Fishing Basics: How to Fish at Night

Practical Tips on Tackle, Lights, Noise, Safety and More

It’s a different game on the water when the sun goes down. Photo © Ken Schultz

The recommended methods used for after-dark fishing vary widely depending on the region, time of year, type of water and species of fish. It can range from casting surface lures in the pitch black for largemouth bass, to using glowing lures for deep-water salmon trolling, to sitting in a lantern-equipped boat while fishing deep bait for catfish or trout. One thing that can be said with certainty about fishing for all species of fish in the inky blackness of night is that you just don’t fish like you would in daylight.

Adapting to No Light

In typical daylight fishing, anglers are accustomed to seeing what they’re doing and watching the line or the lure, but this is seldom possible at night. You can use black lights that make it possible to watch fluorescent lines very well, but although this was a popular monofilament line several decades ago, few anglers use this type of line, today. For the most part, intuition and a feel for your tackle become more important at night than in the daylight. This makes it advantageous to use a sensitive rod and line, and not to try fishing with ultralight tackle.

Obviously, your vision is better on nights with moonlight than on dark or overcast nights, and there can be much debate over whether bright nights are better for fishing than dark nights. Keeping the use of external-source lights to a minimum is a good idea for some types of fishing, though it is unnecessary for others.

 It is also well known that locations prone to receiving light (docks, piers, bridges, etc.) may attract small fish and thus larger predators, although this is more likely the case in saltwater than in freshwater. 

Even if you have great intuition and a natural feel for your tackle, a small headlamp is a proper accessory for night fishing, since it frees both hands and issues only a small amount of light.

Better ones are those with red and/or green color options, which are not as alarming to fish if you happen to turn toward the water.

Tips for Night Fishing

Without any external light source, it takes some adjustment to acclimate to night fishing and to see in the blackness. It’s smart to keep a couple of rods handy with different lures or baits on them to reduce the need to use lights in order to rerig your tackle. If you’re casting with a baitcasting outfit, for example, and get a bad backlash, you can put that rod aside and employ an already-rigged spare one. If you’re prone to backlashes with baitcasting tackle, consider using spinning gear at night, especially if circumstances don’t require accurate lure placement close to cover.

When fishing in pure darkness, you can do several things to enhance your success. Familiarize yourself with the place that you’re fishing is the best thing strategy since it’s easier to fish a place that you know well than one that is unfamiliar to you. When casting, it’s also best to slow down and work an area well rather than hustle all over.

In most situations, it helps to concentrate on quiet and stealth. Noise from operating the motor constantly, moving things around in the boat, chucking an anchor overboard, plunking the electric motor into position, etc., is not helpful.

In a boat, you should approach an area silently from afar as opposed to running up on it with the motor on. Drifting quietly and working methodically all around a boat is effective in some situations.

Be Attentive to Safety

Landing and unhooking fish caught on lures with multiple hooks is more of a problem in the darkness. Be careful about losing your balance and falling into the water while standing up in a boat at night.  In daylight,  you often can brace for a collision with objects, but in the dark, you rarely see the objects and can be jolted off balance when the boat bumps something. 

Don’t leave things underfoot in a boat, especially hooked lures. Keep a high-powered flashlight handy so you can warn an approaching motorboat about your presence, especially if you’re in a small craft without navigational lights.

And when you’re under power, always have bow and stern lights on.

Finally, have great respect for the water and the forces of nature, especially at night. If you get into some trouble, chances are there will be few people around to help.