You usually like to begin your fishing day before the sun rises and then wrap up just as the sun goes down. You’ve never stayed out after dark before on your fishing boat, but you’ve always been curious. If you wanted to fish at night, is it even legal?
In most states throughout the country, fishing at night is legal. For the ones that don’t want anglers in the water after dark, disobeying the rules will usually result in fines but could lead to jail time in some cases.
This guide to fishing at night will first explore the legalities of the activity. Then we’ll delve into whether fishing at night is better than fishing during the day. We’ll also share some night fishing tips, so make sure you keep reading!
These States Have Rules Against Fishing at Night
As we touched on in the intro, most states in the United States don’t have any rules barring you from fishing at night. However, just because it’s not in any lawbook doesn’t mean you can fish anywhere.
For example, if you live in a state where you can fish at night, but a park has a sign at the entrance mentioning that it’s only open from dawn to dusk, you could get in trouble for fishing there after dark (or doing anything there after dark).
Also, even states that allow night fishing might not permit it everywhere. You should always read up about the lake, river, or ocean you’re visiting before you go.
Keeping all that in mind, here are some states that prohibit or strongly discourage night fishing.
If you’re doing any saltwater sport fishing in California, you’re not allowed to take home the invertebrates you catch after sundown. The exceptions are only if you’re fishing in the San Pablo and San Francisco bays. You also can’t fish after dark in the Golden Gate Bridge’s waters.
If you’re near San Miguel Island, you can anchor a fishing boat overnight in Cuyler Harbor and Tyler Bight only.
In some spots throughout the southern state of Georgia, night fishing is not allowed. That’s true of the Rocky Mountain, Smith Creek, the Conasauga watershed, the Chattahoochee River, Rock Creek, and Dockery Lake.
Iowa’s lakes are closed to boats of all kinds after 10:30 p.m. The state doesn’t outright ban night fishing, but if you can’t get a boat into a lake, then you can’t do most types of fishing (except for fly fishing).
Note how this rule applies to lakes only.
In Maryland, you cannot fish in the Chesapeake Bay for striped bass and have them on your fishing boat after midnight and until 5 a.m. That rule also applies if fishing in the bay’s tidal tributaries.
Further, you can’t fish in non-tidal, trout-containing waters from 10 p.m. through 5:30 a.m.
The Battie Mixon Fishing Hole is off-limits an after hour sunset every day until an hour before the sun rises.
For the anglers who call Minnesota home, you can set up traps for catching crayfish overnight from April through the end of November, but you cannot check the traps after sunset until an hour before the sun goes up.
When you’re in the Lake Superior tributaries past certain boundaries, then you must leave an hour after the sun goes down.
If in inland waters looking for stream trout, you can only catch these fish until 11 p.m.
The southern state of Missouri mandates that you cannot take non-game fish from between the Pike County Salt River and the Sand Chute after midnight.
The Madison River in Montana is a popular fishing spot, so it makes sense there are legal rules instituted here. From July 15th to August 15th, you are not allowed to fish in this spot from 2 p.m. through midnight.
In Nebraska, you can only fish in the Island Lake from an hour before the sun is up until one hour after it goes down. The DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge and Boyer Chute National Wildlife Refuge close 30 minutes after the sun goes down.
If you want to catch non-game fish and paddlefish between the Big Sioux River and the Missouri River, including the areas mile marker 734 and Gavins Point Dam, you’re only allowed to do so from 7 a.m. through 7 p.m. from October 1st to the 31st.
If you’re fishing for species outside of salmon, trout hybrids, lake trout, rainbow trout, brown trout, and brook trout in New Hampshire, then no fishing rules are instituted. When catching the above fish, you’re only allowed to do so an hour before sunrise through two hours post-sunset.
That’s not the case in the Ammonoosuc River, when you can catch brown trout anytime provided it’s an active fishing season.
The great state of New York has many beloved freshwater bodies. Fishing at most of them at night is a dicey proposition.
At the Lake Ontario Tributary, you must stop fishing 30 minutes after sunset. There are some exceptions, such as fishing at the Dexter Route 180 bridge, Lake Ontario upstream, or in Black River. Then, you can fish anytime you want.
The Lake Champlain Tributary prohibits anglers from fishing 30 minutes after the sun goes down between June 15th and December 31st, especially in areas such as the North Branch Bouquet and its tributaries, the Bouquet River, the Rainbow Falls and its upstream railroad bridge, the Ausable River, the Imperial Dam, and the Saranac River through its nearby Catherine Street bridge.
Further, in Oswego County’s Salmon River and related tributaries, you can fish at night from April 1st through August 14th but otherwise, you must vacate 30 minutes after sunset.
You can fish for whitefish, trout, sturgeon, steelhead, shad, and salmon and even take them home if you do so in the daytime in Oregon. At night, which is considered an hour after the sun goes down, those rules change. No fishing is allowed.
You are allowed to fish in Miller Lake and Lake of the Woods anytime and bring home any fish you find, but that’s the exception. Otherwise, Woodburn Pond and St. Louis Pond enforce the above rules.
In many parts of Tennessee, you can only fish during limited times.
If fishing in the Green Cove Pond, you must leave a half-hour after sunset. This also applies at the New Lake, aka the Lewisburg City Lake, as well as the Citico Creek and its South and North Forks.
Natchez Trace State Park’s Pin Oak Lake does not allow for fishing after midnight from April 1st through September 30th if you’re using jug lines, but this only applies on Sundays.
Garrett Lake does not have any restrictions, so go there if you want to fish after dark!
Virginia’s Crooked Creek Fishing Area and Clinch Mountain require you to stop fishing an hour after the sun sets. If catching fish at Blue Ridge Parkway, the fishing times end 30 minutes post-sunset.
What Happens If You Get Caught Fishing at Night?
If you’re fishing in a body of water in a state in which it’s illegal to do so, what are the consequences?
Usually, it’s a fine, but don’t be too lax.
The reason that the above states prohibit fishing after certain hours is to prevent overfishing.
Overfishing, if you’re not familiar, occurs when fish in a body of water disappear faster than the fish can be naturally replenished through reproduction, or the fish being manually restocked.
The fish that live in these waters are underpopulated. This in turn affects the rest of the food chain, as bigger fish species feed on the underpopulated fish, but now cannot. The fish species that feed on that larger fish has its diet interrupted, and so on.
Any body of water can become prone to overfishing, from oceans to lakes, rivers, wetlands, and ponds. Fish can become rarer through overfishing, biomass levels reduce, and biological growth can slow or stop as well.
Since the consequences are often quite hefty when anglers overfish, the fines are as well. The Sustainable Fishers Act of 1996 is a rule that’s trying to outlaw overfishing. Violating this rule could lead to fines as substantial as $100,000.
You could also be jailed for six months or required to pay both the fine and serve jail time.
These punishments occur after each offense, by the way. It’s not worth being a repeat offender, that’s for sure!
Is Fishing at Night Better Than Fishing During the Day?
That said, we can certainly understand where the allure for night fishing comes from. If you know somewhere in your state where it’s legal to do so, you should plan a nighttime fishing trip for these reasons.
Do you wake up at the crack of dawn to go fishing because you want to beat out all the other anglers who congregate at your favorite lake or pond? Then night fishing could be just the change in routine you need.
At night, most anglers have already hung up their caps and retired for the day. That’s not to say the lake or ocean will be completely empty. Other anglers like you will want to see if night fishing is all it’s cracked up to be.
That said, compared to the daytime hours, you’re sharing the waters with far fewer anglers. That means more fish for everyone!
More Fish Activity
Speaking of the fish, many anglers agree that fish are quite active at night. The reasons why run the gamut.
Some anglers say that fish are active because of the moon phases. Others think it’s that there’s less commotion on the surface of the water at night compared to the day, so the fish feel more comfortable coming out.
Either way, if you usually have decent luck at a pond or estuary by day, give it a try at night. You could be even more prosperous.
Much More Comfortable
Here’s a benefit for you, the angler. Fishing at night is a lot more comfortable.
To start, there’s no sun, which means you can’t get burned. You can forego the sunblock and not have to worry about an unflattering farmer’s tan, which is nice. To top it off, no sun means less heat.
The cooler temperatures won’t leave you sweating unless it’s a humid, muggy summer night. You’ll want to fish for hours because the conditions are so good!
Even though you enjoy fishing, it can kind of become like a routine after a while. By fishing at night, you’re shaking up that routine and reigniting the spark that is your love for fishing.
Tips for Fishing at Night
Even if you’re an experienced angler, fishing at night is a different beast than doing the same by day. Here are some tips that will get you started on the road to fishing success!
Get There Early
Navigating a fishing boat in the dark can be especially difficult and confusing. You could end up lost in a lake or river you know quite well, and in the ocean, being misdirected is dangerous.
Plan to arrive before the sun goes down so you can easily reach your favorite fishing spot.
Follow the Moon
Attesting to the connection between fish and the phases of the moon, certain anglers swear by fishing according to when the moon is out. A full moon is best, and you can fish within three days of the moon looking big, beautiful, and ripe.
If you miss the full moon phase, the quarter-moon is another good nighttime fishing period to plan for!
Use Some Artificial Lures
Live bait is handy when fishing at night, but not if the water temperatures are too cold. A loud artificial lure that’s hanging nearer the surface of the water could draw bass out whereas a spinnerbait planted near a brush pile or rocky bank can also get the bass swimming your way.
Bring the Light
You would hate to feel a pull on your line and not be able to see if it’s a fish or a clump of seaweed. You need some light source, and we recommend a headlamp. You can illuminate the way for hours and keep your hands free!
That said, take care not to angle your cranium so the light of the headlamp hits the water. Light sources, especially on an otherwise dark night, could spook the fish.
Throughout the better part of the country, fishing at night is a legal activity. We always recommend triple-checking the rules for your nearby lake, ocean, or river before heading out. If you don’t, you could incur huge fines and possible jail time as well!