The great summer tactic for big bass
As summertime temperatures soar into the mid-thirties and water temperatures follow suit, a country-wide phenomenon seems to occur – namely a dip in the number of big bass catches. Various reasons are offered for this state of affairs - the enormous amount of food organisms available, the filtered, clear waters in most dams, and perhaps the biggest factor of all, a severe lack of dissolved oxygen in the warm, shallow waters. So how do you catch a 4 or 5 -kilo trophy under the toughest conditions of the year?
American trophy angler Pat Cullen, who has more than 1100 certified bass over 10lbs to his credit, has only one answer to these obstacles, namely fishing at night. “Big bass want the optimal conditions at all times - during hot summer days they’d rather spend their time sulking off in the depths waiting for a misguided fish to swim by than to actively chase prey in the shallows,” he states. But, as he points out, this all changes when the sun goes down.
During his 55 year love affair with bass Cullen has almost exclusively fished at night, and with a PB of 17.7lbs caught in a small farm pond no more than 20 acres in size just after midnight in the middle of summer, it’s foolhardy to argue that bass fishing in the dark isn’t successful.
According to “The Bass Professor” Doug Hannon, there are several reasons why bassing at night as opposed to fishing during the day is productive. During the day, he points out, most angling approaches and practices are imperfect. “The fact is,” he says, “that when there’s activity and a lot of light the fish can see your activity and the errors in your presentation, how crude the lures are and how unnatural the colours are - all of those things come into play when targeting big bass during the day. To be successful during the day you need to get very realistic - lures need a natural action and a natural speed. You need to turn off the depth sounders and instead of holding in position with the trolling motor, you need to anchor and completely blend in so that the fish forget you are there,” he explains.
At night these rules change, he says, “because under the cloak of darkness bass have a lot more security - they don’t feel as threatened and they don’t feel as visible.”
Fish are savvy, Hannon reminds us, so at night the darkness covers up our errors, and makes it easier to fool a bass because it cannot really get a good look at our presentation. “You have to also understand that bass have expectations,” he adds. “When they strike something during they day when they have really good visual ability they want to see it and they want to reinforce its identity. At night however they’re more apt to say ‘well I can’t really see that thing,’ but there’s some activity and they accept it as prey before they convert it into anything natural, and they just strike at action. You also have to realize they don’t see things like colour - the first spectrum to fall away is red and the strongest is blue and anything in between just falls away.
Even on a starry night there is light, but everything in the colour spectrum turns dark due to the lack of light, except for dark profiles like black. Solid hues provide an outline that bass can zone in on and can be fished both on and below the surface. Keep a look out for pockets in weed, and shade created under docks just as you would in the day, except you can fish much shallower without spooking the big girls.”
Quantity versus Quality.
During bass’ mid summer patterns the best fishing for numbers can always be experienced during sunrise and sunset until just after dark. But after sunset during the lull of the feeding frenzy under pitch darkness is when better quality specimens can be caught. Anglers who regularly fish Inanda Dam at night have reported catching fewer bass but with an average of more than 2,5kg and also fish up to 5kg, while their daytime bassing at the same time produces catches of little more than 1,5kg.
Finding the Bass
Considering the pre-programmed behaviour of bass to gorge themselves under lowlight conditions, one of the most important aspects to locating bass is firstly to find shallow feeding flats where they regularly hunt. These will include community holes that produce fish in the day - if there is rock or gravel present so much the better. As night falls the bass will either move up even shallower right up onto the bank or search out the closest deep water transition area. When fishing dams with dense cover work the outside edges because at night aquatic vegetation stops producing oxygen and rather consumes it (a process known as oxygen depletion) causing bass to move to deeper, more oxygen-rich open water.
It’s always been believed that bass fishing at night is best under a full moon, and in part it is true due to the added visibility afforded to anglers, but don’t discredit dark nights during new moon as well. When fishing at night it is more important to be aware of moon rise and moon set as a good indicator of peak fishing times. On a recent night fishing trip The Bass Angler crew discovered just how powerful this factor can be, landing 5 bass and having 8 further bites in a 10 minute period before and after moon set before the bite shut down.
Being prepared is what night fishing is all about and having good lighting is essential. Your eyes might adjust to the surrounding conditions but when you need to tie knots or change baits a small light like a headlamp will save you time and ensure you do it properly the first time.
Gearing up for night fishing
A few preparation details need to be tended to in order for your night fishing experience to be fun and successful.
Firstly – setting up a home base/camp. This is a must, as having a fire and a gazebo or tent set up for a few hours of sleep is important. Being out on the dam in the dark is hard work and you need to stay sharp, and having a couple of energy drinks and some warm food cooked on the fire definitely gives you the ability to fish on just 2 or 3 hours of sleep.
Secondly - preparing the boat. Having all your tackle stored in easy to get to lockers will make life a bit easier - in the dark you do not want to be stumbling around the boat falling onto your rods and potentially wearing a Zara spook or a buzzbait as a new piercing. Having enough casting space is also very important - trying to keep clear of the baits whizzing past your head is hard enough during the day. You need to have some kind of basic lighting on the boat deck to see where you are stepping, and on our trip we found that glowsticks worked very well. Having a good headlamp will help when retying and when landing fish.
Thirdly - being prepared with warm clothing and rain gear. On our night expedition the temperature dropped suddenly as a front pushed through, and it had us all rushing to get long pants and jackets to keep us warm.
To help prevent light from spooking the fish, especially when fishing from a boat, use a headlamp with a UV filter, or opt for using a large glowstick. Glowsticks work well as they provide ambient light which is focused only on the direct area you put it.
When fishing from a boat it is essential to maintain your balance - especially when setting the hook if standing. A few long glowsticks (blue, chartreuse and pink work best) scattered across the deck work very well. This will provide enough light for you to maintain a level footing and see what is going on around you without feeling you’ve been bombed with a flash every time you look down.
Setting up your tackle
At night many things can go wrong at any point during a cast, so prepping all your tackle, especially the reel settings, will go a long way to helping you enjoy the experience.
To set up your baitcasters dial in the centrifugal breaking system all the way up to its maximum for the bait’s weight. Make numerous casts adjusting the spool tension control knob until you could almost cast directly into the wind without throwing an overwind.
You might suffer slightly reduced casting distance, but at night you can fish tighter to the bank from a shorter range, and without having to focus on where the spool begins to slow down, you will be able to see where your bait has landed.
There has always been a theory that at night bass can only be caught on black or dark baits, and although this is a highly effective colour, don’t discredit the ability of bass to zone in on a wide variety of natural hues.
Susccesful Baits for night Bassing
Hard Topwater Baits
Dark Single Colorado Spinnerbaits
Soft And Hollow Bodied Frogs
Jigs With Large Trailers
Big Curly Tail Worms In Dark Colours
Texas Rigged Soft Plastic Jerkbaits
Setting up the boat
Boating is not legally permitted on our larger public venues at night due to provincial regulations, but on private waters it is perfectly acceptable. Unlike many American boats which come fully rigged with lights, here are a few tips to make you boat - big or small - perfect for night fishing.
Limit your tackle
During the day it is easy to experiment with rigs and quickly change rods, but this is a lot more challenging when you can’t see what you are doing. When heading out take only the rods you are going to fish with and keep a few replacement baits handy. The tidier you keep the boat deck the more enjoyable and hassle-free your fishing will be.
Don’t forget the net
When playing a bass off a boat at night it’s difficult to judge what the bass is going to do next or where it will go, especially if you are fishing a topwater and the bass has a mouthful of trebles, so use a net to land your fish safely.
Date: 26 September 2012
Overhead Conditions: Cloudy with thunderstorms approaching
Daytime Temperature: 31?C
Water Temp: 23?C
Water Clarity: Stained
Spawn Phase: Post Spawn
Fishing Session: 18:00 – 06:00
On a 20ha farm dam some 50km from Groblersdal in Mpumalanga, a The Bass Angler field crew consisting of Duncan Murfin, Werner Lubbe, Tyron Mortimer, Andrew Court, Derick Labuschagne and Mike St. Dare challenged themselves to a 12-hour session to experience night fishing first-hand.
Having assembled base camp upon arriving, which included setting up a gazebo tent fully rigged with stretchers in case anyone wanted to take a break during the session, boats were launched and gear quickly prepped for the evening. Having arrived early and not wanting to pressure the bass in the smallish venue, all the anglers converged on a smaller dam to try and gauge how far the bass were into the spawn, and how active the bass would be in the larger dam (both dams are very similar in characteristics and only a few hundred meters apart). Early reports from the smaller dam were that the bass were positioned up shallow along the banks with numerous fish in the 2kg class being landed. A solid pattern emerged by casting floating frogs, dark weightless flukes and small creatures right up onto the bank and dragged into the water.
The team was divided into two groups for the session - Werner, Tyron and Derick fishing from the Crackleback 500 “The Bass Angler”, with Duncan and Andrew fishing from an Explorer inflatable.
With the bass positioned up shallow around hard bottoms Tyron, Werner and Derick were set the assignment to target the rocky dam wall area while the other boat was sent on a reconnaissance mission to investigate the weedier section of the dam, with the main target area being a bay off the main river channel which holds vast amounts of tules, matted pondweed and lilys close to deep water. This is a known prime area in the dam and has produced fish of up to 3,7kg in the late afternoon.
The Bass Angler Boat
From the fish that we caught I noticed a few keys to catching fish in the dark. Firstly – bass can feed just as well in the dark as they do during the day. You don’t have to go crazy with loud rattles and heavily vibrating baits. My most effective presentations were a hollow-bodied frog and a light Texas-rigged creature bait.
The fish keyed into the popping of the frog on the surface and they were able to hit the bait a number of times before engulfing it. With the Texas-rigged creature, casting the bait right up onto the bank was the key - the fish would hit the bait immediately if they were close to where it landed. As the cold front pushed through the fish shut down - and so did some of the crew (myself included), but after a power nap we were up and at it from around 03:30. We caught a few fish just before it started to get light and as the sun rose we managed to catch more fish on Texas-rigged baits. The fish were a bit slow early on and as the pressure changed and the weather stabilized we managed to catch a nice bag. It was a relief to be able to cast to cover that you could actually see! Night fishing is most certainly not easy but it is an experience that we will definitely try again.
Report by Duncan Murfin
With an apparent strong afternoon bite and an impending storm our fishing started off extremely slowly. Heading up toward the main channel bend a few early fish were coaxed into biting with the main tactic being calling bass out from the edges of scattered lilys with a black popping frog, and if missed picked up with Andrew’s favourite stinger, a black 1/16oz Texas rigged fluke.
As the sun dipped below the horizon a second wave of bites occurred, this time off deeper edges. Working a weightless Magnum watermelon fluke on the surface parallel to the outside weed line I latched into a sizeable specimen, but in the low light conditions I was unable to steer the big fish to safety before it had a chance to jump and spit the bait. With the overhead conditions becoming completely overcast and without a breath of air, navigation on the inflatable became extremely easy but the bite had become non-existent. Fishing up and down a stretch of bank of more than 700m without as much as a bite we headed back for a quick dinner and a few refreshments.
The talk around the campfire was that the prime area around the dam wall was consistently producing keeper-sized bass if the spots were worked methodically. Deciding to take a break and work the shallows from the bank Andrew changed tactics to a small Brush Hog fished on a light Texas rig dead-sticked right up against the bank. Around 11:45pm he got freight trained by a 2kg egg-laden female, which he took on the umpteenth cast to a submerged fence line. After this excitement it was decided to catch up on a few hours rest and head out again at moon set. Waking 20 minutes prior to moonset I decided to work a gravel flat with scattered tules in front of the campsite and was quickly rewarded with two keeper-sized fish on a floating frog ripped across the surface with the odd pause in between. In the next 20 minutes I got 8 further bites and landed another good keeper in the 1kg class.
With the sunrise approaching it was time to check out the morning bite.
Targeting the same areas as the previous day the bite was firstly non-existent, but it turned on 25 minutes prior to the fishing session officially being completed at 06:00.
Side Note: Once the sun began to warm up the shallows the bigger fish once again began to move up shallow with the team catching a 5-fish bag in excess of 10,5kg.