We have for many years, enjoyed tremendous night lure sport in various forms for bass both here at home and overseas. In the USA, especially on the NE coast, fishing for stripers in the dark on lures is almost as commonplace as going out with a top water lure on a sunny day. In Japan, again, for the most part, night game for bass is quite the in vogue thing. It has been and likely will, according to sources, remain very much a bread and butter method for a further generation or three at least. So, it’s not new at all, there is no secret and yet, in Britain, it’s pretty much an unheard of practice outside of specialist circles.
It has been featured on blogs, forums and even a mainstream magazine covered it in 2010. On the whole though, it is still very much an underground movement and some suggest it is perhaps always destined to be the forte of the specialist. Well, think me crazy or not, for 20 years we have over that time, bait fished, fly fished, plug fished and thrown soft and metal lures at European sea-bass or, Dicentrarchus labrax in daylight and in various levels of darkness. In that time, with many thousands of bass of all sizes caught…
Bass have displayed a definite preference for hunting during the hours of darkness.
Does it not make immediate sense to cast your lures at the most likely times?
Now, don’t think this is a local habit or behaviour. We in Jersey don’t enjoy overly large bass stocks despite claims to the contrary. Feel free to ask the many people who have visited our shores just how hard it can be to shore fish for bass on lures or any other method for that matter in daylight. Our stocks are just as pressured as yours, perhaps even more so.
I’m not even going to start comparing success rates across borders, only put the notion in your head that perhaps you could be missing out, well, big time actually! Ask those who have turned to the dark side to make a like for like comparison. Almost all of them will tell you the same, or a similar story if they have trodden wisely.
Don’t assume, not for a second, that just because you don’t know anyone in your area or otherwise who has achieved success on night lures, you cannot. For the most part it’s easier. Trouble is, the 20% of factors that can make it harder, really do throw the usual and comfortable daylight angler a fast curve ball. Time to throw tradition in the bin this time and whilst I have the greatest respect for the breakthroughs of old, if those guys had stood still, we’d have no breakthroughs and nowhere to go. Everything is built upon experience and what has gone before us. To ignore the old ways would be perilous but, lets face it, the heady days of yesteryear are exactly that, gone!
Bass aren’t stupid. I’m not on about the schools of those 1lb and 1.5lb fish that most think are the mainstream of bass lure fishing in Britain but the better, larger, cleverer fish. The facts are, if you want to “consistently” catch 4, 5, 9lb bass, you’ve got to do something different, you need to stand out and be counted, be a specialist, a leader, not a follower nor a chaser of fish or success on other peoples marks.
Fashions nor brand names catch bass, nor do magic or expensive plugs. Anglers catch bass, knowledge catches bass, find your own marks, note your own tides, make your own experiences and believe me, if you step out into the darkness, the competition for marks quite simply ceases to be an issue. That alone is another major factor you should consider.
Many think they don’t have fish of such quality on their marks but don’t be so sure. I agree, not all marks will hold quality fish and even those that do, might not while you are there and it might take time and effort to map a particular area. It may be tide or time dependent and yes, weather plays a role. Small bass do not behave in the same way as large bass at all. Smaller bass have to compete with the school. Large bass, outside of places like Southern Ireland sadly, do not. Even there, the better more knowledgeable anglers will, over time, shine and come out on top. I know a few that do exactly that.
There are the few great anglers catching good fish on lures in the day across a range of what is the British shoreline, but not many are going out in flat calm, crystal clear seas, with no current and little regard for neither tide nor time. There is no discounting of those odd big fish caught by the novice or occasional angler either but that is usually just the odd capture, which is rarely repeated. So how do we achieve consistency?
Bass like cover. Bass are a predator, bass need to eat to survive. Anything can be cover. Structure like harbour walls, rocks and reef, boulders, weed, groins, shadows and even boats that are moored in situ for a given period. Sure, we can all find those easy enough but, start adding fast water, surf, swell, and a wind swept sea into the equation and most will do a runner or claim a lack of such things. This in itself is a major reason for many anglers’ failure. If you do not know a reason for bass to be there, move!
However: There is a short cut. If you don’t want to face bad weather conditions, those dark nights, even on marks that only produce fish under a couple of pounds (we call them sea-rats), can throw double figure bass or at the very least a much better stamp fish.
Why though? Simple. Darkness provides the most consistent cover type of all, yet, despite most bait bass anglers relishing the dark, most British lure anglers will run at the first sight of darkness. The facts are, the darker it gets, the better the potential fishing. In 20 years of night lure fishing, the nights over the new moon have been far and away the best. Not always the biggest tides from where we are as we enjoy a 40ft tidal range. Your tidal mileage may vary, but no matter where we have been, dark has been king.
Most full moons are just too bright and we pray for bad weather and cloud cover. To start though, I would suggest you do venture out on such a night. Choose a tide that has the first few hours of a flood well into darkness with the moon low in the sky or about to set. This will give you enough light to work with, give you confidence and ensure you don’t become too generous with any head torch you are carrying. In any case, always, always keep that light OFF THE WATER and make sure to turn away from the water and your mates when you go to re-tie a knot or select a new plug.
There are a few rules about night fishing you may have heard but where did you hear it? Most of it is re-vamped rubbish written by people who heard it from someone else, or, they made it up based upon the experiences of others. We see this all the time in all branches of the sport, give yourself the best chance of success by at least taking into account the experiences of those people you know who do fish lures in the dark.
As for colours, can you see colour in the dark? I can’t and I’ve got 20 years of practice. Yes, you can use the black plugs you all read about, but you can equally use any plug you already own. You could throw black on a dark, dark night, but you could equally throw white. Only YOUR CONFIDENCE matters for the best part. As your experience grows, you will, like us, have personal patterns and preferences in what you take, what you select, where you cast, the type of tide, ground, wind etc. and this has nothing to do with the night. This is simply watercraft, an essential skill regardless of night or day. Just remember, most nights are about shades, not colour, about shape, profile, action, or lack of it. There are some heavy clues there.
You may have heard people suggest or even insist you have to slow retrieve at night. But, who told you that? Again, this may or may not be true. I have had many a night where I’m cranking faster than I would in daylight. There are NO RULES, just guidelines, you have to let experience and the type of water you are fishing dictate or at least assist you with things like plug or soft lure selection.
This first article is a primer into why you should look into the darkness for your success. You are a hunter. You are the predator. No longer is the bass the head of the food chain and you must remember it. Confidence is the key. Most marks that fire in daylight will equally or exponentially fire in the dark. If there is one thing that may change, it is the common reluctance for good bass, in general, to hit surface lures on dark nights. It can happen of course and only your locale will ultimately provide those key clues needed to evaluate the potential for night surface work, but I would suggest, for starters, three plugs and a handful of soft lures for your night time excursions. In our experience, fishing even 1inch under the surface could mean a 100% greater success rate than when a lure is “purely” on the surface. Another big clue there, take note.
There isn’t room to cover specific techniques in this article, but I’ll follow this up with a few simple and efficient methods in the near future. For now, lets generalise and keep it really easy. I wouldn’t personally rush out and buy a special lure for night work unless I was a 100% top water nut. If that is you, then yes, go and buy two or three lures that swim one to three feet deep on your chosen equipment. Always remember, your mileage in this regard will vary depending upon your chosen line diameter. Practice casting these lures in daylight, but with your eyes closed. No night will ever be THAT dark so it’s a good test. Another important tip is to manually close your reel bail arm (unless like us, you don’t have one) and give the braid a little tug to settle the spool after a cast. Doing this alone will remove 90% of any braid or wind knots you may suffer as a night lure angler and eventually, they will disappear just as the sun did.
Chose nights that aren’t too light, don’t cast before dark and much like a sea trout angler, wait for that right time of night! If you must fish before it gets dark, do it somewhere else! I have found that most people who fail with this method are not letting nature take its course. At night, the sandeels and smelt come close in. The sandeels bury but are rarely off guard. The smelt will just hang. Nothing moves about like it’s on steroids. The bass will, depending upon tidal state, cruise in and set up ready for the ebb, (maybe into light which is superb if near sandeel beds) or actively rooting around for crab or other fodder on the rising tides. Either way, there seems to be a period just after sunset where it can go very quiet. You must sit through this time and it rarely lasts more than an hour even in the height of summer. When it’s dark, settled and quiet, the stars come out and the milky way streams overhead, that is the time to cast.
Make casts close in. Make them count. Big fish can often be very close indeed but they won’t stay there long if you spook them with unruly wading or being overly liberal with your lights. If you have taken my advice, you are already sat waiting on your mark, already by the water and now, as darkness envelops you, you will actually SEE. It won’t be that dark, trust me. You may need a light to move over rocks initially but with experience, you’ll leave them off as we do. In fact, switching lights on and off not only spooks any bass close by, but kills your night vision too! Anyway, in spite of all that, you are also signalling where you are to any passer by whose intentions may not be so honourable!
Bass may see your lure. Chances are, by the time it has been seen, it’s all over anyway! Bass, like almost all fish can detect movement in the water in the form of pressure waves. This is why, just like the kids that knock on your door and run away, initially you’ll answer. After a while, you’ll just stay put hoping they’ll clear off. Most anglers will cast and wind. I want you to stop doing that with a floating and diving lure. Cast out and WAIT. For how long right now is undetermined and we’ll cover this in the plugging part of my next article. For now, get those headlamps ready, choose a few nice plugs, get some 5inch or 6inch Senko’s, maybe some Sluggo’s and some 4/0 and 5/0 swim-bait hooks upon which you’ll mount them. Dust off the waders and go and scope out some marks that you think might be suitable for a night session. Find a friend who is interested and decide right now, you won’t use lights unless you need to! Make sure you know where every item of tackle is and practice tying a few knots in semi dark or even dark. I even practice that in the bath, lights off to simulate what it’s like tying knots up to my shoulders in the water whilst skishing. That again, is another story…
All sounds crazy but trust me, it will be worth your while.