice is to have your three rods set up with different baits. These should be the baits you have the most confidence in at night (check out our tackle considerations below). This will eliminate the need to re-tie constantly and keep you fishing.
Light it up
Unless you can see in the dark, lucky you, you will need some way to see what you are doing. Tying knots, unhooking fish, and casting become much, much easier when you have quality light on the boat. A great tip is learning to tie a quality knot without being able to see it. If you don’t know how to tie a Palomar Knot, learn it. It’s ideal for braided and super lines and super easy to tie. A great combination for night fishing. Beyond you being able to see, make sure your boat lights are in working order. Other anglers need to be able to see your boat cruising across the water.
There will be bugs…. You need to be comfortable with that. Remember to bring along plenty of bug repellent (pick your favorite) but be careful of what the spray or odor comes in contact with. Keep your hands free from foreign odors from bug spray. Transferring that to you baits and line will be a huge detriment. Simply put, spray yourself down away from your tackle and gear. Bugs are attracted to light. Our advice is to keep your light or lantern as far away from you as you can get away with and still be able to see what you are doing. The majority of “bug traffic” will congregate around the light and give you a little relief.
Blue is the last color to fade in low light. It seems counter intuitive to use darker baits at night but they actually have a better contrast in the water. Choose soft plastic baits with darker colors (black, blue, dark red, purple). Remember, scent plays an important role in fish locating plastics. Consider using scented worms, crawbaits, and tubes. As far as hardbaits, jerkbaits and crankbaits work quite well at night because of their action and the noise generated by rattles and moving blades. Slow and steady retrieves should be the rule of thumb at night with hardbaits.
The type of bait you are fishing and the species of fish you are targeting will dictate what rod/reel combination you need to be running. For example, if you are slow rolling a spinnerbait or crankbait, bring along your medium-heavy rod with a low gear-ratio reel (around 5.4:1). This will keep the bait in the strikezone longer. If you are fishing soft-plastics, use at least a medium rod with a high gear ratio (up to 8.1:1) to quickly pick up slack in the line. Remember, most of a soft-plastic’s action comes from the rod tip so you’ll need a reel that can keep picking up slack as it’s created.
Head out to a popular lake or river on the weekend and you can tell how fish get conditioned to certain baits. Tons of boat traffic and multiple fisherman targeting concentrated areas can make fish, particularly larger ones, difficult to land. Fishing at night allows you to present baits in a different setting (darkness) and sneak up on pressured fish. Consider bait presentation when working a fishing spot. Think to yourself “how do most anglers work this bait?” Most baits are far more versatile than anglers use them. Ever slow-rolled a swim jig over a grass flat? No? Change up your presentation to crack conditioned fish.
Areas to Target
Go to where the baitfish are. Docks, shallow weeds, and prominent weed edges are great places to start. If you have electronic on your boat, this is the time to use them. Use side-imaging and down-imaging to locate schools of baitfish and look for the classic “boomerang” mark on your screen indicating larger fish. With slightly lower surface water temperatures at night, bass and panfish will tend to be in deeper water than during the day. Again, use electronic to locate deeper structure and weed edges.