We have all heard stories about giant fish that stalk the shallows at night. Or feeding frenzies that carry on through the wee hours of morning only to cease as the sun rises. Many warm water fish species like catfish, bass and crappie are often targeted by anglers during the hours of darkness.
While most tales of monster fish only biting at night are nothing more than myths, there are certainly some good reasons to fish at night.
Before you grab your pole and a flashlight, we first need to answer the question, is it legal to fish at night?
In many states, it is legal to fish at night and is becoming more popular among anglers seeking less competition and more solitude. There may be location or species-specific night closures, so check with your state’s fish and wildlife department before heading out. Also keep in mind, that while night fishing where you live may be legal, boating at night requires extra care to stay safe.
Now that you figured out if it is legal to fish at night where you live, let’s take a look at why you would want to fish after dark in the first place.
Is fishing better at night
I admit the answer to this question is certainly up for debate. Nonetheless, there is still good reason to believe that night fishing is worth your consideration. Let’s go over a few things that turn many anglers into night owls.
Fish are more active
The benefits of night fishing are most apparent during the dog days of summer. The brutal heat and scorching sun drive fish into deep water where they are harder to catch. Once the sun sets, the water begins to cool slightly and fish move to shallower water to feed.
Cooler temperatures at night also make it easier for you to fish in comfort. As a side benefit, you won’t need sunscreen either.
The moon is your friend
Try fishing when the moon is high and bright at night. Bait is more visible to fish with the extra light from the moon and they feed more actively. Some anglers are convinced that a full moon produces the hottest action. If you have ever heard that you should not fish the day after a full moon, this is why.
My personal experience yields mixed results when fishing under a moonlit sky. Just like fishing during the day, you still need to find the fish and use the right lure and technique. Check out our post on moon phases to learn whether or not you should track the moon to catch more fish.
A summer weekend draws hordes of people to the cool relief of a local lake. Soon after sunrise, a zoo of water skiers, swimmers and pleasure boats take to the water for a day of fun. Just like summer thrill seekers, most anglers also prefer to fish during the day.
When your local waters feel too crowded for your taste, load up on some coffee and take to the water after dark. It is amazing how calm the night feels after everyone else calls it a day. The fish notice too and they usually start feeding once again.
Not only will you have all the best spots to yourself, you will also get to see other amazing sights that only happen at night. There is a whole other side of nature that comes out after dark. The wildlife, meteor showers and stars all add to the experience of night fishing.
Can fish see lures and bait at night
There is no light switch a fish can flip when the sun sets. So, how do they see at night? It turns out that fish rely on more senses than just sight when feeding at night.
A fish’s eye sight is like most mammals and birds. They see color and some species detect polarized and ultraviolet light. Moonlit nights and even cloudy skies provide enough light contrast for upward gazing fish to detect prey silhouetted against the surface.
But that’s not all. Fish also have a pressure-sensitive organ, called a lateral line, that runs the length of their body. This specialized organ helps them detect vibrations and changes in their surroundings. Fish likely sense their prey rather than see it.
Smell is also a vital tool for detecting prey day and night. In water with poor visibility, a fish’s powerful sense of smell can not only guide them to food but also help them find mates and avoid other predatory fish.
Put it all together and what do you get? Fish see high contrast lures that create detectable vibrations and smell delicious. Most hardcore night anglers have figured this out too and your night time lure choice should take advantage of the way fish hunt at night.
In clear water with decent visibility, use dark colored lures (black is best) for increased contrast as well as something with lively action that sends out enticing vibrations. In murky water, color is less important than action and scent.
It is really that simple. The species you are targeting will also determine which lure takes advantage of the senses used by the fish to feed.
For summer bass that move to the shallows to hunt when the sun sets, my choice is a spinner bait tipped with an imitation craw trailer. If you want more splash, buzzbaits and poppers can bring big bass crashing to the surface on cool calm nights. That kind of action will keep you awake more than any amount of caffeine.
If you know that bass are feeding heavily on bait fish or crayfish, switch to a jig head rigged with a grub or craw trailer. Work the jig on the bottom with occasional pops to get their attention.
During late spring and summer, catfish can be caught around the clock. However, there are a fair number of anglers who argue that the big cats are caught in the dead of night. That is certainly up for debate. Although, most anglers would agree, the smellier the bait, the better it is, day or night. It is more important to understand where catfish move at night. Often catfish move to relatively shallow water to feed and fishing humps and points can be productive.
Many other species like panfish, walleye and even trout are caught in the cover of darkness with the right lures and bait. Just like fishing during the day, it takes some trial and error to find what works.
Are fish attracted to light
Shine a light on the water in one spot long enough and you will see that fish seem to be attracted to light. However, it is actually microscopic phototrophs, like algae, that are drawn to the light. In turn, small insects and bait fish feed on the phototrophs. The increase of bait fish then attracts the attention of the bigger fish you are after.
It will take some time to get this food chain feeding frenzy going. A stationary light source from an anchored boat or dock is essential. Simply waving a flash light around with sudden movements can actually have the opposite affect and scare fish way.
Do you need a fishing license to fish at night
All the fishing laws and regulations that are enforced during the day apply for night fishing as well. A license is required for night fishing. Catch limits and species rules still apply as well. Be aware that not all bodies of water permit night fishing. Go see my fish and wildlife resource page to brush up on night fishing rules in your local area.
Fishing from shore or a dock at night is not much different than during the day, but you may need to exercise a bit more caution. Getting around in the dark can be precarious and leaving gear strewn about could lead to tripping hazards. Make sure you have sufficient light to move around safely. I prefer a heard lamp with multiple brightness settings, including a red light option to preserve your night vision.
If you are planning to fish from a boat, staying safe requires extra vigilance. Navigating a boat at night poses some serious risks. Some extra planning and knowledge goes a long ways to prevent accidents.
Here are 7 tips to stay safe while boating at night.
1. Slow down
It is harder to avoid obstacles when boating in the dark. Floating debris, stumps and sudden changes in water depth have all led to serious boating injuries. If you have a fishing buddy in the boat, post them in the bow to act as a look out.
2. Use your navigation tools
It is much harder to judge distance and recognize landmarks once the sun sets. Use a GPS unit to stay on course. This is especially true for large bodies of water.
3. Always wear your life jacket
Having life jackets for everyone in the boat is the law in most areas. Due to the added risk of boating at night, get in the habit of keeping a life vest on at all times.
4. Let someone know where you are going and when you will be back
Getting help when you need it is as easy as a phone call to a friend. Keep a cell phone with you so you can notify someone when plans change.
5. Turn off ambient lights
Anytime you are cruising in the boat at night, turn off all unnecessary lights. Ambient light will hinder your night vision and make it impossible to see hazards on the water.
6. Steer clear of other boats
You may see other boats, but they may not see you. Keep your distance and observe other moving boats carefully to avoid potential collisions.
7. Know your boating laws
Some areas with commercial boat traffic require the use of night time navigational lights for all vessels, even small fishing boats. Before you head out for a night of fishing, familiarize yourself with restrictions of night travel where you are going.
Boating, fishing and drinking always seems to go hand-in-hand. Drinking while boating, especially in the dark, is dangerous and in most cases, illegal.
Fishing at night is a wonderful experience. The water is calmer, summer night temperatures are more comfortable and the fish may even be biting better than during the heat of the day. Best of all you will have it all to yourself. Just remember to be safe, pack a good headlamp and check with your fish and game department to make sure you are not breaking any laws.