PREPARE, PREPARE, PREPARE: I'm the worlds worst about quadruple checking gear before a trip. I inevitably take way too much stuff for a few hours on the water. But in this case, you really can't be too thoughtful about what gear and lures to take. It will be a lot harder to find things on your boat in the dark, and you really don't want to be banging around looking for stuff either. If your fishing trip revolves around tides, make sure you know what they'll be doing while you're out. Not only will this help you locate fish, but can certainly be to your advantage as you make your way back to port.
BUDDY SYSTEM: Honestly, anytime you're out in your boat fishing, you should have a buddy. Not only does it make the trip more enjoyable, but if you get in trouble, you've got help. Trouble can be anything from getting a hook in your thumb to helping you find your bottle opener. You gotta have friends.
FLOAT PLAN: Anytime you're on the water, someone on land should know what you're up to, how to contact you, and at what point to notify the authorities. We're not talking about a notarized legal document, but at least use blue ink on your post-it note on the fridge.
GO WHERE YOU KNOW: Now is not the time to explore a new area. Go where you know, or at least go with someone that does know the area well. Pay attention to your compass too. Once it's dark, every direction seems to be north.
LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION: It's a given that you'll need light. So, make sure that you have light. You'll need a light for your boat - it's the law. Might I recommend the Scotty 823 Sea-Light. It has a 20" inch pole (to get the light up above the waterline), mounts to any Scotty holder, and can also be easily removed and attached to a PFD. Extra "AA" batteries should be in your dry bag. Also, make sure you have a hand held light. I like those gazillion candlepower models, the ones that can shine about 14 miles. I exaggerate, but you know the ones I'm talking about. Keep it handy, because when you need it you probably won't have long to get to it. I have a buddy that has an extra one that he puts inside his boat when he goes out at night. Imagine a 14 foot glo-stick.
LAUNCH WHILE IT'S STILL LIGHT: Finally, the prep is over, time to get the boat wet. Launch while you still have some light. This will give your eyes a chance to adjust to the lack of light. On a past night trip, I set up using the headlights of my truck. No problems getting everything in the boat. The trouble started when I locked the truck and the lights went out. My eyes eventually adjusted, but in retrospect, it would have been much nicer to watch the sunset, and then hit the water.
HEIGHTEN THE OTHER SENSES: Since the sense of sight is compromised, you'll have to rely on the other ones to keep you safe and to improve your chances of putting a fish in the boat. Though it's not a "sense", common sense should always be something you carry with you and USE.
LIGHT, BUT NOT TOO MUCH LIGHT: Light is good, and necessary. But too much light in some cases is a bad thing. Balance is the secret. You can nab inexpensive LED lights that clip on to your hat to even the scales. These lights work great but aren't so bright that you're blind once you turn them off. Get 2 and you'll look like a big shrimp.
I WEAR MY SUNGLASSES AT NIGHT: Not really. But clear safety glasses, that's another thing altogether. This is something I never considered, but as I wrote this article I consulted my go_to guy Neil Taylor for some pointers. Neil runs kayak fishing charters from www.adventurekayakfishing.com. The very first thing he mentioned was eye protection. This isn't really something you think about until you do that Bassmaster hook set only to have a lure full of treble hooks bounce off of your forehead, or worse.
STEALTH / COURTESY: The great advantage we have over power boats is stealth. We can be super quiet and can get super close to where fish hang out. In my part of the world, structure fishing at night means hitting the residential docks. However, folks that live on the water really didn't move there so knot-heads like us can bounce lead-head jigs off of their boats. So as you weave in and out of the docks, be aware that the owners of those docks might not welcome your company, and it's certainly their right. Respect that. On the other hand, there will be those homeowners that will invite you over, spark up a conversation, and maybe offer a beverage. Enjoy that.
HERE IS WHERE YOU'LL FIND THE FISH: Made you look, didn't I? Just as it happens in the daylight, baitfish will look for cover, and predatory fish will seek out places to ambush them. Baitfish become victims when they wander out of their cover. Be the baitfish (with your presentation) and target those likely ambush points. Those dock lights I mentioned before are a prime spot to focus on. The area where light becomes darkness is the place to be. Baitfish know not to venture to the shadow line. We are (hopefully) smarter than baitfish - we should go there. Being down current of any structure is also a good bet. Toss above the structure, drift your offering past it, and hang on.
THE SAFETY SCHPEEL: By now, you know how it goes. Safety should be the first thing you think about and will be the last thing we chat about each month. For night fishing, wear that PFD. Most (including mine) have reflective banding, which is easily seen by the slightest light. I've seen some folks wear hats with reflective bands, and even some have gone so far as to replace the bungee on their boats with reflective rigging. Every little bit helps.
Let's talk about lures and hooks. For lures, consider single hook jerkbaits and spoons. Those lures with treble hooks can mean triple the trouble even in daylight, its worse in the dark. Finally, should you feel the need to break out that gazillion candlepower light I mentioned earlier, don't point it directly at someone - instant blindness. If you're trying to get the attention of an oncoming boater, illuminate yourself, not his eyes.
TOPIC FOR MESSAGE BOARD DISCUSSION: I know many of you have done some paddle fishing after dark, and I'm sure you have some tips and tricks to share. Let's hear about it. Thanks for your input.
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