The weather’s perfect, the world is at peace and the fish are biting when you’re angling after dark
The summer offers almost endless boating opportunities, not the least of which is fishing for striped bass after dark. This fishing attracts hundreds of Northeast anglers every year, both because of the size of the fish and the timing, which fits their schedule.
While we all like the stories about the gent that sails around the world, many folks hold down 9-to-5 jobs that demand they be at work during the day. Lots of people, though, get away after supper during July and August, getting in a couple hours on the water, yet still time enough to put the boat away and make it home for a decent night’s rest.
During the heat of the summer, bass often bite best at sunset or after dark. They are wired up by Mother Nature to hunt for prey once the day is over, often coming into rocky shorelines or other haunts at night — behavior that fits right in with the boater who is at the office or job during the daylight.
There are many ways to fish after dark. One of the simplest, though, is to anchor in a likely spot, often as the sun is setting. Once the anchor takes hold, use a two-pronged approach by fishing a chunk of cut bait (available in most local tackle shops) with a conventional rod. With a second rod, usually a lighter spinning rod, toss some type of lure into the shoreline rocks or structure.
This type of anchoring/still fishing/casting can be done in a bay or river, out in the ocean or at any of the rocky points that dot Long Island Sound or north. Be wary of the ocean surge, especially on the incoming tide, choosing a night with light winds and calm seas.
This approach is great if you have guests who want to catch a bass, but don’t know much about the sport. The chunk rod on the bottom is usually left in a rod holder with the reel in free spool with the clicker on. When a fish grabs the bait, the reel sounds off. You have but to set the hook and hand the rod to someone who fights the fish to boat. You not only catch stripers this way, but also bluefish and fluke if they are in your area.
If you have kids aboard, don’t let the evening become stale — that’s where the casting rods come in handy. You can have one of them fire away at the shore, but watch for the back cast so they don’t hook anyone. I’ve watched a couple kids on such night trips become a bit bored at first as the sun sets, but once a 28-inch, gleaming striper grabs a plastic shad or other spinning lure, interest in casting rises dramatically.
If your first spot is barren, or if a few bites during the last hour of daylight trail off to nothing, up anchor with another location in mind.
Full-moon nights are great for these trips as your guests can see the beauty of the water at night, marveling at the moon shining on the calm surface as the current pulls past your boat, the quiet of it all interrupted when you hook a fish. The weather during these times is often warm, requiring only a T-shirt or very light jacket.
Anchoring like this also keeps your guests away from rips that could build to uncomfortable heights, sometimes scaring those not used to bouncing around in a boat after dark. And if the weather is on the questionable side, you can often use this idea to anchor in a river, often in the lee of too much breeze, the river often quieting down as the night gets older.
I know a couple of “captains” that greatly enjoy taking people on such trips, often adding to the time and the excitement of hooking bass that might go over 25 pounds by packing a big lunch, passing around drinks, sandwiches or other goodies, to hungry fishermen. I personally would hold off on the beer and other harder drinks. Leave that for another time, maybe the cookout over at your place next weekend. And let’s not forget the drive back from the marina or ramp. Stay safe and save alcohol for later.
Another little trick that can be used to up your catch is to buy some extra frozen bait. Cut it into very small pieces and toss these over the side to chum up fish to your hook baits on the bottom. Sometimes this idea backfires, drawing dogfish, not stripers. If that happens, stop tossing chum and pull up your baits. Often the “dogs” will leave and you can resume fishing for stripers. If they persist, however, you will be forced to seek another location.
The chunk on the bottom can catch the largest bass of the night, while the spinning lures tossed into shore attract the smaller fish. Every once in awhile, though, you’ll get a very nice bass by tossing some type of weighted lure — like a bucktail with plastic twister tail — off to the deeper side. Let it sink to bottom, then begin a slow retrieve back to the boat.
While most of your bass will be smaller than 25 pounds, be ready for a trophy if you should hook one. Let’s not forget the fellow who landed a 75-pound bass while anchored and chunking in New Haven (Conn.) Harbor. Let’s also not forget the 55-pounder caught by a shore angler after dark last summer at Harkness Memorial State Park in Waterford, Conn. That huge fish was prowling the shallows at night. Maybe there will be one like it in your future, anchored up in 10 to 12 feet of water off some rock or other structure that holds the food that draws bass once the lights go out.
Don’t try and stop such a huge fish. Let it run off the line letting the drag of the reel do its job. When it stops, slowly pump the rod up then reel in the line. Repeat the procedure until you get it boatside where you can land it with large landing net or gaff — whatever is legal in your state.
Anchoring up is one of the safest ways for Mr., Mrs. or Ms. Average Angler to enjoy a night on the water. It may come with a little trial and error, but it will reward those that stick with the program. Nothing garners attention at the water cooler in the morning like a picture of a gleaming 38-inch striper caught on your boat the evening before.
This article originally appeared in the New England Home Waters Section of the July 2009 issue.
Tim Coleman died May 3, in Weekapaug, R.I., doing what he loved to do best at that time of year: scouting the salt ponds and outer beaches for spring striped bass. He was an exceptional saltwater angler and a prolific writer. Thousands of readers lost an advocate and authentic storyteller for fishing in the Northeast, and anyone fortunate to have known Tim lost a good friend.