If you haven’t tried surf fishing at night, do yourself a favor and get out to the beach at sunset.
There are a host of good reasons to hit the sand at sundown, and if you’re looking for reasons to make that happen - and tips and tricks to maximize your success - you’ve come to the right place.
Table of Contents (clickable)
- Surf Fishing Tips
- Surf Fishing Reels
- Surf Fishing Rods
- Surf Fishing Rod Reel Combos
- Surf Fishing Carts
Why Surf Fishing at Night?
Increased fish activity
Many predatory species are blessed by Mother Nature with excellent low-light vision and super-sensitive lateral lines.
As the sun sets, reducing light levels in the water, this gives them a relative advantage over their prey, and they become more active as a result.
Snook are just one of the species that really turn on after dark.
Snook are an excellent example of this, becoming more aggressive and active at night. Red and black drum, specks, stripers, and sharks follow the same pattern.
But don’t just take our word for it:
Fish move shallow
While the sun is shining, fish tend to hold off the beach. They know that they’re vulnerable to attack by birds, and they instinctively stay in deeper water where they feel safe.
But as the light dims, both prey and predators move shallow. All but invisible as the sun sets, they’re free to hit the beach in search of dinner.
And as fish numbers increase in the surf, the odds of catching a monster increase dramatically.
Most surf anglers go home shortly after sundown, leaving the beach to the intrepid few who dare to fish in the dark.
Having prime spots all to yourself is obviously a huge advantage, and since fish are moving shallow and predators are growing more active, nighttime is the right time to maximize your chances.
A beach full of sunbathers, swimmers, and surfers isn’t ideal for fishing. Whether that’s because it limits your options for where to fish, or scares off the fish you’re after, decreased overall activity on the beach after sundown means better odds for you.
Finally, there’s no sun to protect yourself from, no punishing heat, and no UV light to cause skin damage and increase your risk of cancer.
Tips and Tricks for Surf Fishing at Night
Watch the moon
Much like the sun, the moon exerts a tremendous effect on fish behavior.
You can bet that the fish will be biting!
There are four moon positions to consider, and while the science behind some of them isn’t well understood - there’s more at play here than light levels - charter captains and surf-fishing veterans alike will agree that fishing really improves at each of them:
- Moonrise - Just like the rising sun, the rising moon turns feeding on and triggers predatory fish to hunt. If you check your local conditions, it’s easy to figure out when you should be on the beach for moonrise, and the larger the moon - the fuller its phase - the more powerful the effect.
That means that moonrise under a full moon is an ideal time to hit the surf!
- Overhead - This is another key moment that fish respond to for reasons that science is only just starting to understand.
It could be that the light levels are just right for predators, enabling them to see but not be seen. But whatever the science behind this event, an overhead moon means hot fishing.
- Underfoot - Like an overhead moon, fish turn on at this time for reasons that are poorly understood but well verified. This is strange, to be sure, as it’s hard to imagine how this moon position could affect fishing.
- Moonset - Moonset is a lot like sundown, and the hour or so before and after moonset is a killer time to fish.
Use a good headlamp
Obviously, one problem you’ll run into at night is low visibility. You’ll want an excellent headlamp and backup batteries just in case.
A quality headlamp is essential for night fishing.
And whether you’re casting, retrieving, fighting, tying a new rig, or just baiting a hook, most things you’ll be up to take two hands. Skip flashlights and go straight or headlamps - you can thank us later!
We’ve discussed this topic before, and for our full reviews, check out this article: Headlamps for Fishing
But I wouldn’t recommend indiscriminate use of a headlamp. As Sean Thompson, an avid angler down-under explains, “Once you arrive, don’t make the mistake I see year after year at places like Fraser Island where anglers turn their headlights on high beam onto the water. Don’t even use your headlamp to look at the water, as flashes of light are a sure fire ways [sic] to spook the fish and you will be waiting quite a while for a bite.”
This sounds like good advice to me, and I like a headlamp with a red-light option to preserve my night vision and avoid spooking fish.
When I do need higher intensity options, they’re available, but they’re better used for emergencies or the trip to and from my spot on the beach.
Glowing green beads
Lots of surf casting rigs like the Fish Finder require a bead to protect a knot from a sliding sinker.
And others, like the High/Low Rig run beads for extra attraction.
By day, I use simple red beads like those supplied by Eagle Claw. But at night, replacing red with glowing green is simply fantastic.
Good, glow-in-the-dark beads like those from OriGlam may sound like a gimmick, but as plenty of anglers can attest, they’re anything but.
Science supports these anecdotal reports.
Fisheries biologist Erik Lang says that “Light-mimicking bioluminescence [could] be a key reason for the fish attraction. Of course the more senses you attack in the fish, the better the results in getting them to bite.”
By mimicking prey items like squid, these gentle lights attract fish and trigger a predatory response, though that luminescence fades pretty quickly and needs recharging from your headlamp.
That’s easy to do without creating a lot of flashing light directly into the surf, so no worries there.
Night fishing offers some unique challenges, too, and without the sun, it’s easier to lose, misplace, or fail to find essential tackle.
You can avoid these problems by investing in clear plastic tackle boxes like Plano’s 3600-series, clearly labeling each one, and organizing them in the right tackle bag or box.
Organized storage is essential at night.
Finally, you need to stay safe.
Avoid wading out into deep water, especially in waders, as an invisible hole, sudden drop-off, or swift undertow could spell disaster.
Always keep a phone handy, too, and make sure someone knows where you’re going and when you plan to return.
And finally, bring a buddy to share your adventure. Not only will that keep you safe, but it’ll also make the whole experience a lot more fun.