If you’re like most anglers, then when the sun begins to set, you wrap up your day of fishing. What you might not realize is that you’re missing out on prime fishing hours post-dusk. Although fishing at night takes some getting used to, it can be very rewarding. What do you need to know about night fishing?
When fishing at night, the prime time is an hour before the sun sets and then several hours into the evening, as late as midnight in the summer. Fishing after dark can lead to big catches, such as walleye, carp, catfish, and sometimes even yellow perch, trout, and bass.
In this guide, we’ll cover all the basics of fishing at night. We’ll talk further about which fish you might catch, which bait to use, and how you can avoid common dangers in the dark. You won’t want to miss it!
Can You Catch Any Fish When You Go Fishing at Night? Which Ones?
The reason that most anglers call it a day once the sun begins getting dim is that visibility goes down. However, just because you can’t see into the water after dark doesn’t mean that the fish aren’t still biting.
Fish do sleep, as do all living things, but what they do is more resting than sleeping. Many will remain stationary, floating while they rest their bodies. Others only slow down, which brings down their metabolism and gives their bodies a chance to recharge.
In other words, fish are still catchable at night if you know how to do it.
In freshwater bodies, which fish species can you expect to catch after sundown? While it varies based on which fish are most prevalent nearest you, here are some of the species you might expect to reel in.
Known as the yellow pickerel or the yellow pike, walleye are native to the northern United States and Canada. Their goldish and olive-green hues with dark saddles distinguish them from other fish.
With an average length of 31 inches and an average weight of 20 pounds, catching a walleye means you won’t go hungry for several days. You’re likelier to see this fish at night than you are during the day since the walleye is nocturnal.
Carps have bad reputations as being invasive species, and sure, they’re not many anglers’ favorite fish, but they are around at night. The common carp tastes especially good fried; be sure to add some breading!
If your day of fishing ended before you could catch a catfish, don’t give up hope. After dark, catfish still actively roam the waters. They measure about 5.2 feet long on average, which is a good mid-sized catch.
Like carp, you can bread catfish and fry it, or you can cook it with a bit of olive oil so it has a nice golden brown color.
The yellow perch might not be as frequent of a find at night, but when the moon is full over the water and visibility is better, their numbers could go up. If so, then the fish that’s also referred to as the American river perch might end up on your fishing hook.
The trout is another species of fish that needs a brighter evening to come out. Colder water temperatures, like those between 50- and 60-degrees Fahrenheit, are also most appealing to this fish species.
The unique thing about eating trout is that its flavor can be quite different. If the fish’s diet was primarily crustaceans, then you tend to get more flavor out of the trout compared to one whose diet revolved around insects.
Impress your fishing buddies by reeling in bass after dark. It’s doable if it’s a bright evening with moonlight overhead. You could catch a spotted bass or a smallmouth or bigmouth bass, all of which are native to North America.
Does the Type of Bait You Use Matter When You Fish at Night?
Like you can expect to catch slightly different fish species at night, you should anticipate using different bait as well. The bait must be more eye-catching, either due to color or movement.
Here are the top six types of bait we recommend for night fishing.
Big worms live up to their name, as this style of bait measures between 10 and 15 inches long. Often made of malleable plastic or rubber, big worm bait looks exactly like what it’s supposed to, which is a worm.
The soft material of the big worm allows it to have awesome movement that’s very realistic to how a worm would gyrate in the water. You can hop the big worm or drag it along the bottom of the seafloor depending on your preferences.
Bass are the likeliest to come biting when there’s a big worm on the other end of your hook.
Although they’re considered a more basic type of lure, jigs get the job done at night. Comprising a plastic body, a hook, and a jighead, a jig setup usually includes a weedguard to prevent snags. You can use a crawfish trailer as well if you want, but this is optional.
Jigs are quite versatile. You can cast yours deep so it sinks in the water, pitch it midway down the water’s depths, or flip it in shallower water. Like big worm baits, bass are attracted to jigs, but they’re not the only ones. Walleyes and other panfish could come biting as well.
Bladed Swim Jigs
An upgrade to the basic jig is the bladed swim jig. This is yet a third lure that will surely bring in bass but can attract other fish species too. A bladed swim jig features a head that’s angled lower than other jigs and a cupped swimming lip that’s often made of plastic.
You should reach for a bladed swim jig when your other lures aren’t getting you enough bites. You can also use this jig right from the get-go.
For topwater nighttime fishing, a buzzbait or spinnerbait is a suitable choice. The lure features several metal blades that rotate like a propeller. As this happens, the resulting vibrations and flashing seem to a bigger fish like prey, so they come your way.
You can catch all sorts of fish using buzzbaits or spinnerbaits, including bass, pike, and perch.
The last type of bait to have in your tacklebox is a popper. The nose of a popper lure is hollowed or concave. This allows the lure to create ripples in the water wherever it goes. To a fish, a popper looks like prey in distress, which is an easy catch for any fish.
When they bite, you then reel them in!
What Time Is Best for Night Fishing?
You’ve got your supplies, so now it’s time to start fishing. When should you begin? Ideally, you want to start fishing before the sun goes down. Most of the nighttime-dwelling fish will start appearing at this time, but there’s still some visibility for you.
In the wintertime, the ideal hours are between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. You can stay later if you want, but this time of year, it’s already so cold that you’ll want to minimize the time you’re outside as best you can.
The summer season is the ideal period for night fishing because the temperatures are more comfortable even after the sun goes down. You could fish until 9 p.m. or even until midnight or later during the summer if you wanted to.
Is Fishing at Night Dangerous?
Of course, we have to discuss the risks of nighttime fishing. It doesn’t have to be dangerous, but there are some inherent risks you could face. Keep this section in mind every time you embark on a nighttime fishing adventure so you and your fellow passengers can stay safe!
Lack of Visibility
The biggest risk when fishing at night is that you can’t see what’s around you. You don’t want to light up your boat like a Christmas tree because that can scare the fish away. So you forego a lot of light and fish in conditions that are as dark as you can stand.
This makes you oblivious to the risks that surround you. For instance, if there’s another boat on the water, it’s harder to avoid collisions. If you happen to be sharing the river or lake with a big gator, you might never know until it’s too late.
If you’re doing ocean fishing at night (which we really don’t recommend), a large wave can take your fishing boat and tip it, capsizing you. Plus, sharks are a risk too in some oceans. One of the most active periods for sharks is dusk, after all.
When you can’t see what’s around you, it’s a lot easier to become clumsy and injury-prone. Whether you kick your tacklebox because you didn’t notice it or you don’t realize your hook is flying your way until it’s embedded in your skin, these types of injuries are less likely to occur in the daytime.
Then there’s the most severe risk of all, which is drowning. If you can barely see the edge of your boat, then there’s nothing stopping you from falling overboard if you lean over too far as you struggle to catch a big fish.
At least by day, you can expect that fellow anglers could try to rescue you or call for help. At night, there’s far less fishing competition, so you could be the only boat out there. No one would be around to help, which is heartbreaking.
Our Top 5 Tips for Safe and Successful Night Fishing
Being safe is key when fishing at night. The 5 tips we have in this section will improve conditions so you can put all your focus on fishing.
Get There Early
You want to start fishing at dusk, as we said. To determine exactly what time, think of how long it takes you to set up for fishing. If it’s 30 minutes, then you want to be out on the water a half-hour before dusk. This can prevent you from rushing to get your setup ready.
Not only is a botched setup going to hinder your fishing success, but it could be dangerous if you have loose hooks flying this way and that in the dark.
Use a Bug Repellant
In the cover of night, lots of creepy-crawly bugs come out that you might not deal with during the daylight hours. To ward off flying and crawling insects, make sure you use bug repellant. You can spray yourself, wear a bug bracelet, or even bring a citronella-scented something on your boat (not a candle though). Make sure your fishing buddies do the same.
Wear a Life Jacket
The best accessory you can have when fishing at night is a life jacket. Even if you’re a grown adult who can swim quite capably, we’d still advise you to wear a life jacket. The coldness of the water at night as well as its bleak murkiness can make even experienced swimmers start to panic.
If you were to fall out of your boat because you can’t see, you’ll be grateful that you have a life jacket.
I would recommend a Type I or Type II personal floatation device. To read more about the various types of life jackets and which is best for you, click here.
Take It Slow
What’s that going bump in the night? Hopefully, it’s not your fishing boat. You need to be ultra-slow in everything you do when fishing at night, from your boat speed to your retrievals. Match the stillness of the evening and you won’t scare the fish away.
Use a Headlamp
You don’t want to rush out onto the water with lights blaring, but that doesn’t mean you should fish blind either. A headlamp with a dim light setting will provide some illumination so you can put your lure on the hook and determine if the fish you caught is a catfish or a carp.
Night fishing is advantageous because fewer anglers are sharing the water with you. It’s also a unique experience that any angler should get to enjoy firsthand at least once. That said, since it’s more dangerous than fishing by day, remember to be cautious and go slow. Have fun out there!