The Quick & Dirty Guide to Nighttime Fishing

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We’ve all heard the saying “the freaks come out at night.” I tend to agree, especially when referring to what lies below the water’s surface. While I steer clear of the late-night social scene, I take every advantage I get to slide my kayak into the quiet of the night in search of what may be floating below.

Seasoned anglers already know nighttime fishing is a great way to avoid crowds and beat the summer (and southern) heat, as well as the best time to target trophy catches lurking in the darkness. Predatory fish such as redfish, tarpon and tripletail use the cover of the night to lie in wait, ready to ambush unsuspecting prey. An angler using this same strategy and a stealthy approach can increase the odds in their favor of landing that trophy fish.

It’s commonly misunderstood that you can only catch fish at night under a full moon or near a source of light—spotlight, lamppost, or underwater light. While both of these scenarios can help the angler to catch fish at certain times, it’s important not to overlook other approaches.

I’ve caught plenty of fish under a new moon and away from any light source—total darkness. But knowing the tides and lunar phases and how they effect the feeding patterns of your target species will benefit you greatly. In some areas, a falling tide will flush bait out into open water starting a feeding frenzy. An incoming tide can bring in cleaner water with cooler temps and really turn on the bite.

At night, I fish the same way I would if it were daytime, just slower. I spend more time on the “outer edges.” These “outer edges” are the outside of the light halo, pilings, docks, barges, where the hydrilla meets open water or where the lilies meet the dollar pads. I use a methodical approach, covering the water with fan casts, as I ease along as quietly as possible.

It helps to be familiar with the bottom contour, cover and structure of the water your paddling. I recommend mapping out a run during daylight hours to acquaint yourself with the area while dropping some waypoints as a reference.

Good electronics such as the Lowrance ti5 on a dim setting will keep you right where you need to be. I use as little light as possible, mainly when repositioning or rigging (safety first) and always give my eyes the time to adjust. You might be surprised at just how little light it takes to see fish swimming below the surface.

I focus on key areas: hard edges, bridge pilings, changes in the relief of the structure, light lines and the darkness between lights. These are likely ambush points. Sometimes a run-and-gun approach covering as much water as possible is the ticket and other times posting up and waiting in a productive area will get the job done.

As with any kayak fishing, paying close attention to the weather is imperative when nighttime stalking. Conditions can change fast and it’s sometimes difficult to detect these changes at night. Keeping a close eye on the radar, regularly scanning the horizon and always being aware of the distance from your launch should be a priority.

On top of knowing your surroundings, nighttime fishing requires extra safety gear. I always wear my PFD—no if, ands or buts—carry a YakAttack VisiCarbon Pro, two fully charged headlamps, a spotlight, VHF, and a charged cell phone. It’s also a good idea to have a fishing partner but if you head out solo, at the least have a float plan and either way, always let someone know when you plan to return.

Massive explosions in the dark, catching giant fish, staying cool, having the spot to yourself… the list goes on and on, but the main reason I fish at night is because it’s fun. Hopefully, these tips will help you find success, whether you’re chasing tarpon and tripletail in the bay or lunker largemouth on your favorite lake. So get out there and see why nighttime is the right time.

Editor’s Note: Guest contributor Matthew Vann is a member of the NRS Fishing Team. A native of Pensacola, Florida, Matthew is a seasoned tournament angler, husband, father of five and owner/operator of Sails and Tails Kayak Charters. He’s also the back-to-back National Angler of the Year for the Inshore Fishing Association. Follow Matthew on Facebook and Instagram