July 17, 2012
While the world swelters in midsummer heat, a cult of night fishermen wait for darkness. The reward is a world many will never know, a world of dripping yellow moonlight and awesome blackness, of quiet conversation and sudden excitement, of blind battles with bruiser bass.
Job schedules, avoidance of crowds, and fascination with the night world have kept me night fishing for bass since my earliest fishing seasons. But participation in night tournaments changed my approach to nocturnal angling from a pleasant pastime to a scientific pursuit.
Few anglers normally find fishing through an entire night enjoyable or feasible. It takes a rigorous tournament timetable to make an angler forsake sleep and concentrate on maximizing his catch through a complete dusk through dawn cycle. Those all-nighters have revealed, however, that during summer nights, four distinct activity periods often occur.
The Twilight Bite
The first is the dusk bite, a widely recognized summer phenomenon that also occurs during the other three seasons. Bass use a sight advantage over prey species to feed. Top presentations have multiple sensory cues -- noisy, slow-moving topwaters like the Jitterbug or Spin-l-Diddee, or buzzbaits; chartreuse spinnerbaits in murkier conditions, or bulky worms and lizards rigged with rattles. In clear waters, twitching a minnowbait is hard to beat.
The dusk feeding binge ends when twilight turns pitch black. Feeding by predators is minimal because the adjustment from day vision to night vision (called accommodation) requires at least half an hour. Within the retina of a bass' eye, cone cells that provide color vision in daylight are replaced by light-sensitive rods that must be protected from the sun during the day.
A second feeding peak usually occurs within several hours after full darkness. Look for moonrise and moonset to be peak activity periods related to solunar factors as well as changes in light level. By this time, bass have moved away from thick wood or weed cover and tend to roam over open flats, hunting prey. Try shallow humps, points, islands, and shoreline areas. Swimming beaches also are hot spots.
In addition to topwaters, big-bladed spinnerbaits are key tools as bass tend to feed upward. Colorado and Indiana blades thump strongly, producing attractive underwater vibrations. Lighted boat docks also draw insects, baitfish, and bass in the middle of the night. Fish the shadow edges as if they were shady spots in daylight, casting tubes, small worms, and plastic sticks like the Senko or Berkley Jerk Shad.
The Late Bite
At times, a sudden feeding frenzy occurs in the wee hours of 2 or 3 a.m., when most night anglers have departed and even veterans start to doze. Tournament participants report a brief bite lasting less than an hour. Look for this peak in the same areas where bass were feeding several hours after dark.
The final night bite is from first light until sunrise. If you've fished all night, you may miss sudden savage strikes on topwaters or light taps on worms through exhaustion. Daytime anglers should take advantage of this peak by reaching the lake before dawn. Bass typically have returned to cover edges though some remain in shallow pockets and open sandy flats, feeding during advantageous light levels.
Fishing all night is the fullest experience and often the most productive approach. But it's exhausting, and you'll be worthless the next day, particularly if you worked or fished the previous day. With a half-night strategy, anglers can take advantage of at least two potential peaks. Launch before sundown and be in position at dusk. Fish through the second activity peak, which may occur as early as 9 p.m. in late August. Check your solunar tables and fish through majors and minors.
Some lakes have unique cycles, so if you find a productive night-fishing lake, fish it often. You'll catch more fish each succeeding season and maximize your catch per hour. Moreover, familiarity with cover and structure is critical for night fishing success.