By M.L. Anderson
In central Arizona where Yamamoto Pro Tai Au lives, daytime temperatures in the summer regularly soar into the low teens and occasionally foray into the low 120’s. By mid-morning water temperatures climb above 80 degrees. Of course it’s possible to catch bass under these conditions, but in addition to the sweltering heat during the day, you have to deal with hordes of pleasure boaters, water skiers, and jet skis. The solution is to fish at night. The bonus is that nighttime is a great time to catch a really big fish.
SAFETY AT NIGHT
Tai puts safety in first place at night. “You absolutely must have a spotlight at night,” says Au, “but Arizona law says you can’t drive with it constantly on. What I do is barely get the boat on plane, take it slow, and use that spotlight intermittently to make sure where I am.” Knowing what marker buoys mean is crucial — the buoys with vertical stripes mean “don’t go between here and shore”. A diamond on a buoy is marking a hazard like a submerged rock, a square contains information, while a circle is a control buoy such as no ski or no wake. A diamond with a cross in it means keep out. By law you must keep your navigation lights on from sunset to sunrise. If you’re nervous about driving the boat at night you can put in and stay near the ramp, just using the trolling motor and staying near shore. Ramps are usually lit, so you won’t be in total darkness, and you’ll still get the benefits of night fishing until you feel more comfortable on the water at night.
When Tai is under way at night, he relies heavily on his big Lowrance unit. “At night I keep almost the whole screen on chart,” he says, “with just a small area showing me the bottom. I don’t even use side finder at night. That large chart makes it a lot easier to stay away from hazards, plus if you keep your eye on the chart you won’t get lost.”
WHERE TO FISH
Any area near deep water is a good place to fish at night. This can mean main points, secondary points, humps out away from shore, even the sides of coves near big channels. Tai says he has the most success on main lake areas like humps and points. Marinas are also great places to fish, especially on nights with little or no moon. Marinas are usually lit, and those lights attract insects which attract baitfish. Marinas aren’t the only places with light at night — Tai also fishes near ramps and around bridges and any other structures with light.
Although he likes to fish around lights, he doesn’t use any on his boat while he’s fishing — no black lights, no fluorescent line, no floating lights — nothing but the required nav lights. He feels that black lights and such are unnatural. The moon doesn’t affect his fishing much, he says, other than influencing the colors he chooses. He would prefer three days or so before or after a full moon rather than on the full moon itself. For some reason, he says, he doesn’t have a whole lot of success on full moon nights.
COLORS AND BAITS AT NIGHT
Dark is the key at night when it comes to colors. Since there isn’t a lot of light down in the water, what you’re doing is presenting a silhouette to the fish. So black, black and red, black and blue, dark reds, June bug, dark greens and browns are ideal for night fishing.
Tai says his favorite thing at night is fishing reaction baits: black buzzbaits, dark crankbaits, Rat-L-Traps, and Chatterbaits all produce fish at night. He uses bigger lures at night and lures with a wider wobble or more vibration. With buzzbaits, he always chooses a dark bait with two blades, and he always puts a black and blue Yama-Frog trailer on it to slow it down and give it more bulk. He fishes all baits as slowly as he can at night, even reaction baits, because he wants to give the fish plenty of opportunity to chase it down. He believes the strike zone is smaller at night and wants to keep his baits in the zone as long as possible.
Plastics are proven producers at night as well. Texas rigs, Hula Grubs on football head jigs, even shaky heads and drop shot rigs produce at night. “I absolutely love fishing a Texas-rigged 8-inch Kut Tail or a Texas-rigged 5-inch Flappin Hog at night too,” says Tai. Bigger lures mean more water displacement and more opportunity for the fish to find the bait. He casts the baits as close to shore as he can, with the boat in about twenty five feet of water. When the bait first hits bottom, he shakes it hard to make some noise, then drags it very slowly. Some guys use a bead between the lure and the bullet weight so it makes even more noise. If he is fishing a drop shot, he decreases the leader to just three to six inches – the fish aren’t chasing shad, he says, they’re looking for crawfish near the bottom, so that’s where you should keep your plastics.
Since he doesn’t use lights or fluorescent line, Tai has become a line feeler instead of a line watcher. He keeps his finger on the line at all times so he can feel the bites — sometimes the lure just goes weightless, but either way you can feel it. Although he says he’s usually not a big scent guy, at night he’s diligent about it — his favorites are Garlic Bang, Mega Strike, and Smelly Jelly, and he’ll soak his plastics in bags with scent.
Even at night, very warm water is hard on fish. They may just be making short forays to shallow water for food, and if you put them in a hot livewell they can get very stressed. Tai freezes water bottles and keeps a frozen one in the livewell, replacing it when necessary. He also keeps the recirculation on at all times. He buys a block of ice as well as a bag of cubes — the block will help the cubes stay frozen so you can surround your frozen bottles with cubes and they last longer. You don’t want to do much more than lower the water temperature about five degrees or so, he says, or you’ll shock them, but making the water a bit cooler and keeping the air going through all the time really helps. He says you also need to learn to fizz fish — sometimes it is necessary because if the fish has just come up, it might not yet be fully acclimated. Also, if a fish is alive but floating upside down, use a fin weight to keep him upright or he’ll suffocate.
MORE NIGHT FISHING TIPS
1. Nav lights attract insects, and if you’re the non-boater, it can get brutal back there by the white light. Be sure to use insect repellent, but be vigilant to keep it off your baits – it can repel fish, too.
2. Drink lots of water. Just because the sun isn’t out doesn’t mean you can’t get dehydrated.
3. WEAR YOUR LIFE JACKET. If the vest feels too hot, invest in the suspender type that inflates in the water.
4. Bring a jump-start power pak along at night — constant use of the trolling motor, nav lights, graph, livewells, and spotlight can drain your batteries.
5. A light that fixes to the brim of your cap or straps onto your head really comes in handy when you have to re-tie at night, and a red light won’t affect your night vision like a white light will.
6. Organize your tackle before you go.
7. Keep an airhorn in your boat. You would be amazed at the way people drive boats at night sometimes, and if they don’t seem to be noticing your lights, give a toot on the horn to let them know they’re headed your way.
8. If you wear loose, cotton, long-sleeved shirts you will actually feel cooler if there is a nice breeze.
9. Summer storms can come up quickly at night, and you may not notice that there are clouds. A NOAA radio is good to keep onboard to warn you if a storm is headed your way. Lightning and high winds are no fun at night on the water. You can also download an app to your smartphone that will warn you of severe weather. NOAA makes one, but there are several others as well. Just remember to keep the sound on and make sure you have notifications enabled.
10. It’s easy to lose your balance at night – a wake or a wave you can’t see coming could rock the boat, so when you’re unbuttoning a fish, kneel down or get in a stable position so you don’t risk falling overboard.
11. Don’t leave things out on the deck that you could trip over.
12. Be quiet. Things are just naturally more quiet at night, and if you make a lot of noise you’ll stand out.
13. Like Tai, take it easy at night. There’s no need to run full out in the dark. So take it easy — drive slow, fish slow.