There’s no better time to target trout, bass and tuna this month than after the sun has melted into the western horizon.
You wouldn’t think country music star Mark Chestnutt and 1980s rap group Whodini would have anything in common.OK, maybe they don’t have anything in common, but they both have hits that shed a little light on how to combat a tough summer fishing bite.
Chestnutt tried to get us to recognize that it’s too hot to fish during the summer. Nowhere is that more true than in Louisiana. If they aren’t caught by 10 in the morning, it’s usually cold ones and air conditioner for all.
The funny thing is that most of these anglers aren’t retiring to more comfortable surroundings because the fish stopped biting. They’re retiring because they just can’t stand the heat.
And what were Whodini’s famous words of wisdom? If I remember my prom night correctly, they had something to do with freaks coming out at night.
Of course, Whodini probably wasn’t thinking about fishing when they sang those lyrics, but they definitely apply to summertime fishing — the freaks do come out at night.
I used to think that most anybody who fished at night was a freak. I was always of the opinion that I had better things to do at night than swat mosquitoes and hope I got a bite or two.
Now, after a little nighttime tutoring from some of my friends, I realize I was right. These night-fishing fans are freaks. Oh, they aren’t the creature-of-the-night, shake-your-money-maker kind of freak that you might expect to see after hours on Bourbon Street. Rather, they are night-fishing freaks in the sense that they are downright fanatical about it.
Once I was indoctrinated to the night-fishing fraternity, I quickly realized that there’s a different kind of freak that comes out at night other than the fanatical fishermen. These freaks are freaks in the true sense of the word. They lurk in the back-alley shadows just waiting to pounce. Once engaged, they are big bullies that are in your face, and they just love to fight.
These freaks are the fish that come out to play at night. Like a jungle predator, they lay low during the day, and they come out to feed at night. Most look like they’ve been pumped full of steroids, and all have a mean disposition.
There are lots of fish in Louisiana that can be caught at night, but when it comes to a popularity contest, none can top the speckled trout and the largemouth bass. They are both readily available during the day, but it just gets too darn hot to stay on the water after 10 a.m. or so.
And we can’t forget the tuna. Savvy offshore anglers know there’s a strong nighttime tuna bite during the summer.
Night fishing for all three is a great way to beat the summer heat and hook up with a few freaks of your own.
Capt. Greg Schlumbrecht has fished Lake Pontchartrain after dark many times in the past. A lot of the reason he fished at night was washed away in the storm, though. All the docks and piers that used to line the lake and attract hoardes of trout with their lights are no longer there. Even so, the lessons that Schlumbrecht learned fishing specks after dark can help anglers no matter where they fish.
“It’s a no-brainer that the biggest advantage to night fishing is that it’s a heck of a lot cooler,” he said. “Of course that wouldn’t mean much if the fish weren’t biting. Lucky for us, there’s a lot of willing trout at night. And, to make it even better, they don’t get a lot of pressure after dark.”
Schlumbrecht said he actually considers night fishing to begin at dusk. A late-evening launch gives him a little advantage in that the fish go into a bit of a feeding frenzy just before dark like they do first thing in the morning. It also allows him to gradually adjust to his surroundings as the sun dips below the horizon.
“Trout are going to concentrate around some kind of light source at night,” Schlumbrecht said. “It could be the lights under a bridge or camp, or it could be a flare off a rig. I’ve found the flares to be the best form of attractor.”
Schlumbrecht’s theory about why the flares are such phenomenal night-fishing spots makes a lot of sense. He said they are best because the flames produce a brighter light, that they aren’t just a light bulb hanging over the water.
“My theory is that any light is going to attract bugs,” he surmised. “The bugs are eventually going to hit the light and fall into the water, where they will attract baitfish. In the case of the flares, there are a lot more bugs dying and falling into the water.
“That means those areas are going to attract more baitfish, which means they’ll also attract more trout. Shrimp are also attracted to light at night. Can you imagine how many shrimp come to those flares at night?”
One of the facts of saltwater fishing is that water movement trumps most any other fishing variable. Put simply, if the water isn’t moving, your chances of catching fish go way down — even if you are fishing a lighted area. The ideal situation would be finding some water moving under the lights.
“One of the things I’ve discovered over the years is that a light that stays on constantly produces a lot better than one that comes on one night and is off the next,” Schlumbrecht said. “Another key to consistent night fishing is finding a light that is close to deep water.”
A perfect example of a consistently productive lighted area is the eight-mile hump on the Causeway. This area is constantly well lit at night, and it has the deeper ship channel directly under the hump.
Whether you’re fishing a small light under a camp or the eight-mile hump, Schlumbrecht said knowing how to approach the lighted area is key to catching trout.
“You can usually see fish in the water around the lights,” he said. “One thing you don’t want to do is run in there and immediately start fishing directly under the light. Start off on the shadows around the outside rim of the light where it fades to dark. A lot of fish will sit in that shadow, and they’ll run in to get something to eat then dart right back. Starting at the edge of the light and working your way in allows you to maximize the fish you can catch off one spot.”
Schlumbrecht thinks one thing that helps him catch specks at night is switching to smaller and lighter baits. He typically employs 1/8 to 1/4-ounce jigheads and small jerkbaits and topwaters.
“I normally use the same plastics I use during the day,” he said. “I like a blue moon Dudley any time I go, but I like the lighter weight at night. I also use little 2-inch Lucky Craft Pointers. Most any kind of small jerkbait like a Berkley Frenzy will work well. And going from a Zara Spook to a Spook Jr. can make all the difference in the world.”
Schlumbrecht said he likes smaller baits because most everything the trout are eating at night is small. Anything that looks like a little 2- or 3-inch minnow is likely to catch specks at night.
The same advantages of fishing speckled trout at night also apply to bass. Evinrude pro staffer Sid Havard of Simsboro almost repeated verbatim what Schlumbrecht said.
“It’s a lot more pleasant at night,” he said, “and you don’t have to worry about getting a sunburn.
“The neat thing about night fishing for bass is that, if you stay long enough, you’re going to catch some fish. And as a general rule, you can catch bigger fish at night.”
Havard learned a decade ago that it’s best to get to the lake well after dark. He’s found that there is often a lull from right after dark until about 10 or 11 p.m. He reasoned that this two- to three-hour wait gives the shallow water plenty of time to cool off enough to attract bait and bass.
“Everything migrates to the shallows at night,” he said. “It begins with the minnows and bream with the bass bringing up the rear.
“The largest bass are kind of funny about it, though. I don’t think they stay up there shallow all night long. I think they get in there, get something to eat, and get right back out. That’s why the most productive night holes are those that are nearest to deep water.”
Havard has found that the best nighttime cover for the really big bass tends to be isolated wood cover. He suggested looking for big laying logs or big stumps. An ideal situation would be a big stump with another big stump some 20 yards away with a laying log in between.
“It takes a good piece of cover to hide a big bass,” he said. “They’ll position on a stump based on the moon. More often than not, that bass will be hiding out on the shadow side in the darkest spot, where he can come out and eat whatever swims by.”
Havard said fishing lights for bass at night is an excellent way to introduce somebody to night fishing, and it can produce a few big bass or two, but he insisted that the best night areas for bass are those that are almost completely dark.
“A big bass is going to feel more secure in the darkest areas,” he concluded. “Think about a blue heron out there looking for something to eat. It’s hard for him to pick a fish up in a completely dark area. Not that a blue heron is looking to eat a 10-pounder, but you can see that fish in general are going to feel safer in the dark areas. And a big bass didn’t get that way by being stupid.”
Havard considers spinnerbaits and big Texas-rigged worms to be the two most productive nighttime bass lures. His color choice is always black.
“I’ve read that black works best at night because it silhouettes better against the night sky,” he said. “I’ve never gone underwater to see if that’s accurate, but I’m inclined to believe that it is because I’ve caught more and bigger fish on black lures at night than any other colors combined.”
One of Havard’s keys to catching fish on his favorite lure, a big Colorado-bladed spinnerbait, is to fish it erratically. Try speeding it up and slowing it down. Pull it with your rod tip a little bit, then let it flutter down. Anything that makes a spinnerbait look like an easy meal is better than a straight pull on most nights.
Capt. David Harrelson knows that tuna like cooler water. That’s why they stay down deep during the day.
But once the water cools at night and the flying fish start getting active, the tuna come up to feed.
“Tuna are a unique deal because there’s no pattern to when they’ll show up at night,” Harrelson said. “It could be right at dark, at midnight or at 4 a.m. You’ve got to spend the night out there. If you’re there when they turn on, you’ll catch them.”
Harrelson spends most of his time during the night at the Green Canyon and at Mississippi Canyon. Most of the fish in these areas tend to be school tuna, but every once in a while his boat will bring in a 100- to 125-pounder.
“We’ll chum and drift live hardtails for them,” Harrelson said. “You can also use poppers or diamond jigs. Sometimes you’ll start with one and wind up having to switch to something else. If none of that works, we’ll start free floating the lines with the chum and cut up meat.”
Harrelson said anglers looking to book a nighttime tuna trip should try to avoid the full moon and up to about three days after it.
“Try to come on a new moon,” he said. “It’s absolutely best when it’s pitch black dark out there.”
So if you’re tired of sweltering in the summer sun, give night fishing a try this month. You’ll likely find yourself becoming a night-fishing freak like I did.
Just remember, they may not all be giants, but there’s no better time to find a freak.