How to Fish at Night from a Belly Boat

The secret weapon to catching summertime bass, panfish, and catfish? A float tube

illustration of nighttime fishing on belly boats
Target different kinds of structure during the evening bite.Mike Sudal

Fishing from a float tube under the summer stars puts you on the water when the fish are most active and your competition is tucked safely in the sack. But float smart. Stick to waters that are closed to boat traffic, or familiar waters where you know few motorboaters venture after nightfall. Carry at least two headlamps or flashlights—one with a dimmable colored light to preserve your night vision, and one white safety light. And night anglers should always wear a life jacket.

If you think you’ll freak out every time you brush against a weed patch, then wear lightweight breathable waders. Otherwise, pull on a pair of synthetic long pants, strap on float-tubing fins, and resist the temptation to launch right at sunset. Give the fish an hour or two to adjust to the changing light and move into a blackout feeding pattern—then target these three areas on the water.

1. Get in the Weeds

At night, float-tubers have a leg up—or maybe down—with their stealthy approach to fallen trees, weedlines, and other natural structures. Once you’re in casting range, let the ripples dissipate to put fish at ease, then cast into the structure. Use swimming buzzbaits or spinnerbaits with a water-gurgling Colorado blade at a slow and steady rate to give fish a chance to strike. Don’t be afraid to go deep. Bigger fish will move off their daytime sanctuaries to prowl sloping bottoms and channels near grass beds and timbered shores.

2. Rock On

Riprap is ideal nighttime fishing structure because it is full of prey species that come out after dark. Once the sun sets, minnows and crayfish slip out of their rocky nooks and crannies, and predators such as bass and whopper panfish cruise the riprap for a late-night meal. Start by hanging back from the shoreline and pounding the rocks with crayfish-colored jigs. Then belly-boat all the way up to the riprap to fire crankbaits and spinnerbaits parallel to the structure, giving fish a second chance to make your night.

3. Light It Up

Any well-lit dock, bridge, or pier is a night angler’s dream, but you can’t just barrel in to pound the brightest spot. Light travels through the water in the shape of an inverted cone, so be aware of the illuminated water that extends out beyond the lit surface. Position yourself well away from that area to dredge midcolumn depths first, casting large streamers or jerkbaits with erratic movements. Once you’ve picked off the subsurface feeders, it’s time to froth the top with buzzbaits, walking baits, and chuggers.