Night fishing can be an exceptional opportunity for anglers in search of species like crappie, largemouth bass, walleye, and muskie. But most fishermen make their last casts shortly after sundown and then turn their boats back to the launch.
That’s a big mistake!
Big bass come in close at night.
While not every species is active after dark, those that are get more aggressive, less cautious, and easier to catch by night.
Interested in giving night fishing a chance?
Keep reading for our best night fishing tips and tricks to improve your odds while fishing at night!
Table of Contents (clickable)
Why Bother Fishing at Night?
As the sun drops below the horizon and long shadows give way to full dark, several things happen.
First, and most obviously, light levels drop. This gives keen-sighted predators like muskie and walleye a decided hunting advantage, especially if there’s just a little moonlight. And for species like largemouth bass that possess a hyper-sensitive lateral line, low- to no-light just means hunting by keying in on vibration.
Walleye are very active hunters by moon and starlight.
In fact, serious anglers like Bernie Barringer will tell you that the really big ones--the heart-stopping monsters--come out to play only when the sun is well and truly down. “My biggest muskie, 53 inches long and wide as a birch log, was caught 2 hours after dark. I am not alone in this; just ask a room full of serious muskie anglers and the ones who fish at night will have a story similar to mine. Big fish work the night shift.”
Joe Bucher, a professional muskie guide, agrees. “In general, Muskies tend to run bigger after dark. The biggest fish in the system are 100% active in darkness lacking caution so common during daylight hours. They have such an incredible advantage over prey in darkness. When these bigger more dominant fish are active, they push smaller ones off spots.”
Second, water temperatures drop, allowing heat-pressured fish to leave the depths and get to work. This is true for prey species like perch, bluegill, and shad, but even more true for larger predators like largemouth bass.
As Steve Quinn explains, "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.”
Big muskie hunt in dark waters.
Given more room to swim and more energy to hunt, they really turn on to feeding just as the vast majority of anglers leave the water.
Third, as many experienced guides can tell you, big, wary fish that are cautious by day will become careless at night, moving back into the shallows and feeding with abandon. As Bucher explains, the “big ones slip out over open water during daylight, and particularly when there is boat traffic and fishing pressure. They slip back up on structures after nightfall. However, even big fish that are spotted in the shallows during daylight are often cautious. This caution goes away after sunset.”
Finally, fishing pressure drops like a brick, and savvy night anglers will often have the lake to themselves.
Night Fishing 101: Tips and Tricks for Fishing in the Dark
Fishing at night offers unique challenges, and from more chances of taking a spill to sharp hooks that you just can’t see, it offers a bit more risk than angling by day.
Here are some of our top tips for fishing in the dark:
Only kids are afraid of the dark, right?
One reason we have an inborn fear of the dark is that we can’t see threats as well in no- or low-light. And on a boat, especially when there are a few rods on the deck and other hazards to trip over, darkness really does multiply the risk of injury.
This is no joke at night!
It’s important to keep the deck of your boat as clean as you can. Minimize the number of rods you bring, skip the full tackle bags and limit yourself to a few essentials, and fight your fish sitting--or kneeling--down.
Always night fish with a buddy or two, let someone know where you are and when you’ll be back, and make sure that you have the life-saving gear you need ready-to-hand.
Learn the water in the light
Big fish that hold deep by day will move into shallower water by night, becoming far less cautious and much more aggressive.
Better to find this with your eyes than your hull.
But as too many anglers discover the hard way, even the best lights don’t always reveal stumps, downed trees, and other hazards. It always pays to learn the areas you plan to fish while the sun is still shining, using what you know about potential problems when you can’t see them as easily.
That’s just as true for cover and structure.
Learning the location of submerged humps, live weed beds, drop-offs, points, and other fish-gathering locations by day--and marking them on your fish finder - will make your night much more productive.
Find the prey
Aggressive predators are moving into the shallows for a serious meal, and where you find dinner, you’ll find the guests.
Where you find prey, you’ll find hungry predators.
One technique that works well is to search methodically for prey using your fish finder.
Where you find schools of bait fish like perch, shad, or bluegill, you’ll find hungry muskie, walleye, or bass!
Keep it simple
Most anglers have a collection of tackle that can fill a boat--and let’s face it--we bring far more than we need on any given day.
Keep your deck clear and your tackle to a minimum.
At night, that can be a real problem.
On one hand, deck clutter can lead to accidents, and that’s something to take seriously. Night fishing is supposed to be fun, and nothing spoils a fishing trip like a visit to the emergency room.
On the other hand, you just won’t need every lure under the sun to get it done at night.
A few lures, carefully selected for their ability to produce enticing vibration, are almost always enough.
Think spinners with Colorado blades, chatterbaits, and crankbaits with a tight, fast wobble.
Watch the moon
Most anglers already know that the moon phase affects fishing, but by night, the moon is nearly everything!
You can bet that the fish will be biting!
I think about six moments on the water, planning my fishing around these times:
- Sundown - I want to be on the water no less than an hour or two before sunset, taking advantage of the dying light. Fish really turn on now, and for species like pike, this is as good as it gets.
- Moonrise - Predatory fish sense the moonrise, and it causes them to turn on their feeding like they do at sun-up. Know when the moon will start to peak over your local lake, pond, or river, and be ready!
- Overhead - This is another key moment that fish respond to for reasons that science is only just starting to understand.
- Underfoot - Like an overhead moon, fish turn on at this time for reasons that are poorly understood but well-verified.
- Moonset - Like sundown, as the moon sets, night predators will become more aggressive feeders, and the really big ones will be moving.
- Dawn - I doubt you can find an angler who doesn't know how good the fishing is in the hours around sunrise.
You’ll also want to look for full or no moon, as the crescent moon doesn’t draw out as many big fish.
Bucher has been keeping records during each phase of the moon, and his data suggests that the real brutes are more likely to be active under a full moon or when there’s no moon to be seen.
Waxing and waning phases still produce muskie, but he believes that “bigger muskies consistently show up in all spots during moon peaks.”
Use a good headlamp
Finally, a good headlamp - and back-up batteries - is a must.
A quality headlamp is essential for night fishing.
You’ll need both hands free, and holding a small flashlight in your mouth or armpit is not the best way to illuminate what you need to see!
We’ve discussed this topic before, and for our full reviews, check out this article: Best Headlamps For Fishing: Light Up the Darkness and Land More Fish.
Darkness doesn’t need to signal the end of a day’s fishing, and with the right know-how, sundown can be just the start of an angling adventure!
We hope this article has helped you prep for a night on the water, and if it has, we’d love to hear from you.
Please leave a comment below.