After work, after dark, after bass
After work, after dark, after bass
If you plan your night-fishing trip right, you can even get some sleep after landing that 31-pounder
Do people really leave a perfectly safe slip once the sun sets, venturing out at night, hoping to catch striped bass before tomorrow’s work day dawns bright and traffic-filled?
Yes, they do. Up and down the shore people regularly wet a line under the stars, looking for that trophy striper — that bright, beautiful creature that brings big smiles to the faces of kids and bragging rights to their adult counterparts.
You don’t need the biggest cruiser in the fleet to catch bigger bass after dark. A small-to-moderate rig is fine for this type of fishing. Let’s begin with a short look at the watery world, the one just outside the inlet, river mouth or harbor breakwater. During the day these spots are awash in boats of all kinds, coming and going, not the place one might want to drop a line.
But once the light leaves the sky, especially on weekdays, even busy waters quiet and the nocturnal creature that is the striped bass moves inshore to feed.
That rocky point at the end of the island or just outside the harbor provides lobsters, crabs and other forage that bass need to sustain life. When things quiet down bass of all sizes move into this shoal water looking for a meal. People on the spot are in a position to take advantage of this trait.
It won’t take much checking out fishing sources or columns in newspapers or regional magazines to turn up the name of some of these places. Point X or the rocky bottom along Beach Y holds the forage that brings the predators, and many are a short run from the marina or launch ramp.
One thing you must do before trying your first night trip is check the weather for wind and seas, and the possibility of fog. If you have radar and are competent using it on dark, soupy nights, you’re set. If not, postpone the trip until a clearer evening. You’ll need anchor, chain and a short length of rode to hold bottom, things that should already be aboard.
Try to arrive off the spot about an hour before dark to get the lay of the land and make sure the boat is positioned close enough to the rocks. But don’t get too close so that you’ll bang that $300-plus SS prop. After you’re satisfied with your spot and safety, break out the frozen bait — be it mackerel, bunker or herring — you purchased at the local bait shop or maybe right at the marina. Always buy an extra pack in case fishing exceeds expectations.
Cut the bait into several chunks and bait up a conventional rod with one of the pieces. You might need a small sinker to keep it on the bottom. Lower it down, then put the rod in the holder with the reel in free spool with the clicker on. When a fish takes hold, the clicker will sound off, alerting you to the hit.
Next, get out the spinning rod rigged with 12- to 15-pound line, clip a plastic shad on the end and begin casting it into the shoreline rocks. Use a slow, steady retrieve, just enough to get the tail of the lure moving back and forth, and make sure you wind it all the way back to the boat. Bass will sometimes follow the lure right up to the side of the boat, making a last-minute decision to grab supper before it gets away. If you want smaller bass buy a pack of 3-inch shads; if you want heavier game, rig up with 6-inch shads. Larger bass usually require a larger lure to satisfy their larger appetite.
Other lures will work for the casting part of the game. I suggest plastic shads because they are now sold in packs of five up and down the shore in almost all shops. The hot color of the moment may vary but generally a darker lure works best on dark nights and lighter lure when the moon is bright.
If you have kids with you, the spinning rod/casting keeps them busy while you wait for a fish to take the bait on the bottom. If you have more than enough packages of frozen bait, cut up another fish into smaller pieces and toss those over the side in a moving tide, chumming up fish in the area, hopefully to your hook bait on the bottom. The chum and chunks will also draw blues that might bite through the mono leader. If they are around in numbers you will need to add a wire leader between line and hook, or make a note to buy some the next visit to the tackle store.
Give your spot about an hour, and then move if there isn’t any activity. If your schedule allows, hit two more places, wrapping up the trip around midnight, giving you some sleep even after cleaning the boat and driving home. One of the benefits of the fall is more time after dark to anchor and wait. With the sun going down closer to 7 p.m. than 9 p.m. you gain fishing time, and don’t arrive at work the next day reaching first for the largest coffee you can find.
There are many other variations to landing striped bass after dark but these will get you started. In time you might replace the plastic shads with live eels, casting those into the rocks instead of a lure, but we’ll save Step Two for a later story.
The first 25-pound bass you catch, along with the action when a school moves in, coupled maybe with some blues, will cement you as a night person. I’ll bet a lot of your peers at work have never caught a fish that big, and will further be amazed you landed such a monster on your own, not far from the marina. They’ll be even more in awe when you show up with a picture of the 31-pounder your kid caught two nights prior, on the second cast of the trip. Fill them in, in exciting detail, on how far the trophy ran when your kid set the hook on the light rod. Watch the heads nod and, afterward, don’t be surprised if you get asked for an invite to go next time you head out the river, after work, after dark, after stripers.
Tim Coleman has been fishing New England waters for more than 30 years. He was managing editor of The Fisherman magazine’s New England edition until 2001, and is now a freelance writer based in Rhode Island.