The fishing dog days of summer are upon us, and everyone knows you’d have to be a mad dog to be out fishing in the noon-day sun. But night fishing — that’s another story.
July and August days are not only hard on anglers, they are mighty tough on our fish. Gulf water temperatures are in the high 80s or even the 90s, bait schools are scarce, shrimp and crabs are buried in the grass to stay cool and game fish are idling in neutral and not even bothering looking for food. But as the sun drops below the horizon, the snook, reds, trout and other inshore species all shift into feeding mode. Anglers who know what’s up have fresh batteries in their flashlights and plenty of insect repellent and are on the water waiting for them.
The best nighttime action is around the full moon, when predator fish use the illumination from the moon to silhouette prey above them in the water column. The next full moon is Aug. 3, and it just so happens that full moon is named after a fish — the Sturgeon Moon, so maybe that’s a good sign for anglers.
The night fishing usually will be good a day or two on either side of the full moon, as the bright nights work their magic as the moon is in the final waxing stage and a couple of days into its waning stage. That means those who can’t fish late on Aug. 3 (a Monday) due to having to work in the morning, can fish Saturday, Aug. 1, when the moon is bright and nearly as full.
The solunar phase is as important to some as the moon phase, and many pro anglers swear by the solunar tables. It so happens we’re in luck there on the next full moon, as the major solunar periods (moon directly overhead) Aug. 1-5 are all near midnight or early morning. That’s ideal, as by that time of night the water generally has cooled by a couple of degrees, which further stimulates the action.
For those who have never done it, night fishing can provide a whole new prospective and a greater awareness of all the sounds around us on the water. The sucking sound of a snook feeding on the surface rings through the still night air. Baitfish frantically skittering across the surface alert anglers that something big is chasing them. The splashes of leaping mullet can give away the location of redfish that sometimes follow them.
The fish anglers seek also are listening. That’s why one of the most effective after-dark baits is a noisy artificial plug. Top-water plugs that make a chugging noise or those with small propellers can draw fish from long distances and really stand out against a moonlit sky to stalking fish below. Plugs also allow anglers to cover a lot of area, fan-casting in an arc over wide swathes of water. When the strike comes, be careful, as the sudden explosion on the water can sometimes cause a reflex reaction that results in the lure being pulled away from the fish too soon. Try to count to two before setting the hook. It’s not unusual to hear a second strike by the time you’re done counting, indicating the fish missed the first time and is trying again.
Live baits are effective at night, but because they are left to soak and swim in one spot for longer periods, they don’t allow anglers to test as much water in the course of the evening. For that reason, the best live-bait strategy is to set out a live pinfish, shrimp or scaled sardine in a fishy spot like a creek mouth or around a dock or bridge pilings were the current is flowing. Spots where light from a home or yard is falling is a good choice. Rock points, mangrove lines and other natural fish highways are good ambush points for live-bait anglers. Boat channels and their spoil banks are great at night. Fish avoid them during the day due to boat traffic but move in to explore and feed when the traffic dies down after dark.
Dead bait is a good choice for mangrove snapper or sheepshead. Both will be around bridges, in canals and creeks after dark and the smell of dead shrimp or cut bait is a big plus after dark. Anglers can up their chances by flicking a few bits of chum into the water up-current of where they are fishing to put even more scent in the water.
Be careful when fishing at night, as the darkness can be an accident multiplier. Have a good handheld light, and when fishing from a boat and anchored, ensure the anchor light is burning per U.S. Coast Guard rules. Also be careful running an outboard after dark. Stick to known channels with adequate depth and don’t take chances running fast in the shallows or areas known to have rocks near the surface. If ever there were a time to have the boat’s kill switch cord clipped to your belt, it’s when operating at night, especially if you are boating alone.
The only thing worse than falling overboard in the dark while running a boat is falling overboard and watching your boat motor off into the night without you.