Taking advantage of the night bite.

By Rich Zaleski

When the summer's heat begins drawing so many water skiers, jet skiers, sailors and pleasure boaters to the lake as to totally preclude the possibility of an enjoyable and productive day on the water, it's time for bass anglers to switch to the night shift. The same lake that's too busy during the day, usually becomes a peaceful place after dark.

And while the activity is winding down above the water, it's invariably gearing up beneath the surface. I always find it best to wait until the night has really taken hold of the lake before I hit the water. In fact, if you've only tried night fishing by extending your daytime trip for an hour or two past dusk, you haven't really experienced the best the night has to offer! I'd much rather launch at 10 or 11, and fish till just before dawn.

The night baits.

I've caught bass on many different lures at night — surface plugs, buzz baits, plastic worms, jerk baits, even crank baits. But most nights, I rarely feel a need to throw anything but a spinnerbait and a jig. In fact, I usually go out with just two rods out on the deck, and rarely open the rod box to get a 3rd option.

The spinnerbait.

I became convinced of the effectiveness of a spinnerbait at night a long, long time ago. In fact, I arrived at the general design of the night spinnerbait that has been most productive for me 20 years or more ago, and it's changed little since then.

  • 3/8 to 5/8 ounce head size. I used to use the 5/8 more, but improvements in tackle sensitivity have lead me to favoring the 3/8 head these days.
  • Single, wide blade for maximum vibration. Colorado is standard. But Pickens or Ultravibe blades actually throb with a sharper, stronger vibration. They're tough to find though, and a good, heavy, smooth finish Colorado is nearly as good. My buddy Doug Hannon says that spinnerbaits produce no vibration underwater. He's wrong, but even if he weren't, it wouldn't lessen the importance of the throbbing feedback the lure sends back up the line to you. Tuning in to that cadence and rhythm is the key to night time spinnerbaiting.
  • Dulled or muted flash. In the old days, I would leave unvarnished copper blades out in the weather for a month to let them oxidize. Then I discovered black nickel finish blades, and pretty much haven't used anything else at night in the past 10 or 12 years. In a pinch, coloring a gold or nickel blade with a permanent, black marker will suffice.
  • Short to medium length top arm. Again, for maximum vibration on a slow, steady retrieve. Plus a higher hookup ratio.
  • "R-bend" frame.The last thing I want in the dark, is my line getting nicked up from being wound into the twist of a closed tying loop when the bait tumbles on the cast.
  • Black skirt, black trailer. Actually, the best "body" might be a thick bush of black bucktail tied on instead of a skirt. But a black skirt with an opaque, black trailer (Lunker City TrailerBait) threaded onto the hook will suffice. The idea is to make a solid silhouette when viewed from below.
  • No trailer hook! I know I'm going against the grain in common angling wisdom here, but I feel that if you use the right bait and work it properly, and the fish rarely strike short. And that trailer's just one more thing to get fouled and cause more hassles in the dark.
Many spinnerbait manufacturers make a bait with the word "night" in its name, and most of them fall into the general description above.The perfect nightbait?I've found night fishing specials from Stanley and Nichols among others, to work well.

The all important, night-time retrieve cadence.

In the daytime, sudden changes in lure speed and/or direction are universally thought of as strike generators. But as far as I'm concerned, they are to be avoided at all costs at night! Slow and steady is the ticket in the dark. The erratic movement patterns that draw aggressive strikes in the daytime, might well be generating similar responses in the dark. But you'll rarely know about it, because the fish so often miss the target when unpredictable movements make it difficult to track. Think about it. Probably the most effective night time surface plug is the Jitterbug. What's the biggest difference between that lure and most other surface baits? The Jitterbug works on a steady retrieve. Poppers, Spooks, chuggers and what-all rely on stop and go or change of direction style retrieve. It may intrigue the bass, but they miss it so often, as to negate its value. In my experience, the same logic applies to sub-surface retrieves.

I generally prefer to work my spinnerbait parallel to the shoreline at night. It allows me to keep it in a more uniform depth of water through most of the retrieve, and precludes casting into the bank from darkness-induced depth perception problems.

I target medium to steep sloping banks, and try to keep the boat in 6 to 12 feet of water, casting ahead of my path and working the lure back somewhere just above the mid-point in the water column. In other words, if the water is ten feet deep, I like to try to keep the lure 3 to 5 feet down. I also look for relatively clean banks. Heavy cover's great in the daytime, but the fish don't need or use it at night. I don't want to get too far away from good daytime haunts but I'll fish the more open areas nearby, rather than work in the midst of a dense weedbed or submerged bramble.

Reel the bait slowly and steadily. Tune your sense of feel to, and concentrate on, the cadence of the blade. When it changes — even slightly — set the hook, hard and fast! I've found that I have the best combination of feel and hooking percentage when spinnerbaiting, using Fireline (8/20 is ideal) and a slow to medium action casting rod. (I prefer an Allstar 786C — the manufacturer calls it a fast action, but to me, it seems soft and slow enough to work well with Fireline)

You'll feel the blade thumping best with a right angle between the line and the rod, but then you've got nowhere to swing to set the hook. The best compromise position for the rod seems to be with the rod tip just below horizontal, and about 30 degrees to the side from being pointed at the lure. That allows enough of the rod to come into play to feel the vibration, yet still allows most of the hook setting arc to be translated into hook setting force.

The jig.

When I come to a well defined point or drop-off, I'll run the standard spinnerbait over and adjacent to it a time or two, then pick up the jig, to give it a more thorough look. If you're going to use a jig a night, rattles are a great idea, and if you're going to use a jig with rattles, you might as well use one with rattles that really work. The only jig I'll throw at night anymore, is a ½ ounce, black Rippler Rattle Leg jig. You won't believe the difference between its noise output (in both intensity and frequency) and that of any other so-called rattling jig you might be using. I'm not exaggerating when I say that if you're using a different jig and try the Rippler, you'll realize that you only thought you were using a rattling jig till now!

I dress the jig with an opaque black plastic trailer. Your favorite plastic craw will do, but I like the 4" Piggy Back. It has a lot of bulk to increase the target size, and to slow the fall of that ½ ounce jig.

Scrape and shake-down.

This is not target fishing! You're actually using the jig to cover an area of bottom. I fish the jig on 17 pound mono, on the most sensitive, heavy action, two handed casting rod I can find, which is an Allstar TC787, and alternate between a 'bottom scraping' retrieve in which I try to make the jig tumble over every pebble and mussel shell it runs into, and what I call the 'shake-down' retrieve. The 'shake-down' involves lifting/swimming the jig with a slow, steady, 3 foot sweep of the rod, then jiggling the rod tip as it sinks back to bottom. On a quiet night, you'll actually hear the rattles in that Rippler jig working 10 feet down as you shake the jig on the sink!

Eighty percent of the time, the spinnerbait catches most (often all) of the fish, and is usually so reliable that I sometimes don't reach for the jig unless a particular spot really begs to be jigged. But there are nights when the number or size of fish that the jig produces make it quickly transform itself into a first option.

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