Avid anglers know that the fishing can really turn on after the sun sets, when predators like bass and pike move shallow to hunt.
Hugging the depths by day to escape the heat, avoid detection, and dodge fish pressure, darkness can draw real monsters into the shallows, where they’re easier to locate and catch.
Especially in the warmer months, when kayak fishing is at its most enjoyable, you’ll see an explosion of activity at night.
Learning the ins and outs of kayak fishing after dark is well worth the trouble, and if you’ve wanted to try your hand at night fishing, we’re here to help.
So keep reading!
Table of Contents (clickable)
The most important aspect of kayak fishing at night is safety.
Kayaks are low to the water and very hard to see for power boaters. And when big boats are running for a launch in the dark, it can get downright dangerous for kayakers.
So, in addition to standard precautions like a PFD, kayak fishing at night demands extra awareness of the risk of collisions.
Always fish with a buddy to share the adventure. Not only will that enhance your experience, but it’s also much safer in the event of an emergency.
It’s also a good idea to let someone know where you’ll be and when you plan to return. If you’re overdue, alerting the authorities sooner rather than later can be a lifesaver.
And one of the best ways to stay safe at night while fishing from your ‘yak is using a good lighting system.
Low-light visibility is critical to night fishing safety.
Kayakers fishing after sundown should always run a tall, bright lamp to enhance their visibility.
Our favorite is the RailBlaza Visibility Kit, which includes an easy-to-mount rod, a very bright LED lamp with three settings, and a high-visibility orange flag.
Check out our full guide on the best kayak lights for night fishing
This system increases the chance that boaters will see you in all conditions, and it’s an essential for night angling.
I’d also strongly recommend a personal safety light like acr’s C-Light H2On. It’s inexpensive, easy to attach to your PFD, and activates either manually or on contact with the water.
Especially on large lakes or in- or offshore, this can be a lifesaver if you fall overboard or are involved in an accident. With fresh batteries, this safety device will stay lit for no less than 30 hours, giving rescuers plenty of time to find you in the water.
A safety light like the acr H20n can save your life.
Don’t take chances: plan, prepare, and equip yourself for safety.
Night Fishing: Why Sundown Means It’s Time to Fish
When the sun dips below the horizon and light levels drop, predators blessed with exceptional low-light vision like muskie and walleye find the odds tilted decidedly in their favor. Just enough star- or moonlight to illuminate glinting scales gives them every advantage, and from sundown to sunup, you’ll find them hunting continuously for prey.
Largemouth bass also know that nighttime is the right time, and they use their keen eyesight and sensitive lateral lines to locate shad, crawfish, minnows, and other prey items at night.
Big bass are far more plentiful after dark.
Serious anglers know that the big ones come out to play at night, giving you your best chance at the trophy of a lifetime. As Bernie Barringer recalls, “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.”
Hitting the water after dark increases your odds of landing a trophy, no question about it.
Professional guides like Joe Bucher agree. “In general, Muskies tend to run bigger after dark. The biggest fish in the system are 100% active in darkness, lacking [the] 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.”
That’s important to note, and it’s just as true for bass, stripers, and other species - both fresh and salt. When the bruisers move shallow under the cover of darkness, the dinks leave the area.
That means your odds of catching a real monster increase tremendously.
Monster stripers will send the dinks running after dark.
In the summer, there’s an added benefit to hitting the water after sundown.
Heat stresses predators and prey alike, and the diminished oxygen content of hot water near the surface will push fish deep. But when the sun sets, the water cools, allowing fish to return to the shallows and actively feed.
Bass will transit to weed beds and grassy areas in search of prey, hunting in water that’s often just a few feet deep. And saltwater species like stripers, specks, and reds will chase prey into water so skinny that you’ll see their dorsal and tail fonts cut the surface.
If you’re looking for trophy muskie and pike, night fishing is the way to go.
Darkness also encourages wary fish to move shallow, hunting in locations that they avoid by daylight.
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.”
It also doesn’t hurt that you’re likely to have the water largely to yourself!
The Best Tips for Kayak Fishing at Night
Do your homework in the daylight
While pike might see better at night, you certainly don’t!
It’s important, then, that you study your fishing spots in the daytime and keep careful notes.
You’ll catch a lot more if you do your scouting before sundown.
By day, you need to learn the location of weed beds, humps, points, drop-offs, and other important features, marking these on your GPS-enabled fish finder.
Take notes about likely spots, hazards, and other points of interest.
Use your time under the sun to study cover and structure that’s likely to hold fish, and look for staging areas where big ones will move from deeper water toward the shallows as the sun sinks.
That time and effort will pay off in spades once you start fishing.
Give the fish some good vibrations
Predatory fish augment low-light vision with their ability to sense vibration and water disturbances that are nearly microscopic. This incredibly accurate sixth sense allows them to home in on prey even when they can’t see it.
But keep in mind that bass, pike, muskie, and other apex predators can only sense vibration with their lateral lines over short distances, something in the neighborhood of 6 to 7 feet.
Knowing where the prime spots are by doing your homework by day means that you can cast where it’ll count most once night falls.
When you run a lure that creates the low-frequency vibrations that mimic prey, predatory species like bass and muskie will quickly locate them even in total darkness, and they’ll follow these vibrations home to their source, striking first and asking questions later.
Paddle tails from Zoom and Strike King are tuned to the lower frequencies that trigger bass, pike, and muskie, and at a full 5 inches, they’ve got the size to really register on a big predator’s radar.
In the spring and early summer, I also like Strike King’s Rage Tail Craw. Those twitching appendages create just the right commotion in the water to ring the dinner bell.
Jerkbaits like Rapala’s X-Rap are perfect for night fishing, as their erratic darting and flash simulate a wounded minnow, an irresistible target for hungry fish.
Big-bladed spinners like Booyah’s Pond Magic thump in the right range to stimulate lateral lines, as well, triggering a predatory response and engulfing a strike.
And the often overlooked Z-Man Original Chatterbait is a night fishing dream. The specially shaped blade and soft plastic trailer produce low-frequency vibration, drawing strikes as you run it along weed beds and around points and humps.
Finally, never underestimate the potential of a weightless Senko. It’ll dart and stop erratically, creating just the right motion and vibration to attract predators.
That vibration is simply irresistible to bass.
At night, the moon governs the sky - and the fishing.
When you see a moon like this, hit the water!
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 sunup. 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.
A full or absent moon is typically better for fishing than a waning or waxing stage. I’m not sure why, but I’m far from the only fisherman to have noted this.
Use a good headlamp
Headlamps are essential equipment for night fishing on your kayak, and you’ll use them every time you tie a knot, net a fish, or remove a hook.
Headlamps are night fishing essentials.
They’ll also help you be more visible in the dark, adding one more piece to your night fishing safety system.
We’ve discussed this topic before. For our full reviews, check out this article.
Our top pick is Vont’s Spark LED. It’s very bright, cycles quickly through seven light settings and is comfortable to wear. Battery life is excellent, too.
Use A Fishing Net
There are several reasons why using a fishing net can be helpful while kayak fishing:
- Easier to land fish: A fishing net can make it easier to land and handle fish, particularly larger ones, as you don't have to rely on trying to hold the fish with your hands or a fishing rod.
- Less physical strain: Using a fishing net can help reduce the physical strain of trying to land and hold onto fish, particularly if you are fishing for an extended period of time.
- Better for the fish: Using a fishing net can also be gentler on the fish, as it allows you to quickly and easily remove the hook and release the fish back into the water, reducing the amount of time the fish is out of the water and minimizing any injury it may sustain.
- Convenience: A fishing net can also be a convenient tool to have on hand when kayak fishing, as it allows you to easily and efficiently land and release fish without having to rely on other methods.
Check out our buying guide for the best kayak fishing nets available today!
Night fishing from your kayak is a great way to catch the fish of a lifetime, and your odds of landing a trophy improve dramatically after sundown.
But success in the dark takes preparation, and you want to have the gear necessary to stay safe.
We hope that you’ve learned something from this article, and we’d like to remind you that we’re always here to answer any questions you might have.
We’d love to hear from you, so please leave a comment below.