Turn Out the Lights

“Watch what happens when we turn out the lights,” Dr. Bori Olla said as he monitored the behavior of bluefish in a 30,000-gallon aquarium. Working a control panel, he caused the sun to set and darkness to permeate the water. The bluefish immediately reduced their swimming speed by 80 percent and the school became much less defined. That is their typical night behavior since blues are primarily daytime sight feeders.

As the sun sets, most fish species adjust for the night. Rod receptors essential for low visibility replace the cone receptors in the eyes of fish. Under typical conditions, some light filters through the water even at night while prey can be silhouetted against the lighter sky. This causes many species to start feeding, while others expend little energy awaiting the coming of dawn. Certain ones move offshore during the night, while others move inshore. For example, swordfish and sharks tend to move shallower while king mackerel seek deeper water.

Successful night fishermen concentrate on their quarry’s senses of smell and hearing plus the strategic benefits of their lateral line. Fresh dead bait usually works better at night than live bait. If you prefer to use artificial lures, those that make a steady noise are easier for fish to home in on than those relying on erratic pops and sporadic movements.

In the northeast, trolling for striped bass at night becomes a ritual for veteran anglers. Favorite spots center on tidal rips, along rocky beaches, and around underwater structure as well as jetties. Large bunker spoons were once the favorite at night, but insiders also troll very large plugs along with plastic eels. It goes without saying that nighttime trolling speed is much slower. Another group of striper enthusiasts fish live eels at night in tide rips, from jetties, or along rocky shorelines.

Striped bass congregate inside the shadow line of bridges where there is a strong current that sweeps forage species toward them. Outgoing tide usually proves more effective than incoming, but the key is a strong flow of water. Most books suggest you fish the uptide side, casting beyond the shadow line and into the light. As the bait or lure comes toward you, the strike should occur.

In southern waters, snook and tarpon as well as other species also use the shadows of a bridge to ambush prey. They also take up residence in inlets and channels where a strong current will drive food to them. Count on the fish lying in the shadows on the upcurrent side of the bridge. If you’re in a boat, the preferred technique is to drift a bait or lure toward the bridge or work it just in front of the shadowline. Live shrimp proves productive in this fishery as well as other live baits or plugs. For those on foot, casting from the bridge beyond the shadowline and retrieving should bring strikes. Some anglers using heavy rods drag a topwater or swimming plug along the bridge with a technique known as bridge trolling. Hooking fish occurs regularly; landing them is another story.

Fishing at night may not appeal to everyone, but tangling with a trophy in the darkness adds a new dimension to doing battle. Pick a pretty evening and give it a try. Who knows? You may decide you like it.


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