Night Fishing: 10 Tips & Gear for First-Timers

For both freshwater fishing fans and saltwater fishing sharpies, night fishing is a great angling adventure. Many species of fish in both types of waterways feed best after the sun goes down, especially at certain times of year, and there are times when night fishing makes for nonstop action. If you’re intrigued by the idea of fishing in the dark, check out these tips and make sure to being this gear. We can’t promise you that you’ll catch fish, but we can promise that your chances of success will be vastly improved.

Night Fishing Tips

When you go fishing late into the night, the usual basic tips for catching more fish still apply; check out How to Fish: Fishing Tips for Beginners to make sure you have the basics down pat. Beyond all the normal items, however, there are a number of additional tips to keep in mind. Here are 10 of the best night fishing tips every angler should know.

  1. Try fishing with bait, and live bait when possible. While it’s true that lures can still work at night, when it’s dark out most species of fish will depend on senses other than sight more than they will depend on their eyes — just like animals that live on land. Scent, taste, and vibrations are all keys they may home in on. So using live bait that triggers these senses is usually the best bet.
  2. If you do want to try lures, stick with dark colors like black or purple. It may seem counter-intuitive, but these are most visible to the fish at night because they block light from above and create a silhouette in the dark. Also consider using lures with vibrating blades or rattles which can stimulate senses other than sight.
  3. Fish near artificial light. Artificial illumination created by lights on bridges, docks, or your boat, attracts baitfish and other small critters. Wherever they gather, the predators won’t be far behind.
  4. Fish around the edges of artificial light, where it fades out into darkness. Often large predators will prowl around in the dark areas close to the light so they can dart in unannounced, to grab unwary baitfish swimming in lighted areas.
  5. Fish under a full moon. The unusual amount of natural light provided by a full moon allows fish to feed better, and these wild critters are naturally attuned to the cycle of the moon. As it grows their nighttime activity levels naturally grow, too.  And when it's full, many species feed like gangbusters.
  6. Don’t start when the sun goes down, then give up too quickly. Many species rest after the transition from sunset to full darkness. You’ll often experience a burst of action right at sunset, but then find that the fish seem to go dormant for an hour or so. Don’t mistake a period of inactivity for an absence of fish and go home, because quite often an area that seemed fruitless shortly after sunset comes alive an hour or two after full darkness sets in.
  7. Fish all levels of the water column, but be prepared to deploy baits closer to the surface than you normally might during broad daylight. While it’s not true for each and every species, many types of fish tend to feed close to the surface when they’re trying to find a meal in the darkness because this is where the most natural light is available.
  8. Consider fishing at anchor, since it simplifies things and lets you focus on the fish. That’s not to say that trolling or drifting isn’t effective in the dark. It’s just that once you’re anchored up (see Anchoring a Boat: A Step-By-Step Guide) you won’t have to worry so much about running the boat in the darkness, where or what you might be drifting towards, or what the sea conditions and boat traffic may be like. That way, you can pay full attention to fooling those fish.
  9. Consider choosing your fishing spot based not only on the fish but also on how protected the area is and how much boat traffic it gets. Again, this isn’t so much about the fish as it is about you, how comfortable you are being on the water after dark, and how focused you can remain on catching those finned critters.
  10. For the very same reasons, be sure to read our post on Night Boating Tips. If you don’t feel comfortable and safe in the dark environment, you probably won’t catch much nor have a very good time.
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Night Fishing Gear

Naturally, all the boating gear you need for being on the water after dark is in order. Make sure your running and anchor lights are working properly, that have a flashlight close at hand, and be prepared for the chilly temperatures than can creep in once the sun goes down. Beyond that, however, there are some additional items you’ll find particularly helpful when night fishing.

  • A fish-attracting underwater night-light can vastly improve the catch. These are often colored (green fluorescent or LED tube lights you lower into the water are favored by many anglers) and can draw in hordes of sea life from baitfish to squid. In many cases you’ll also need a battery to power the light, although some small versions intended for freshwater use are self-contained.
  • Headlamps or other forms of hands-free illumination trumps flashlights for night fishing. They allow you to see what you’re doing while you use your fingers for tasks like tying knots and baiting hooks.
  • Cast or dip nets can be very helpful for collecting live baits that perfectly match the hatch after dark. In many different fisheries anglers will set out lights to attract baitfish, and then gather their bait on the spot.
  • Choose rods and reels that maximize sensitivity. Just like the fish, in the darkness you’ll need to utilize senses beyond your sight. Fishing with gear that allows you to detect bites via feel rather than vision can be advantageous.
  • Additional boating safety equipment is always good to have around, but this is never truer than in the darkness. Be sure everyone has a floatation device and a form of illumination, too. Many anglers who fish at night like to attach a waterproof strobe light or a cyalume glow stick to a belt loop or carabiner, so they have an emergency light source and can visually signal others if need be.

Night fishing can be an exciting change of pace, and in many cases, can lead to a far better catch than fishing in broad daylight. So gear up properly, remember these tips, and get ready to have a an evening angling adventure that’s second to none.

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