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Bass Fishing's Dark Side

When the sun goes down, the fish come up.

By Larry D. Hodge

If you’re not catching as many big bass as you’d like, perhaps the problem is not where you’re fishing, how you’re fishing or what bait you’re using. It could be when you’re fishing.

Welcome to Night Bassin’ 101.

Most fishing takes place in the daytime. So does most pleasure boating, water skiing, jet-skiing, sailing, swimming, canoeing, kayaking and paddle-boarding. Maybe those people are missing out.

Fish live in water. Sound travels well through water. Fish hear everything that goes on for hundreds of yards around them. Daytime must be an auditory nightmare for fish. In summer, water temperatures at the surface can reach 90 degrees, and fish have no sweat glands. Is it any wonder that fish, especially big fish, retreat to quieter, deeper, cooler, darker waters during the day and tend to come out to feed at night?

“Bass move shallow and feed at night,” says professional angler Kelly Jordon. “I believe some bass feed early in the morning or at dusk, but a different population feeds only at night.”

night fishing

Research done on Texas lakes by fishing guide John Hope in the late 1980s and early 1990s supports Jordon’s belief. Hope implanted transmitters into more than 50 bass, including three ShareLunkers weighing 13 pounds or more, then spent days and nights on the water tracking their movements. His star subject was a fish named Wanda (no relation to the movie fish of the same name). Over the course of three years, Hope followed Wanda on her travels around Houston County Lake. She spent most of the day suspended in deep water and would not bite. At night, she would cruise the shoreline feeding — and Hope and his son caught her six times.

Need more proof that night fishing works? Look at the list of biggest bass caught in Texas on the TPWD website. No. 4 is a 17.63-pounder caught one late August night by Jerry New. No. 6, at 17.08 pounds, was caught off the bank at night by Troy Coates. Both were from Lake Fork.

John Ward, with Texas Tournament Zone, helps run Wednesday night tournaments on Lake Austin and fishes them as well. His experience confirms that big bass are more catchable in
the dark.

“I have caught most of my big bass on Lake Austin — 8-, 9- and 10-pound bass — at night,” he says. “I do a lot of my night fishing in shallow water. Find a cypress tree in one or two feet of water where bass are looking for crawfish, bluegills or shad, and you will get a lot of bites.”

Professional angler Tom Redington guides on Lake Fork when not on tour, and he’s well aware of the difficulties of fishing during the day on a lake that probably gets as much fishing pressure as any in the state.

“Everything is quiet at night, and there are fewer boats running around,” he says. “I believe in being quiet in the boat. I’ll get on a point or the edge of some grass, anchor, and shut off all my graphs. I make sure not to drop my pliers in the bottom of the boat and sit still. I’ll use a 10- or 12-inch worm and drag it down the point really slowly, let it sit 30 seconds or a minute at a time, then move it slowly just a foot. Fish move along those contour lines very slowly.”

And sometimes they bite.

night fishing

Bass fishing from a kayak on Lake Austin with an underwater green light.

“You will get lulls, and there are lots of times you will be ready to quit, when suddenly a herd of fish comes through,” Redington says. “The neat thing is that in the dark you’re not sure if you’ve hooked a 4-pound bass or a 15-pound bass or an alligator.”

Jordon agrees that the action can be fast-paced at times, but if you are after big bass, you have to keep your eyes on the prize.

“I took Alton Jones (2008 Bassmaster Classic champion) fishing on Lake Fork one night, and we were catching 4-pounders, one after another,” he says. “I told Alton, ‘We have to move.’ He laughed, but I told him we were in the wrong place to catch a big fish.”

“A” big fish may be all you catch.

“The numbers of fish you catch at night are better in May and June,” says Jordon. “July and August are better for big ones. One summer I went nine times in a row in July and August and had a 9-pounder or better on each trip.”

Catching fish that size requires being ready to catch fish that size. Fishing for big bass at night with light tackle and line is a recipe for heartbreak.

“Plan for what you will be doing,” advises Ward. “You don’t want to catch a big fish and have your buddy scrambling for the net. Organize your tackle beforehand so you can find it in the dark. Use a good headlamp, but switch it off unless you need to see to retie, or you will attract a lot of bugs. At night the kind of line you use doesn’t matter as much since fish can’t see it, so use braided line if you want. You will be fishing around brush or docks and may get hung up.”

Jordon is a fan of 50-pound braided line for night fishing. One particular trip still gives him nightmares. Using braided line, he caught a 10-pound, 3-ounce bass and immediately threw back to the same spot. “I hooked a bass that took off so fast and so hard it broke my rod and wrecked my reel,” he says. “People asked if maybe I’d caught a catfish. I have caught catfish up to 70 pounds, so I know what a catfish feels like. This was either a bass or a blue marlin.”

Had Jordon landed that fish, he might well be the current state record holder.

Anglers mostly agree on what should be at the end of that braided line. The lure should be big, dark-colored and capable of creating quite a ruckus as it moves through the water.

night fishing

Nighttime bass fishing on Lake Austin.

“My go-to bait is a big 1-ounce spinner bait with some type of big trailer, perhaps pork rind,” Jordon says. “I fish it almost like a jig — move it super slow, stop and let it fall. I like a No.  6 or 7 Colorado or Indiana-style round blade.”

These big blades are shaped like a fat teardrop and beat their way through the water. That’s another reason Jordon favors braided line.

“It lets me fish by feel,” he says. “I fish so slowly that with monofilament or fluorocarbon line I can’t tell if the blade is turning. With braided line, I can feel the blade just go flop, flop, flop right on the bottom.”

Redington also favors spinner baits with a big profile, especially around the edge of grass. And he agrees with Jordon and Ward on bait color, whether it be a spinner bait, worm or jig.

“I traditionally use black if the night is dark or overcast,” he says. “But if there is a lot of ambient light or I’m at a lighted boat dock, I may use traditional colors such as watermelon.”

Jordon wants his lures to be “bulky and black or junebug. If I’m using a worm, I want one 10 or 12 inches.”

Ward agrees in general but often uses Power Worms in black and red or black and blue.

“It just needs to be dark, since fish are used to seeing dark silhouettes,” he says. “Using a worm or other lure that does not have to be worked fast and has bottom contact, like a shaky-head, will help you get bit.”

The basic idea with all the lures is that in low-light conditions bass may locate lures more by use of their lateral line than by sight, so the more water the lure moves and the bigger the commotion it causes in doing so the better. That’s why Jordon often has a big chatterbait, buzzbait or crankbait tied on ready to throw.

“Since you will be fishing in the dark, it’s a good idea to have your rods already rigged before you head out,” he says. “I don’t like to have too much light in the boat. You have to keep your back light on while anchored and use all your lights while running, but too much light while fishing can keep you from seeing your line.”

There’s one thing to keep in mind when fishing topwater baits, especially if you are fishing with a partner — and you should, for safety reasons. A missed hook-set can send a nasty tangle of razor-sharp treble hooks flying toward the boat in the dark, and it could be your partner’s scream that tells you where the flight ended.

night fishing

Boats at dusk on Caddo Lake.

Some night anglers swear by the full moon, others swear at it and others just go fishing whenever they can. But everyone has an opinion about the effect of the moon on fishing.

“It’s easier to fish during the full moon because you can see,” Jordon says, “but I think the big fish bite better when it’s dark. I prefer to fish half-moon or less.”

Boat docks that are lighted all night draw bugs, which draw bluegills, which draw bass. Anchoring outside the rim of light and casting toward the dock can put a lot of fish in the boat. Jordon scouts for docks that are lighted all night while he’s fishing in the daytime. How? By observing the amount of bug splatter on the dock. He’s especially fond of docks with underwater green lights. “Giant bass come to green light at night,” he says.

Perhaps because of wisdom gained with age and experience, both Jordon and Redington tend to forgo the all-nighters that lead to drowsy days fumbling through work.

“I’ve learned the best fishing is from dark until midnight or 1 a.m., then there’s a lull until an hour before daylight,” Jordon says. “You don’t have to kill yourself by staying up all night and then paying for it all week.” 

But then, since he was once a gung-ho all-night bass fisher himself, he adds: “Take a jacket. It will get cool toward morning.”

And that pre-dawn bite just may make up for a slow night.

Night Moves

The one thing you want to bring back from a night fishing trip besides pictures of and a story about the biggest bass you ever caught is yourself. Things do go bump in the night, and you don’t want to be one of them.

Look Smart. Scout for fishing areas in the daytime and mark them on your GPS. If you can, run to your fishing spot before dark. Then move as little as possible.

Take it Slow. When moving at night, resist the temptation to put the boat on plane and let your hair blow in the wind. There may be stumps, logs floating in the water, an angler fishing without a white light showing or a stray boat that broke loose from its mooring. People have run under docks at night, with fatal results. Go slower and live longer.

Cover Your Eyes. Wear clear safety glasses at night to protect your eyes. Sometimes you get your lure snagged and when you tug on it to get it loose, it comes flying back at you, but you won’t see it. It may lodge in some other part of your body, which is usually removable without too much misfortune — but your eyes, that’s another story.

Wear a Life Jacket. Always. All the time. An inflatable makes wearing a life jacket more bearable while fishing; falling out of the boat while fishing by yourself at night (not advised) is a lot more fun if you live to tell about it.

Be Seen. And Heard. Take a good spotlight and a cellphone, and tell someone where you will be and when to expect your return. You’ll be glad you did when your boat dies and you don’t have to wait until someone happens by.

Dress for Success. Take jackets and rain gear. Unless you just like being cold and miserable. But then if you did, you’d be ice fishing in Minnesota instead of bass fishing in Texas. Booyah!

Check the Weather. Check the weather before you go, and keep a sharp eye out for lightning and changes in conditions. Have a weather app with lightning alerts and storm tracking on your phone.

Don’t be an Idiot. It can’t happen to you, right? That’s what the folks in these tales [http://bit.ly/1FiBijQhttp://bit.ly/1ICzbu2] thought, too. Every one of them.

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