A few weeks ago marked the Autumn Equinox. This supposedly is the day when day and night have equal billing, 12 hours each. From that point on, nights are longer and days, and most notably, the hours of daylight are shorter. For me that means I go to work in the dark and pull into the driveway when it's just about dark. But wait there's more - the time changes in November too, meaning even less fishable light.
Like most of you, the weekend is about the only time I can get out on the water. But, also like most of you, I go when I can, with little regard to tides, solunar charts, and advice from the guy at the bait shop. Here in central Florida, the bait patterns have been pushed back about 3-4 weeks, but the pages continue to blow off the calendar. That means that the waters around me are warm and stacked with bait. The predatory fish know that this buffet won't last forever, and colder barren waters will certainly follow - so they eat, around the clock.
Put all of these elements together and that means in order to make the best of the time available, there needs to be some night fishing trips on the calendar. I've talked about night fishing in the past, but it's been a while, so this is a little refresher course.
Familiarity Breeds Success
If you've got some favorite waters that you fish, then you've already been doing your nocturnal recon without even thinking about it. The best plan you can have is to fish in familiar waters. Know the creek mouths, the coves, the structure, and the depths. They won't change because it's dark, but landmarks will soon fade.
So here is my backyard. The house across the "street" is for sale, rainbow is optional. But look at all those docks! Those are great places to target at night.
Let's Talk About SIN
Uh, that'd be Safety In Numbers.
More specifically, don't go alone. 2 heads aren't always better than one, but 2 sets of eyes and vocals chords certainly are. Besides, as in the light of day, who's gonna take the pictures?
Launch in Daylight
... and from a familiar place. A place that you'll be able to find in limited light. Ideally, if there's a boat ramp or some other area that's lit around the clock, you're in business. Don't trust the GPS, but it's certainly nice to have one. My whistle has a compass. That little navigation tool could prove to be priceless if the technology fails.
So here's my launch. Over the side (note the rug), load 'em up and go. I paddle out and around the corner (to the left side of the pic above), across the tiny bay and into the docks.
Return in Good Light
Obviously an evening with a full moon would yield the best fishing (fish need some light to fish too), but the added overhead light is certainly a plus. But, don't rely on the moon, take some light of your own. If possible, have a well-lit landmark for reference. For me, it's a matter of leaving the light on up on the 3rd floor.
It's going to be dark, that's a given. You will need good dependable light. You will need several types, and you will need backup. In the cockpit, if you need to retie a lure, you'll need red LED or dim white LED. Remember, once your eyes get used to low light, an abundance of bright light will leave you blinded. There are a myriad of products out there that provide a solution, from snips with LED's, hats with LED's, and clip-on LED's for your cap. You can be safe for the cost of a pair of good hard baits.
A buddy of mine (hey CookNfish!) has been known to put one of those 4 bazillion candlepower spotlight things in his front hatch before a night trip. The benefits are many. Thanks to plastic being plastic, the entire boat is illuminated. It's just something extra you can do for a little money, good ROI for night fishing.
Check your local laws because I'm sure they differ. But, a good rule to follow I to have enough light on board to shine at someone in a boat that's not paying attention, as a last resort. No, don't shine it in their eyes, but do shine it on YOUR bow - you want to be seen so they can avoid you. Scotty makes a nice light that mounts on a pole, and the light can be removed and placed on your PFD if needed. This little light makes you legal and is bright without being blinding. Be smart, so others don't have to be.
Like always, we have to make choices about gear, taking what we need, and as much of what we want as we can. Night fishing begs us to scale down even more, and luckily I've stumbled across a light that wears a lot of hats. It's the Pelican Progear 2760 LED Headlight. It's got three white LED's that deliver 204 lumens of white light on high mode, and 95 lumens on low mode. It operates on 3 AAA batteries, and my floating water proof flashlight also takes AAA's. So a sleeve of AAA's go in my dry bag, which will be in my hatch, which will be illuminated by the "Cook-N-fish" light.
Prepare for Good Fortune
You'll want to bring a net for this trip. Better to net your catch and manage it rather than to try to do a lip grab like you would in daylight, and then the fish manages you. Better to take 3 rods that are rigged than to count on having enough light and opportunity to tie on leader and lures should you get broken off. For night fishing, it's about maximizing the time and opportunities you have.
Take Time to Reflect
… or at least be reflective. My PFD's have reflective inserts, and most are also yellow. Normally, I keep my PFD handy, but not always on. For this event, keep it on. That keeps you seen, but it's also a good place to keep a spare flashlight and batteries. The temps actually drop when the sun goes down now, so it won't be uncomfortably hot as it was in August either. If ever there was a win/win situation with a PFD, this is it.
Courtesy / Structure
I put these topics together because in my neighborhood, they go hand in hand. I live in an area that has a lot of seawall (structure) and hundreds of docks with boats (mega-structure). As the sun goes down, bait fish seek protection in cover. That means they congregate in available structure, and predators know exactly where to find them. All of these docks and the boats that are moored to them provide that false sense of security to those bait fish. Yes, it's an ideal place to try and catch a fish. That's the good part. The bad part lies in the fact that bait and predators stay very close to this structure, and in order to be productive, you have to cast close to said structure. Nothing will wake up a slumbering captain quicker than a lead jighead bouncing off his gelcoat. Few things will anger that same captain worse than untying his boat only to find a lure full of treble hooks buried in the rope, or in his hand. Some people are just jerks, but most people become that way as a result of the bad decisions of others. So, when pitching the docks, be thoughtful. Bend the barbs down on your hooks, in case you do snag a rope. If you need to get on the dock to remove the lure, really observe the situations. You might be on and off before anyone notices. You might be on and meet the jerk face to face. It's a tough call, but err on the side of caution and your safety. You'll probably find that most dock owners are anglers too, so use that to your advantage and can be a friendly bunch. Stealth is, and will always be our advantage. It's even more apparent at night. Sounds carry a lot farther over water than they do on land. And when everything is super still and super quiet, it's even more important to be in stealth mode. Plainly put, you should be seen and not heard.
Safety and the Sixth Sense
If at any point in your preparation you get a feeling that "this doesn't seem like a good night to go", then it's not a good night to go. Simple as that.
The idea behind any angling adventure is to have some fun, and unload some stress. So, take a few extra steps (so the person with your float plan doesn't get too stressed) and then take advantage of some fun/productive opportunities to catch some fish.
See you out on the water!
"Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after" ~ Henry David Thoreau