It’s summertime, which means bass anglers with a taste for competition are probably tossing their weekly allowance – and their pride – into the kitty at jackpot tournaments down at the local res. What is it about fishing for gas money and bragging rights that makes summer night tournaments such an anticipated tradition?
In any case, if you fish the local “(insert day of the week)-nighter” on your lake, you’re probably going to be doing a lot of tournament fishing after dark. And if you don’t know it already, everything changes when the lights go out.
To help you keep your tournament success going while the folks at home are asleep, we laid out a step-by-step game plan on how to approach an after-dark event. As you’ll notice, some of the steps are the same as those you’d employ in the preparation for a daytime event. Yet, there are a few key wrinkles to this guide that have paid off big for several Walmart FLW Tour pros.
Step 1: Gear Up
Night tournaments require special equipment and preparation. Black lights, fluorescent line, head lamps — these are not exactly essentials during the day, but they can be at night. Of course, you can fish without them, but not if you want to succeed consistently. They help keep you from wasting time.
“Having the right gear is critical,” Walmart pro Wesley Strader says. “You can be more efficient and won’t miss bites.”
So what do you need? Glad you asked.
Black lights: There are new models with suction cups on them that can be easily attached to the gunwale. Other models must be hard-wired, such as the Punisher Lures CASTGLO L.E.D. Fishing Light (punisherlures.com) seen here. The purplish light they emit is just enough to allow you to see the bank, while not disturbing the fish. Plus, a black light pairs really well with …
Fluorescent line: Strader’s favorite is 17-pound-test Stren monofilament in clear blue, but any blue fluorescent line, when hit by the black light, will glow. That helps to see bites, make accurate casts and time the splashdown of a lure to avoid backlashes.
Glowing buoys: If you’re planning on fishing offshore like Kettle Brand Chips pro Dan Morehead does, you better have buoys that glow. You can buy some that do, or else make your own. Morehead drills small holes in his buoys, drops in a couple mini glow sticks and then plugs the holes with duct tape.
Headlamps/Spotlights: Use the spotlight to navigate the lake and the headlamp to navigate your boat compartments and net fish.
Dimmed electronics: Dimming the backlight on your electronics allows you to maintain night vision better throughout the evening. Consult your owner’s manual to learn how to dim your unit.
Step 2: Refine Your Lures
Lure selection is pretty simple after dark. For the most part, you can fish with a spinnerbait with a single Colorado blade and bulky jigs, although some pros prefer a soft-plastic worm. That’s really all you need. How you modify and fish them, though, can be the game-changer.
• Everyone has a favorite spinnerbait trailer, but Strader and Morehead prefer the same trailer for night-fishing: a Zoom Big Salty Chunk. It’s bulky and looks like a crayfish (more on that later).
• Trailer hooks are a must. If the fish are just slapping the lure or you’re fishing around snaggy cover, thread the trailer hook through the soft-plastic trailer and rig it on the main hook. This will keep it from swinging around wildly.
• Both pros like to fish their spinnerbaits on or near bottom. Slowly crawling the lure so it’s constantly touching bottom is one way. The other method is to lift and drop it on and off the bottom. Either use the rod or give a quick burst of cranks to get it just off the bottom and let the blade thump. Switch up techniques often, since bass change their preference regularly.
• While any jig will work, one with a rubber skirt will flair more and create a larger silhouette in the dark.
• Add rattles to help the fish find the jig.
• Fish it as you would during the day.
Step 3: Game Plan
To make the transition easier for himself, Morehead equates night-fishing to deer hunting. Considering that he once won 14 of 16 night tournaments on his home lake, Kentucky Lake, placing second in the other two, Morehead’s strategy is sound.
“Just like deer are nocturnal, I believe there is an entire population of bass that goes out at night to feed,” Morehead says. “The key is fishing shallower than you would during the day because they are active fish.”
“Shallower” is a relative term depending on where you fish. So let’s look at two situations.
Strader looks for shallow areas that top out anywhere from 2 to 7 feet deep and are adjacent to deep water.
“Nine out of 10 times, if I’m fishing at night, I’m fishing points,” Strader says. “They’re the quickest way for fish to get to the shallows and feed.”
Morehead stays offshore at night and targets the same types of ledges in the same areas that he would fish during the daylight, though shallower.
“If I was fishing ledges that top out at 17 feet during the day, I’ll switch to ones that top out at 10 or 12 feet after dark,” Morehead says.
Look for ledges that are next to the main river channel and have hard bottom. Rock seems to be especially important in the early summer, with shell beds being good as well. Wood can be a bonus most of the summer, but as you hit late summer, offshore ledges that have wood become more and more of a necessity to attract fish that have abandoned their postspawn schools.
Step 4: Practice
Many guys practice all day before a night tournament. It’s not necessary.
“Practicing during the day is no use at night,” Strader says. “It goes against everything the fish are doing.”
Instead, fish the night – or better yet, several nights – beforehand. Try to locate a good spot to catch a keeper or two before it gets dark, then run-and-gun in practice to figure out where the fish are likely to be when the lights go out. Don’t worry so much about catching fish as much as simply locating them.
Make sure to identify important landmarks after dark too.
“GPS has made it less of a necessity, but figuring out landmarks on shore is still a big deal at night,” Strader says. “You may want to reference a mountaintop or a light on a house to keep yourself oriented and know where to cast.”
Once you figure out which type of point or ledge the fish are using, refine it more. Are they on pieces of wood? On the steep backside of a slow-tapering point? Up on top? Do they want shell beds rather than gravel? Figure out such details so you have a milk run of spots.
Step 5: Execute
Do-or-die time. You’ve put in the practice and preparation. Now it’s a matter of going out and catching the fish. The key is following your game plan.
For Strader, he likes to have a couple of fish in the box before it gets dark to alleviate the pressure. Plus, he figures he can always cull them out if he gets on a good bite after dark.
For Morehead, no fish equals no worries.
“Nighttime is the right time,” Morehead says. “You can get right in a hurry if you find the sweet spot. You just can’t panic, because panicking after dark is even worse than during the day. You need to stick to a game plan instead of trying new things. Trust your pattern, and keep running it. If you put in the preparation, it will pay off.”