Nothing ruins a bass bite faster than a personal watercraft ripping by at 50 mph. And nothing puts rising trout down quicker than a flotilla of tubers kicking and splashing their way down the river. There’s only one sure way to find tranquility on the water in summer, and it’s going to require a flashlight and some lost sleep.
But there’s a hidden advantage. Big fish that hunker down on hot days often go on the prowl after sundown, because that’s when bait species that have been lying low begin to move. Some guides specialize in chasing fish after dark, and we debriefed nine of them. Their tips and tricks are sure to help you become a master of the darkness.
Smallmouths: Black Light Special
According to veteran Tennessee guide Jim Duckworth, the biggest smallmouths in any lake head for the shoreline as soon as the sun sets. That’s because crayfish that have been hiding all day begin to stir now, and the bass know they can grab an easy meal. Duckworth quietly motors in on rocky banks and points, staying 70 to 90 feet away. Then he flicks on the black lights mounted on the sides of his boat. These purple bulbs illuminate only the first 30 to 50 feet of water, and they have nothing to do with attracting fish.
“I like to throw a 4-inch Berkley Chigger Craw ($4.30) in black or blue up against the bank on a Texas rig,” Duckworth says. “The retrieve is no different than during the day, but I use 14-pound fluorescent monofilament at night, and the black light illuminates it close to the boat. As soon as you see the line move, you set.”
Night fishing with a black light and fluorescent line will make any angler a better daytime soft-plastic fisherman, Duckworth believes, because the system makes the take so visual. “You can’t miss a strike in the light at night,” he says. He claims the glow doesn’t turn off the smallies, and thanks to LED technology, there are several inexpensive black lights for anglers that don’t require hard wiring to the boat. Check out Optronic’s Rechargeable Wide-Angle Fishing Light ($60).
Trout: The Nose Punch
Bushy streamers that splash and gurgle are the typical nighttime flies of choice for trout fishermen. For Delaware River guide Joe Demalderis, though, night floats on this New York-Pennsylvania border water are all about catching big browns and rainbows on dry flies when he has the best pools to himself.
“At night, color doesn’t mean anything. It’s all about silhouette,” Demalderis says. “I’ll tie on a slightly larger size than what I use during the day, with a white wing that I can see.” An Adams or Royal Wulff dry in size 12 or 14 works particularly well. “Anchor in a slow pool just before dark. Once your eyes adjust, you’ll be able to pick out rises.”
Unlike a daytime approach, don’t try to lead a trout at night, Demalderis says. When you see a dimple on the surface, cast right to that spot. To make it easier, he recommends targeting fish rising 30 feet away or less and fishing on nights with plenty of moonlight.
“You might not know exactly where your fly is, but the goal is to land as close to the rise as possible,” says Demalderis. In the dark, it’s difficult to determine whether you overshot or undershot the fish. “If you lay out and see the dimple again, just lift the rod instead of setting. Either the fish will be on or it won’t. If it’s not, you just lay out again to the same spot.”
Muskies: A Slow Burn
Of the 145 muskie trips Minnesota guide Steve Scepaniak runs on Lake Mille Lacs every year, 60 of them are night excursions. That’s because Scepaniak knows that in summer, when fishing pressure ramps up, your best shot at a 50-plus-inch ’skie will come in the small hours of the morning. That’s when he breaks out the dual-blade Double Cowgirl bucktails ($25) and gives a lesson in speed control.
“During the day I’m usually telling clients to speed up the retrieve,” Scepaniak says. “At night I’m telling them to slow down. Muskies don’t react to visual cues in the dark. They use their lateral lines to feel vibration, and slow-turning blades give off more of a thump.”
Because you want the blades on these giant spinners to just barely turn, fishing with them at night is subsequently less strenuous than it is during the day, when a fast burn is in order. Scepaniak targets the edges of weedy flats, as muskies lying near the bottom in deeper water move shallow by night. Most strikes, he says, come at boatside, and the trick to sticking the fish here is forgetting the figure eight that daytime fishermen execute with a short line before picking up the lure to recast.
“A fast figure eight during the day makes the fish think the prey is getting away, so they’ll attack,” says Scepaniak. “At night they can’t see the lure as well, so you want to execute a long, slow L turn along the boat instead, just to keep the blades moving.”
Don’t expect a strong take. Most muskies strike and keep moving forward with the lure, thus putting slack in your line, so any subtle tap is worth a hard set. Scepaniak also notes that muskies often hunt in packs after dark. He has hooked as many as four fish on back-to-back casts, so don’t spend too much time taking photos of your first one.