If you have tried fishing in the daytime and are beginning to master it, you might be thinking about doing some night fishing. Night fishing is quite different from fishing in the daylight, as I quickly learned the first night I tried it.
I went sea trout fishing on my local river with a fly rod and was unprepared. My flashlight ran out of battery, and I had to rig up in the dark and re-learn my way around the river to fish it at night.
There is a lot that can go wrong when you’re night fishing. Still, by being prepared and following the helpful tips I am going to lay out for you, it can be an advantageous experience, even more so if you manage to catch a species that tends to only feed at night, like seatrout.
Join me as I run through all you need to know about how to be successful when night fishing so your first trip ends up with you catching some fish instead of everything going wrong like mine.
Plan Your Night Fishing Trip
I wouldn’t recommend fishing in a new spot that you haven’t fished in the daylight at night. Knowing the area you are planning to fish in when night fishing is essential.
If fishing in the dark wasn’t hard enough, you have the added task of learning the spot at night, which is nearly impossible.
When fishing from the shore, it is essential to understand where the fish-holding features are, such as a deep pool on a river or a sandbank. These same features are productive during the day and will also be effective at night, so identifying them and knowing where they are is a significant key to your success.
Once you know where the fish are likely to be, you can cast your lure, fly, or bait into the right area at night instead of casting blindly into a fishing area you don’t know.
Have Everything Ready Before You Get To Your Spot
Any tackle setup is an important task you don’t want to do in the dark. Ensure all your fishing gear is checked and ready to go before you go night fishing.
Pre-build your bait rigs, organize your lure boxes, retie your leader knots, and sort out anything else you can see that could go wrong that you won’t want to deal with at night! Things like retying knots, fixing tangles, and finding swivels and hooks, are all a hundred times harder at night!
Set up your rod, reel, and bait/lures beside your car in the daylight before walking to your night fishing spot. Then, when you find your fishing spot, all you need to do is lay out your gear in an organized fashion, add some bait (or not), and make a cast.
Arrive At Your Spot Before It Gets Dark
I always arrive at my night fishing spot about an hour before it gets dark. This gives you a chance to see the lay of the land, notice where any fish activity might be, complete the setup of your gear in daylight, and prepare all the bait.
Also, dusk is always a very productive fishing time, so it is worth having your line in the water in the last hours of the light as chances are you will get off the mark with a good fish pretty quickly.
Headlamps allow you to see what you are doing while keeping your hands feel so you can do fiddly tasks like changing lures or adding baits to hooks. But you don’t want to use any headlamp; you need one with a red-light setting.
Red light doesn’t spook fish that are averse to light and doesn’t remove your night vision either. This means you can turn on your headlamp, re-bait, or change lures and still see what is around you when you turn it off without having to regain your night vision.
Make sure your headlamp is fully charged, and bring a spare if it is a rechargeable headlamp or extra batteries if it runs on AAs or AAAs.
Other light sources for night fishing include glow sticks and a small torch. If you place a glow stick at the tip of your rod, you will be able to see when you have a bite, and it will provide you with good orientation as to where your rod tip is too, which is easy to lose.
If you are bait fishing from the shore, clipping a small torch to your rod stand is a great idea. Make sure the beam is focused and pointing at the ground; this way, it won’t be too bright, but you will be able to see what’s around your fishing spot.
Always Pack For Safety
Night fishing is much less safe than in the daytime; therefore, you need to be even more prepared than usual. It gets much colder at night, accidents can happen easily, and you need to be ready to deal with such things.
Bring suitable cold weather clothing, including warm layers and waterproofs, so you are always warm and dry. I always go night fishing in waders, and with a few jumpers and a waterproof jacket, I am always toasty.
A first aid kit is valuable when night fishing, especially if you have to chop bait and remove hooks, which could end up with a cut hand.
You should always bring a phone or radio to communicate and request help in an emergency. Letting a loved one know exactly where you are going fishing and when you will be back is a must, too, as if you don’t return, they can send the emergency rescue teams to the correct location.
Use The Right Lures
The right lure and bait choice always play a huge part when night fishing, and if you get it wrong, chances are you aren’t going to catch as many fish.
When fishing with lures, it is crucial to consider how much noise they make, water clarity, and general surface noise. Since it is dark, you will want to use a lure that makes a lot of noise and movement, making it easier for fish to find and eat.
If there is no surface noise and the water is clear, then lures like chatterbaits, spinners, and spinnerbaits are very effective. If there is no surface noise, but the water is murky, using top water lures like plugs and poppers is a good idea as these will make considerable noise and splash to attract the fish.
If you are fishing somewhere with a lot of surface noise, like in the surf zone, then trying to contend with the noise on the surface with a top water lure makes no sense. In this scenario, you want to use a visible lure that swims below the surface closer to the predators that want to eat it.
Something like a white or glow-in-the-dark crankbait is a great lure choice when surf fishing!
Pick The Right Bait
Preparing all your bait before you go is a crucial element of night fishing. You should know the species you are targeting and, therefore, what bait to take with you. It’s always advisable to carry a bait bag or cooler box to keep it fresh and also accessible during the night.
If you are bait fishing with live or cut bait, the enticing scent will create an added advantage at night. Predators will seek out prey using their scent senses, so the fresher and juicier the bait is, the better.
When it comes to cut bait, freshly chopped bonito, sardines, mackerel, and squid are excellent as they put out a very recognizable scent into the water.
If you are bait fishing at night in freshwater, then worms are an excellent choice, and live worms are even better as they not only put out a scent but wriggle enough to get a fish’s attention too!
Use Other Light Sources To Your Advantage
If you have ever walked around a lit-up dock at night, you might have noticed that the area around it can be a hive of activity. Lights attract plankton at night, attracting smaller fish, and then eventually, the large predatory species show up in the hope of an easy meal too.
If you are fishing from the shore, look for areas with lights that go into the water, like piers and docks, as these will attract some predators. When fishing from a boat, you may be lucky enough to have a boat with transom lights on it, which, when turned on, will attract a hive of activity.
If you are sea fishing from the shore, you could buy a submersible light and place it in the water to attract fish to your fishing spot.
But some fish are spooked by light. If you are fly fishing for seatrout in a river, for example, any light that hits the water will spook the whole pool of these sensitive fish.
Seatrout are shy creatures, which is why night fishing is more effective than fishing for them in the day, but if you shine a light on them, they are gone instantly and might not feed again for hours.
Be sure to plan your use of light around the species you intend to target!
What Species Can I Catch At Night?
Almost all the species you can catch in the daytime can be caught while night fishing, too, but some species are easier to catch at night than in the day.
What you can catch at night all depends on where in the world you are fishing. In the warmer parts of the US, you can go offshore and catch swordfish, target snook, and tarpon from the shore, along with other species like flounder and striped bass.
When sea fishing in Europe at night, sea bass are a common catch along with pollock, whiting, dogfish, and flounders.
Freshwater targets at night include salmon, seatrout, and carp. Carp are a popular species to target at night, and in the summer months, tench are one of my all-time favorite species to catch at night.
If you are a fly fisherman, fishing for trout at night can be a challenge. Check out my in-depth article to learn more about the best techniques and tips unique to fly fishing.
Thank you for reading my article. I hope you found it helpful and now have all the information you need to go on a successful night fishing trip.
The key is picking a good fishing spot, packing all the essentials, pre-rigging everything you can, and using the right lures or baits for the occasion. If you do all this, you should come back with some great fish!
Please share the article with your fishing buddies who might also want to do some night fishing, and if you are a carp angler, why not check out my in-depth guide on carp fishing at night.
Growing up fly fishing on trout streams in Kenya and the UK, Jamie has traveled the world in search of fly fishing nirvana. From his time managing bonefish lodges in the Bahamas and running fishing safaris in East Africa, all the way to guiding on the flats of Seychelles, there aren't many species or environments he hasn't experienced firsthand.