Night fishing can be very easy and a lot of fun - if you prepare for the trip
By Ron Brooks,
Tony's dad dropped us off at the docks. It was about 6:30 PM and the charter boat sailed for a night fishing trip at 7PM. The boat was docked at the old Pier 5 charter boat basin in Miami, and to both Tony's and my surprise we had received parental permission to be on this big boat without adult supervision! I found out years later that his dad and mine had called ahead to the charter captain to make sure he watched out for us. I think they even slipped the captain some extra money when they picked us up after the trip. At any rate, this was my first experience at night fishing, and it would be followed by many more over the next few years.
Night fishing can be very easy and a lot of fun, or it can be a perfectly miserable experience. The difference comes in how you prepare for the trip. I have fished more times at night than I can count, and I learned quite a few tricks to make it easy and successful.
First of all, pick a night when the weather forecast is good. It is tough enough moving and finding things in the dark - bad weather just makes it worse, and a whole lot more dangerous.
Second, make sure your boat and engine are in good working order. Breaking down in the daylight is bad enough; you don't want this to happen at night. Trust this voice of experience on this!
Next, go through your boat inch by inch, making sure everything is in its place and secure. Go through each tackle box you plan to take and locate every item you think you may need. This may sound silly, but you need to study the inside of your boat and your tackle boxes. You need to have a visual knowledge of where everything is located. You will be tested on this during the fishing trip, so study ahead in order to pass! There are not many things as frustrating as trying to locate that pair of pliers, or those 8/0 hooks in the dark.
Speaking of in the dark, make sure you have several light sources. My current boat has indirect lighting all the way around underneath the gunnel's. Have additional flashlights and a good high candle power beam stored dry and safe. Bring extra batteries, too.
Pre-tie enough leaders and terminal rigs to last you the entire trip. They don't go bad, so tying a few too many just means a few more for the next trip.
Probably most important, if you plan to anchor and bottom fish, is to get out before the sun goes down and get set up. Few things are more difficult than anchoring a boat properly over a ledge or reef in the dark.
As far as fishing methods go, I have two that work very well.
Night fishing becomes a matter of either smell or movement. That means fish must sense either wounded prey moving or they must sense the smell of food. So my two methods involve setting out a good chum line, fishing cut or strip bait in the chum, and fishing a live bait either free lined just outside the chum slick or on the bottom.
Fish frenzy brings on fish frenzy, so if you anchored in a known good area, the better the chum slick gets, the more the fish are attracted. Many fish are predominantly night feeders, like some of the snapper family. Others feed because of the frenzy. Whatever their reason for feeding, they are far more cooperative at night. You will find that the larger of the species will more readily bite at night. They become less wary, and can't see line or leader.
In the areas I have fished, yellow tail snapper, grouper, mangrove (or gray) snapper, mutton snapper, and an occasional king mackerel will be the predominant catch. Of course sharks are always looking for a free meal, and at night you are likely to encounter the larger versions of the that species as well.
Take along a first aid kit. I know we all have one on the boat, but double check yours before you go. Sometimes it's hard to tell the seriousness of a cut or puncture at night. Be prepared for anything.
Night fishing is wonderful if you approach it right. It is just a matter of being prepared.
Oh, about that first trip that Tony and I went on. We caught a few nice snapper. The old timers on the stern caught a boatload! Remember, it was a party boat. The stern was already taken by grown-ups, and the current would not let us get our baits into the chum slick directly behind the boat.
I learn something every time I fish. I wonder if that captain would have put us on the stern if he knew ahead of time that he would be in for a good tip......