With planning and persistence, night stalkers nab the biggest bass of the season.
In some regions, night-fishing has become an almost standard summertime procedure, an escape from the heat of the day as well as heavy boat traffic. Bass, particularly big bass, also find this time inviting, feeding more predictably after dark during much of the year.
Many anglers view night bass fishing solely as a summertime option, but it can start during the Prespawn Period, when bass first move toward shallow water. Mitch Looper, an avid angler from Barling, Arkansas, notes that fairly clear water is a prerequisite for successful night-fishing.
“If the water is clear and weather tolerable, I start night-fishing in January,” he says. Looper is a contrarian and focuses his fishing efforts when few anglers are out, feeling that other anglers put big bass on their guard. “I night-fish until May, when most other anglers start showing up,” he states.
“If spring rains muddy your waters, stick to daytime fishing. But if it’s reasonably clear, get on the lake at midnight and fish ’til dawn. Don’t miss the time when the moon is rising or setting, the minor solunar periods.
“In spring, most or all big bass are moving shallow under warming conditions and feeding heavily on crawfish and sunfish. Their movements are more synchronized than at any other time of year.
“The best strategy is to define a small area of the lake that you think has an excellent chance of having big bass. Fish that area slowly and methodically with big baits. After dark, the big ones are moving and searching. You can stay in one spot for a good while without any action, but then a giant comes along and the game is on.
“Summertime, in contrast, sees some big bass shadowing shad schools, holding off structure. I’ve never had success fishing offshore structure at night in our reservoirs that lack submergent vegetation.
“Some big bass move inshore and feed along edges during summer, the pattern that John Hope described in detail in his tracking work with big bass. These are the big fish that you can catch at night in summer. When you’re after big bass, you need to minimize the number of small ones you catch, since that commotion spooks big fish in the vicinity. Fish big, bulky jigs and soft plastics. And when the wind is blowing, a big spinnerbait is a great choice.”
Guide Richie White has fished famed Lake Fork in Texas after dark for 15 years. His schedule calls for daytime fishing during spring, targeting bass in cover or around spawning beds, then turning to nocturnal action in June.
“I divide summer nightfishing into three phases,” White says. “During the early summer, from late May through June, bass are recovering from the spawn and feeding heavily in shallow water. During the midsummer phase, the thermocline has developed and bass roam deeper. During the late summer phase in August and September, they relate heavily to grass.
“In midsummer, you can catch schooling bass up until dark. After dark, I fish offshore humps, roadbeds, and points, structures that provide shallow water far out into the reservoir. If there’s grass on top, all the better. In other lakes, rock is also prime cover, but there’s not much of it at Fork.”
Fishing lore surrounds the moon and this celestial body seems to have extra effects after dark, lighting the scene for anglers and even casting shadows that position bass. Many avid night anglers have preferred phases. The full moon has fans who feel that bass activity is heightened when the fish can see better. But half-moons also have adherents. And particularly where waters are ultraclear, some anglers prefer dark moons.
A bright moon allows bass to see more clearly, and thus allows them to venture deeper to feed. Perhaps more importantly, it makes it easier for anglers to fish effectively. This phase may draw more fishing pressure. But when White reviewed moon phases of Texas’ 50 biggest largemouth catches and his own top 50, he found that summertime full moons never produced a giant bass on those lists.
“One reason, of course, is that bass weigh less in summer than in fall, winter, and early spring,” he notes. “There are far fewer 10-pounders in Lake Fork in July than in February, and that 81⁄2-pounder you catch in August might go 10 by March. But the records show that a few of the biggest largemouths were taken during summer at other moon phases, but not one during a full moon.”
Fishery scientist and longtime In‑Fisherman contributor, Ralph Manns, notes that moon phase can affect lure choice. “When light is relatively bright after dark, such as around full moons, bass can see about half as well as they can during twilight. Any lure type and color that works during dawn or dusk can be successful under those bright conditions.
“On darker nights, lure speed, depth, color contrast, and sound become increasingly important in helping bass locate prey. Baits must seem both natural and catchable to attract bass. At times, irregular action is best, as it imitates an injured fish. But at other times a constant noise or vibration pattern is needed to help bass home in on a lure.
“Many anglers rely on rattles at night,” he says. “They work—sometimes. Bass can feel and hear subtle movements of lures without rattles. A semi-quiet presentation often works better than loud artificial noises, particularly when fishing for pressured, experienced bass in clear, calm waters.”
The Anchoring advantage
White believes that anchoring often is the best approach. “One key is recognizing productive structure,” he says. “When you find a good offshore hump or an underwater point or bar, you can be confident that feeding bass will use it after dark. It’s generally best to anchor on a key spot and wait for the fish to come to you, rather than to chase them here and there.
“By setting two anchors, one off the front and one off the back, I keep the boat set precisely so that we have optimal casting angles. Say I’ve found a point that gradually extends out into the reservoir with deep water on either side. I anchor on top of the high spot of the point, in 10 to 15 feet of water. If I have two anglers with me, each can cast parallel to the outside edge of the grassline, which at Fork runs about 8 feet deep.
“To double-anchor, I first place the rear anchor at least 20 feet behind where I want the stern to set. I troll forward about 20 feet beyond where I want the bow to set and drop the bow anchor. Then I pull the boat backward with the rear anchor rope, while releasing line at the bow. When the boat is in position, tie both anchors off. The deeper the water, the more rope you need to hold the boat. As a rule, you need five feet of line for every foot of depth.
“Big bass prowl edges looking for easy prey, so your baits should be there when they come to eat. At other times, though, bass may be holding on a spot when you arrive, and they’re spooked by the noises of the boat. When you anchor and wait, they resume feeding. But it may take 10 or 15 minutes for them to settle down. If you were fishing along with the trolling motor, you’d be long gone.
“For this reason,” says White, “we try to create as natural an environment as possible—turn off sonars and lights and sit quietly. I favor softbaits like craw worms and 10-inch plastic worms for this situation. They come through cover cleanly. Once you’re double-anchored, you don’t want to move the boat to free a snagged bait. Once I’m anchored, we fish for at least 20 minutes without a bite before moving. Each night, I try to spend time exploring and looking for new spots. But the best action generally occurs when we’re anchored.”
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