In The Heat of the Night

By Greg Stoner | May 2, 1997
From Missouri Conservationist: May 1997

A friend of mine once asked me why I fished for bass when it's dark, the mosquitos are out in full force, you can't see where you're casting and you might run your boat into a stump or, worse yet, a bluff.

For anyone who has fished Lake of the Ozarks on a summer weekend, the advantages of night fishing are obvious. With thousands of watercraft on the lake during the day, the water gets choppy. It's enough to try the patience of the most laid-back angler. However, boat traffic de-creases dramatically around dusk. By 10 or 11 p.m., you pretty well have the lake to yourself.

Solitude is not the only good reason to begin your fishing after the sun sets. During the summer, bass avoid shallow water during the heat of the day. They move into the shallows at night to feed on baitfish. The average size of bass caught at night (at least for me) also tends to be a little bigger. Finally, night fishing is worthwhile just for the thrill of it. Hooking and landing a large bass in near total darkness is something that must be experienced to be appreciated.

Night fishing is most productive from mid-April through the end of September. June, July and August are the top months.

Some areas are better than others for night fishing. If you have a choice, fish in the clearest water you can find. Muddy water can be the kiss-of-death when it comes to catching bass at night.

Some of my best night fishing spots (which will remain secret) are lighted from a streetlamp or nearby dock. Lights attract microscopic animals luring the baitfish that feed on them. Where baitfish go, bass will soon follow.

Most bass attracted to these areas will not stay in the lighted open water. Instead, they hide in the shadow of a dock, retaining wall or brushpile. At times, they will hold in deeper water at the edge of the lighted area as they wait to ambush their prey, or your lure.

At night, and during other low light conditions, bass rely less on sight and more on feel to locate their prey. Most fish, including bass, have a row of small, pressure-sensitive pits running down each side of their body. The row of pits, known as the lateral line, lets fish detect changes in pressure caused by movement in the water around them.

How does this relate to fishing? A lure that produces strong vibrations as it is retrieved is more easily detected and will produce more bites than a quieter lure. As a general rule of thumb when it comes to night fishing, the bigger and louder the lure the better. For example, a spinnerbait with a large blade will "thump" louder than one with a small blade. Likewise, bass can locate a thick-bodied jig with numerous tentacles better at night than they can a small plastic worm.

Noisy topwater baits and crankbaits with a pronounced wobble can also be effective. My favorite night time bass lure is a 3/8-ounce black jig tipped with a pork rind trailer. This lure can be worked through most brush without hanging up and can be fished on heavy line without affecting its action.

The color of lures used at night is important. Dark colors such as black, brown and dark shades of blue, purple or red will usually be your best choices. In theory, a dark lure, as seen by a bass from below against a night sky, presents a more visible silhouette than a light colored lure. I don't know who developed this theory, but it seems to hold true.

Since you usually can't see very far at night, long casts are not necessary. Also, if there are trees overhanging the bank, a long cast may cost you your lure. When fishing a jig, worm or spinnerbait at night, I prefer to "pitch" the lure.

To pitch a lure, let out enough line so your lure hangs about even with your reel when your rod is pointing straight up. Grab the lure in one hand (carefully) and hold your rod parallel to the water, pointing it at your target. Release the lure while raising the tip of your rod. The lure will pendulum forward. Release your thumb from the spool when the lure reaches the bottom of its arc. Stop the lure by thumbing the spool just before it lands in the water.

With some practice, you'll be able to "pitch" accurately enough to place a lure into a 6-inch gap between two stumps up to 30 feet away with barely a ripple. A lure landing with a loud splash can sometimes frighten bass. Although pitching a lure can be done with spinning tackle, a baitcasting outfit makes it easier for most anglers.

The type of rod, reel and line you use for night fishing is pretty much a matter of personal preference. My only suggestion would be to leave the lightweight stuff at home. Heavier tackle allows you to pull the fish away from its hiding spot a little quicker and will reduce your chances of breaking off in the brush.

Another technique for night fishing is using a blacklight and fluorescent line. During the day, you can usually tell if you've had a hit by watching your line. It's a different story at night, when a bass can be under your boat and well on its way to the opposite shore before you realize he has your lure. A blacklight causes fluorescent fishing line to glow in the dark, so you can watch your line just like during the day. Although not necessary, blacklights add an interesting twist to night fishing.

There are a few items that you should consider taking along for your night fishing trip. Insect repellent can keep a pleasant experience from becoming unpleasant. Also, take along warm clothes. It can get pretty chilly around 1 or 2 a.m., even during the summer. Finally, a flashlight or spotlight is a handy item. I lose stuff in my boat during the day. At night, without a flashlight, I can't find anything unless I trip over it.

Above all, keep safety in mind when fishing at night. Although boat traffic decreases greatly after sunset, there are other boats on the water. No fish is worth getting someone injured. Reduced visibility at night makes it all the more important to slow down, wear your personal flotation device and use your boat's kill switch and running lights.

This Issue's Staff

Editor - Kathy Love
Assistant Editor - Tom Cwynar
Managing Editor - Jim Auckley
Art Director - Dickson Stauffer
Designer - Tracy Ritter
Artist - Dave Besenger
Artist - Mark Raithel
Photographer - Jim Rathert
Photographer - Cliff White
Staff Writer - Joan McKee
Staff Writer - Charlotte Overby
Composition - Libby Bode Block
Circulation - Bertha Bainer