Nighttime Fishing - Part Two
Sleep or Catch Monster Bass?
By Larry Hemphill
They say the early bird gets the worm. Here's your chance to prove 'em wrong.
Well, here we are for another cozy fireside chat about night fishing. Since our first session, I hope you have had a chance to digest the information I presented. Better yet, I hope some of you lost a little (or a lot) of sleep and tried some night fishing. I did, and I am still trying to calm down after guiding Rick Creamer of Sacramento, CA to a 12-pound 9-ounce brute bass!
In the last article, you may remember I made a strong case for fishing the last hour of light. My client would not argue, since he caught his monster about five minutes after sunset. After photos, this huge specimen was released back into the waters of Clear Lake.
Before talking about locating bass at night and effective lures to use, I would like to discuss my favorite time of the year to night fish for trophy bass. I should add that day fishing is very good during this period as well. But large bass that have successfully fed all summer at night continue their late hour dining habit through the fall and right into winter. As the water cools, fishing picks up everywhere. Fish move shallower and are aggressive again. Fishing pressure and water sports activities are down which means less spooky fish and more bites! While daytime anglers catch some big bass every fall, the pot of gold is still found at night.
The Magic Window
Years of mid-to-late fall night fishing have revealed to me a special "window" which is the most intense feeding period of the year. This magical time may last up to three weeks, or as little as ten days. Big bass are very "in tune" with their environment and can sense a trigger which lets them know that there isn't much time left to "beef up" for winter. We don't read much about understanding the importance of water temperature in the fall. I will attempt to change this.
It seems that when water temperature drops to the 62-degree range, binge feeding is the order of the night. The window I mentioned is the period of days it takes for the water temp to drop from 62 to about 54 degrees. When the temp continues to drop from 54 to 47 degrees, fishing slows as the metabolism rate of the bass slows, but the size of the bass remains constant. If you get bit, it will usually be a big one!
I have learned through the years that the most negative number in bass fishing is 47. I have had many fine day and night trips in 48 and 49-degree water. If the water temp is 47 degrees or below, I'd rather catch up on my sleep! Getting back to the "window", I always hope for a late, prolonged fall. Maybe we could say an "Indian Fall" with mild November days. This condition causes the water temp to drop slowly, giving me nearly a month to fish this eight or nine-degree window. Unfortunately, some years this window is over in less than two weeks.
My biggest turn-on in bass fishing is that occasional monster jig bite that rattles my bones! I may get only one of those every year or two. The night Rick Creamer caught his 12-9, I landed a 9-pound 2-ounce bass that absolutely CRUNCHED a Weapon jig with a six-inch 135 Yamamoto Super Grub. It was the most exhilarating strike I've had in years. I think I set the hook in self-defense! This is the excitement anglers can look forward to in the window - savage strikes from large bass that are feeding like there is no tomorrow. I often have to dig the hook out from the back of their mouths. This is the total cure for finesse fishing!
Cold Water – Full Moon
I promised last time that I would explain why the full moon period is better during the cold water months. If you remember, I prefer the dark of the moon for trophy bass in the summer months. Most serious bass anglers know that bass behavior (metabolism) is regulated by water temperature, and that the colder the water, the slower you need to work your lure to get a bite. Because of this diminished physiological activity, bass need all their senses to feed on cold water nights.
In summer months, I believe bass rely heavily on their lateral line (hearing and vibration sense) to target their prey at night. Their eyes are not a necessary factor in the dark of the moon. Not so in winter. This is the season when bass seem to consistently feed more during a bright moon, which tells me they need their sense of sight more. On cloudy winter nights, I don't do as well. Regardless of how much moonlight is available, one rule is basic when fall, winter, and early spring night fishing: the warmer the air mass, the more fish an angler will catch. If you have a flexible schedule, plan to go during these mild nights. Your fish will probably be bigger, too.
Big Bass Areas
I am often asked where I fish at night for bass. I jokingly respond, "in the water!" If they don't hit me, I will further explain that I fish the same high confidence areas I do in the daytime. Since I don't have time to fish many tournaments, I am always looking for areas with deep-water access that have big bass potential. I search for and fish structure featuring rock or wood. At night I avoid acres of brush, timber, and weeds. Big fish are too hard to isolate. I like to fish compact areas like submerged island tops, underwater rock piles, steep points, deep-water docks, and ledges. Bluffs and rock walls are the exception to the compact rule.
Most anglers fail to realize the big fish potential of many areas because they don't fish them at the right time - the last hour of light and at night. Often I will guide a night trip, sleep two or three hours, and guide a day trip. I will fish the same areas and the night bass will outweigh the day bass by about two pounds. It is amazing! One and a half to three-pound bass during the day, three to five-pound bass at night.
Where Do They Go?
Where are these bigger fish during the day? They are behind us, suspended. Most large bass suspend near offshore underwater structure (rock piles, humps, and ledges), especially after lake levels begin to drop. They may hang out around the 25-foot level and then make horizontal movements to the structure for feeding activity either at twilight or at night. I'm sure that was the situation when my client recently caught his toad. His fish is probably uncatchable after the first hour of daylight, except in the spring.
I can honestly say that locating bass and being in the right place at the right time is more important in night fishing than lure presentation. Timing is everything! When I guide a smaller lake, I will hit a prime area every two hours. I KNOW big bass are around and I want to be there, offering a meal when they decide to eat. Some people are always chasing rainbows, but I'm always chasing moon shadows! I partially time various spots I fish by phases of the moon. I want those spots to be bathed in moon shadows during warm water, bright moon periods. Another thing I do is to find prime areas that retain higher water temperature in the spring and fall, and start there at dusk.
Although it is fun to catch bass of all sizes at night, consistently catching trophy bass requires a good knowledge of substructure. I call this stacked structure. A submerged island top with a rock pile in about twenty feet of water is ideal. A stump next to a ten-foot ledge produced a 10-pound 14-ounce bass for a client last year. I took him to that spot about half an hour after the moon shadow darkened the area.
Is this beginning to make sense? How about a deep-water dock with a break from eight to seventeen feet between two pilings? Add a shadow and WOW! Hold on! Structures like these continually attract big bass as long as they have deep water that is accessible by one flip of their tail. These are five star hotels and these trophy class survivors have earned the right to stay there!
Bulk Up For Bigger Bass
Lure and color selection, so critical in daytime fishing, is really the easiest part of night fishing. In the past few years I have discovered a word which encompasses all the types of baits I have found to be attractive to truly large bass: BULK. Jigs, bulky worms, six, eight, and ten-inch Yamamoto Grubs, fat crankbaits, and spinnerbaits are just about all you need in your ole tacklebox. On very hot nights, noisy black buzzbaits are a kick, and often the best lure an angler can use. So what if you only land one out of four!
Bulk means moving water, creating a disturbance, letting the bass know your bait is around. I am not impressed with a long, skinny, sixteen-inch worm. Give me a thick, six-inch Zipper-type worm with a big curly tail soaked with crawfish scent, and I will give you one or more ten-pound bass in California every year. All of my bass over thirteen pounds have been caught on fat, six and seven-inch ribbed black/chartreuse worms in the dark of the moon. My biggest, a 14-2, was caught in 28 feet of water. Did that fish hear it, see it, or both? Hmmm.
Bulk is why Berkley's ten-inch Power Worm is so popular in big bass states like California and Texas. It has the perfect blend of length, thickness, tail action, and scent. I was fortunate to be the first angler to fish that worm at Clear Lake. In three weeks, clients and I caught eight big bass for sixty-eight pounds. The bass loved them then, and they love them now. The big eight and ten-inch grubs Gary Yamamoto designed at Lake Baccarac are naturals for night fishing. Bulk, length, and great tail action are the right stuff!
Why I Choose Jigs
I have been known my entire career as a jig fisherman. I fish them day and night every month except July and August. A rattlin' jig combined with a five or six-inch Yamamoto single-tail grub trailer is the essence of bulk, sound, and vibration. As I mentioned earlier, bass attack these baits at night. Besides the great number of bites I get, I have utter confidence that a jig fish is as good as in the boat. I lose more fish on worms. My favorite grub colors at night are 135 (smoke w/ silver) for moonlight and 149 (root beer w/ gold) with no moon. I wrote a complete article on jig and grub fishing for the Sept./Oct. 1996 issue of the Inside Line for those readers wanting more help with jigs.
Other Good Choices
I fish some black/red spinnerbaits at night and use a slightly shortened six-inch grub. Now is the time to tell you that Rick Creamer caught that jumbo 12-9 on a white Terminator spinnerbait with a five-inch 135 grub trailer (18-20-135). Spinner baits are obviously a great lure for the first and last hour of light. Wide, noisy crankbaits, usually black, work very well during summer and early fall nights. I work them very slow, bumping into rocks, docks, and other "stuff". The Storm Magnum Wiggle Wart, black with glitter, is my personal favorite. I have caught (and lost) many large bass on crankbaits, including a 12-pound 10-ounce giant on a white 400 series Poe Plug at 12:30 A.M. on a full moon night.
Finally, if you just want to catch a lot of fish at night, a five or six-inch 135 grub on a dart head, or a seven-inch Power Worm will always do the trick. My client’s biggest bass on the basic grub rig is 9-pounds 1-ounce.
Basic Nighttime Choices
The issue of color at night is simple: dark colors, with occasional white only during the full moon. I use black, black/red, and black/chartreuse almost exclusively. Sometimes the contrast is needed to get bites. Junebug and red shad are good worm colors at dusk. The 135 grub as a trailer and by itself is the color bass seem to prefer in moonlight.
I have always maintained that bass fishing is a game of percentages. Everything that has been said in this two-part essay can be boiled down to this: the best chance (highest percentage) for you to catch the trophy bass of your dreams, or your personal best limit, is at night, especially during the first and last hour of light. You have a better shot at fooling a lunker bass in low light conditions, causing one to make a mistake. So, what are you waiting for? Get out there and fool around!