Using plugs for night fishing

This article was last updated on June 27th, 2014

Following on from the primer night lure article I did last time, this article will focus on using running plugs at night.

You can take solace in the fact that much of the strategy discussed here will work in daylight too. In places we are going to get a little more in depth but, take from the writing what you can and come back and re-apply more of what you learn later if you like.

Last time, I asked you to choose a plug that runs between 1 and 3ft deep, a floating diver in a simple colour. We hinted at casting, but then stopping and waiting. You don’t have to follow this advice but let me explain and then you decide. The aim is to cast, stalk and wade like a Ninja whilst all the while, being unseen as you get in and out of your target area. We wear camouflage wetsuits, dark hoods, no lights and enter the water silently using long fins to swim or drift to offshore reefs, maybe even kayak 3 miles in rough and fast water in the dead of night. The amount of effort you personally choose to expend is of course your choice but, trust me when I say, effort for the best part, equals reward.

It’s not within the realms of this brief to discuss what particular plugs do what, what makes are best and what costs what. That is your choice dependent on your area and fish habits, personally I want a plug I’m not scared of losing whilst at the same time casts well and catches bass! Those are the simple requirements for me and our squad when we go night plugging or, any plugging for that matter. You simply do not have to spend a fortune on lures to catch bass. There is a huge choice out there, so choose function over fashion and save yourself some money.

Of all the things that will affect how a plug runs, your mainline will likely have more impact on a it’s performance than a 2g shift in weight, change of hooks or slight bib angle alteration. Much rubbish is spouted about hooks and critical balance but plugs aren’t designed to be critically balanced with a given hook at mass production level and it’s more than likely, a deal is done with a hook company to rig said plugs with whatever is available that is close to requirements. Most plugs are designed for “freshwater” anyway, which is the larger market in the US and Japan, so a hook upgrade is recommended not just for strength, but also for “keel” weight for saltwater use. Remember too that plugs ride deeper in warmer water and most Japanese plugs, even when they are designed for salt, are tested in water temperatures that the UK coastline won’t likely reach for a few millennia at best if the global warming boys have it right.

Newer, thinner and stronger 8 strand braids will let your plugs run and cast better than ever before. This doesn’t mean your line of choice is not suitable, it may well be but have a think about how it will affect running depths and casting ability. Again, if money is a factor, use plain old monofilament but, for my money, good quality 8 strand braids in the PE1 to 1.5 range will cover most bases, if you can afford it, use it, because it will outperform almost everything or anything else I can think of. You can read about personal choice of leader, leader knot etc. elsewhere so the goal of this article is not to keep repeating all that stuff. If there is one thing to repeat, it’s the manual closing of that bail arm after a cast and the little tug on the line afterwards to settle the braid down. Make it a habit!

Night fishing plugs

So, you’ve chosen a plug, tied or clipped it on and are ready to go. Most people I see head for the furthest vantage point out to sea and cast straight out. Why do people do that? Is there an invisible line which bass won’t cross and one that almost synonymous with your longest cast? Let me tell you right now, casting out, right out as far as you can, whilst it has its moments, is not strategically sound methodology. Bass do not reside on the extreme limit of your cast. You have to have a target, a piece of structure, a rip, a rock, the end of a groin, a cut… at which to draw bass from.

Let me step onto dangerous ground and discuss spear fishing. Before you all go screaming off, trust me, a good spear fisherman does far less damage than most casual anglers. The point I’m trying to make is this. Even if you get kitted up, wetsuit, fins, the works and armed with some mythical automatic spear gun that fires 60 rounds per second, I could drop you on some of our best bass marks and you’d get to see, nothing! That’s right; spear fishing ain’t as easy as dropping off a boat with a gun and killing all the bass. I have trained with some good divers but personally have rarely partaken in the pursuit of bass with a spear gun. However, the techniques are solid and equally applicable to plug or lure anglers with some imagination. So how do good divers shoot big bass?

Strategy – being in the right place at the right time and doing the right thing. That thing is waiting. Bass, pollack, fish can’t help but to be curious. Remember the knock and run kids from the first article, bass are the same. If you hear a clatter in the kitchen, will you investigate? Yes, but it’s not immediate. There is a lag between you hearing it, recognising it, moving and then going to investigate. Time yourself now, moving from reading this to going somewhere in your house or flat. That’s right, first you have to put this down, then get moving. It takes time.

Spear fishermen, good ones, will dive near a mark and wait, the bass come to them. This is a fact and it is also a fact that it may take up to the breathing limit of a diver before bass show themselves. Thankfully, our plug doesn’t need to breathe and has limitless waiting time. Only your confidence and patience will be tested here, not the resolve of your plug! So, you’ve scoped out your mark in daylight, measured the number of paces between likely area’s and you are moving in on a bit of a reef that is 40 meters out with the tide on the turn. You know that in daylight you’ve had one or two bass on this rock, so, you cast at it. STOP!

This is a huge mistake! You will simply spook the bass.

At night, nothing moves around like it’s on steroids. Bass, proper bass, aren’t going to chase down stuff by choice if they can help it. They, like you, want the easy meal. If you had to cycle 50 miles each time you wanted food you’d soon change your patterns should an alternative, easy source be made available.

Night fishing plugs

So, cast near the rock, manually close that bail arm and pick up the slack. Then, drop the rod tip a little toward the plug. Bass do not bite lures. Bass eat lures and bait by use of what is termed “negative vortex.” They approach a target and open/flare their gills, this creates an open mouthed negative vortex which acts like a vacuum cleaner. Bait just slides away, toward the bass, never to be seen again. Yum. So, we need to replicate that slide. On a tight braided line, the only way a bass could achieve this is by it being inside the cast, i.e. between you and the plug. Sure, it happens, it happens a lot and yet it’s a bite that outside of respected circles goes completely unchecked by even the most experienced plug angler.

Think of a bite zone like a 2ft circle around your lure. This is reduced as you retrieve faster and faster and it will also grow if a bigger bass comes along. We’ve seen striped bass suck baits up from 4ft away. But, 2ft is a good radius to this circle for now and remember, our own bass, whilst fine predators, don’t reach the weights of the mighty striped bass and cannot create such a large vortex. So, bear with me, split this circle into a clock face and for now, remember, your lure is on the surface after casting, so, this circle is a 2 dimensional clock face lying on the water. Your plug is 12 o’clock from you. If a fish hits you from 12, chances are you feel it straight away. The more toward 6 o’clock you come, the harder or lighter that bite may feel unless it’s a going away take, but, in fact, what felt like a small take might not be a small fish at all. It may in fact be the biggest fish sucking it up from the furthest distance possible in the clock face window.

Jerk that plug down to 3ft and your clock face has become a sphere, or bubble of interest with a 2ft radii in all directions. There is a theory of “Snell’s Window” which says a fish can only see items above it in a cone of vision but bass can hear and feel too. If Bass can only eat stuff that is above them, how then do they eat crabs, which are the most noted item of food “found” in bass. So, I’m challenging this “window” and suggesting the bubble instead, which will obviously be reliant upon whether a bass is in mid water or lying in wait on the bottom. This is why it is so important to maintain “contact” with your lure, allowing enough movement for any bass to create a successful negative vortex to acquire your plug. So, after this wait time, which in my experience is best left at around 15 – 20 seconds, give the plug one jerk and wait again, only a few seconds this time before starting a slow and steady retrieve. You need to figure out how much line one turn of your reels handle will bring back and work accordingly. I like to use my VS100, which on the scale of things is quite a slow reel. I can of course, still reel faster if I want but, a general rule of thumb is to cast, wait, jerk, wait a bit and then start a steady retrieve. This allows bass to move in on your lure, acquire it and hopefully, you’ll hook it. The point now is to get strategic around that rock. Was the bass on the right side of the rock to detect the splashdown of your lure or was it on the other side?

Night fishing plugs

This is why, in my view, the first cast should be around 5 – 8 meters short of the rock, the next 5 – 8 meters off to one side, then the next. The final cast would be really close to the rock but 5 – 8 meters past it. This allows for any fish, anywhere near that structure, to home in on the pressure wave of the splashdown and, you aren’t casting so close to that rock so as to spook them out like scared rabbits running from a ferret. This methodology for working a lone rock can be extended to a series of rocks as they cover or dry, rise of the tide or fall, day or night, plug or soft plastic, it works.

It’s all about method, strategy, planning, watercraft and only then, choosing the right lure and retrieve style because no plug or expert angler can catch what isn’t there.
If all you did is follow the above advice, you’d catch loads of fish. Replace that rock with weed bed, groin or other singular or grouped structure and you have a method that will work time and time again. There are loads of methods that we use and, sometimes a method will be based around a certain plug type. In 2012 as I write this, we are heading toward 600 bass that have all been caught on one lure type. That lure is the needlefish. They don’t do anything in particular and are, in effect, sticks with hooks on them. The point is they slay bass with a magic quality, once the angler knows what to do with them. However, the route into using them is via an apprenticeship on weightless soft plastics. Both of these simple, yet deadly brother and sister methods, allow you to fish almost anywhere, regardless of depth, heavy ground, tide, swell or wind and we’ll look at these next time out.

Night fishing plugs

Author: Keith White