Boost Your Surf Fishing Success With The Night Bite

Nothing beats a sunny day of surf fishing on the beach, right?  At least that’s what we used to believe.  Then, we discovered the night bite.  

Surf fishing at night presents a whole new slew of challenges for even the most experienced surf anglers among us.  But it might also be your best chance at catching more big fish.

So, if gulping down a couple energy drinks and casting into the surf after the sun sets is on your to-do list, then you’ve come to the right place.  This guide is going to give you everything you need to build a foolproof strategy for surf fishing at night.  Ready to boost your success?  Let’s break it down.

Why is surf fishing good at night

Getting out for a day of surf fishing isn’t always easy, even when the the sun is up.  So why is hitting the beach at night worth all the extra effort?  Well, there are some really good reasons to try it out.  Here are just a few of the biggest benefits to fishing long after everyone else goes home.

Fish come closer to shore at night

The goal of most anglers is to have a successful day of fishing.  The definition of success is different for everyone but our fellow surf fishing addicts are always on the hunt for fast action and big ocean fish.

At night, surf anglers sometimes get that reward.  Darkness brings new forage and baitfish closer to shore that predatory fish feed on.  It’s bright sun, attack from birds and human activity that drive baitfish from the unprotected shallows into deeper water during the day.  These threats disappear with the coming of night.  This means some fish that were just out of casting range, are now fair game.

More fish close to shore often means more action and a better chance of catching a giant.

Fewer beach goers

It can be tough fishing amongst the sun bathers, swimmers, surfers and kids slashing about in the water.  So, in all likely hood, you hike along the beach in search of a secluded spot to cast a line. 

But at night, that’s not an issue.  You can fish the prime spots and cast into the surf without worrying about tangling up with others.

There are only so many surf fishing spots, so guarantee a spot all to yourself by fishing at night instead.

Less fishing pressure

Tourists and families frolicking through your lines aren’t the only concern of the daytime surf angler.  While the fishing community is a tight knit group, it doesn’t mean you want to compete for fish with swarms of other anglers.  

You might not be the only angler looking to capitalize on the night bite but you can be darn sure you are one of very few.  After most anglers call it a day, you can spread out all your lines and soak your baits knowing full well that any fish willing to bite has fewer hooks to choose from.

What kind of fish can you catch

The ocean is a unique place to fish since so many species call it home.  Surf anglers have a vast array of fish available all within casting distance.  However, there are some species that only come within range of shore bound anglers after the sun dips below the horizon.

In most cases though, you’re targeting the same fish at night as you are during the day.  Yet, some exponentially increase their feeding after dark and so you’re likely to encounter faster action.

On the east coast and gulf coast, bluefish, stripers, redfish, black drum, speckled trout and snook are all readily caught at night.  You’ll also have a good chance of hooking into a shark if that’s what you’re after.

Surf anglers along the southern California coast often catch yellowfin croaker, spot fin croaker, corbina, rays, guitarfish, surfperch and sharks at night.  Further up the Pacific coast up to southern Oregon, expect to encounter striped bass and several species of surfperch.  

California surf anglers also live for the grunion run where masses of baitfish spawn at night along sandy shorelines.  It’s a huge draw for big predators like seabass and California halibut.  Both fish are a good reason to get out there at night.  

Washington surf anglers primarily target redtail surfperch and find plenty of night time action as well.

Planning for the night bite

To take full advantage of the night bite in the surf, you need to plan right.  While packing sunscreen and checking high temperatures is the primary need for day time surf fishing, night owls have a few other factors to consider.

First, make sure that your fishing spot is legally accessible at night.  Always confirm that the parking area and the beach itself allow use after dusk.  

Also, pack your fishing gear so you won’t loose it.  Nighttime happens to be pretty dark so have a way to keep all your gear with you in one place.  Use a backpack or surf fishing cart.  Keep all your tackle organized and easy to sort through so you can find what you need without fumbling around in the dark. 

Good planning also involves knowing the timing of the tides.  It’s going to be tough to see what the tide is doing and how to fish it if you don’t know whether it’s coming in or going out.  On a similar note, keep track of the moon phases too because they can have a huge influence on fish.

Lastly, consider pre-scouting your fishing spot just before dusk.  Use the last remaining bit of sunlight to find good surf fishing spots.  Look for cuts, troughs and holes and get setup prior to sunset so you aren’t casting blindly into the surf.  

Gearing up for night time surf fishing

Have the right tools

You really don’t need any extra gear to go surf fishing at night.  However, there is one item that is an indispensable tool in the night time angler’s arsenal.  And that’s a  headlamp.

Alone surfcaster preparing to his night of fishing

Without a headlamp, getting to and from your fishing spot or tying up your surf fishing rig is a big challenge in the dark.  A flashlight will work too but having a hands free light source is better.  In addition, a small glow stick is nice to have.  Keep it clipped to you and you’ll have a soft light source for baiting your hooks or tying on tackle.

Just remember to limit how much you shine your headlamp out into the surf.  I can attest to the fact that it does not attract any fish.  It does just the opposite and spooks predators that rely on the cover of darkness to devour unsuspecting baitfish.  Flashes of bright light throw off their game and it will also obliterate your chances of catching them.

Keep the headlamp light off the water and use it only for getting around, working with your fishing gear or lighting up your catch when it’s time for a photo op.  

Best bait for surf fishing at night

The best baits for surf fishing at night are actually the same baits you use during the day.  Cut bait is a no brainer and works great on sharks.  Focus on using baits or lures that mimic the primary baitfish swimming in the surf.  

Shrimp, sand crabs or other scented baits produce reliable action during the night bite as well.  Stick with what you have confidence in and you’ll do just fine.

Can fish see lures at night

Predatory fish stalking the shallow surf at night have acute senses well tuned for aggressively feeding on all manners of prey.  Everything from their lateral line to sense of smell help them hone in on the crustaceans and baitfish they love to eat.  

Even their eye sight at night is quite good, or at least way better than ours, according to current scientific literature.  Which means that, yes, fish can see your lures at night to some degree.  It’s unlikely fish see specific colors in the dark but they seem to be able to pick out movement and shape well enough to consistently strike lures and bait.  

You can definitely improve the chance that fish zero in on your lures or bait by taking advantage of glow in the dark colors.  Many surf fishing lures like bucktail jigs, spoons and swimbaits have glow colors that are worth trying.  Natural forage often exhibits bioluminescence that fish key in on, so capitalize on it.

Is surf fishing at night dangerous

There’s no doubt that the ocean can be a dangerous place and it’s not any safer at night if you are careless.  Luckily, you can ensure a safe and successful night by following some basic guidelines.

  • Always check the weather before surf fishing at night:  After sunset, it will be hard to see signs of visibly deteriorating weather conditions.  Use local weather prediction services to see what you’re up against.
  • Check surf conditions:  High surf is dangerous enough during the day, let alone at night.  Surf forecasts are important to check before heading out.  Anything under a 4 is alright but 4 and higher is definitely not something to mess with.  Just wait for better conditions.  
  • Limit your wading:  It’s tempting to wade into the surf to cast out just a little further but that isn’t a risk worth taking at night.  When it’s dark, you can easily step into deep holes or troughs without warning.  Plus, it is much harder to see dangerous undertows or rogue waves that can take you by surprise.  Better to just stay out of the surf once the sun sets.
  • Bring your phone and let people know where you are going:  When visibility is low, there is always a chance for getting into trouble.  Especially, when you are distracted by fishing.  You may end up stranded by the tide or losing your car keys in the dark.  So, let someone know where you are going and when you plan to be back.  Keep your phone stowed in a water proof bag as well so you can call for help if needed.
  • Go fishing with a friend:  The best way to enjoy any type of fishing is with a friend.  Plus, two sets of eyes on the water is a good way to avoid trouble. 

If there is one thing to always remember about surf fishing, day or night, it is this.  Never turn your back on the ocean.  Stay aware of changing conditions and call it quits when things start getting sketchy.  No fish is worth your life, so please be safe.

Final thoughts

Not everyone has time during the day to go surf fishing.  So, if getting off work and heading to the beach after dark is the only chance you get, try it out.  It just may be some of the finest ocean fishing you’ve ever had.

Need more help gearing up for surf fishing?  Then read some of our other surf fishing articles before you go.  Check out our 11 favorite surf fishing lures and see what type of fishing line you need for every surf fishing situation.