Night Bass Fishing

Night Stalking Bass

Joe Haubenreich With Big Night Secret Weapon Smallmouth
Joe got this big smallmouth at night on a Secret Weapon spinnerbait. 2006 - Joe Haubenreich licensed to

"What goes on when the sun goes down…"
The lyrics of Ronnie Milsap's old refrain spill out of a lower Broadway honky-tonk and onto the sidewalk, tantalizing early arrivals with a taste of Nashville Night Life. By the time lengthening shadows envelope the city, thousands of visitors and homefolk will converge on Second Avenue to fill the booths and barstools, hungry for chow, diversion and companionship. Nashville's entertainment corridor thrives in the dark.

Just a few minutes drive from the heart of downtown Nashville, the sun also sets on Old Hickory and J. Percy Priest lakes, and anglers are gearing up for their own brand of excitement, for the tempo of life beneath the surface picks up a couple of beats after sunset, too.

By day, anglers on these urban reservoirs are plagued by the incessant whine of jet skis and the wakes of passing pleasure boats. Heavily pressured bass are spooky and often take refuge where they're difficult to find. But when the sun goes down, tranquility descends on the lake. Anglers fish for hours without seeing or hearing a single jet ski. They might spy a dozen or two other bassboats during their hours of fishing, but rarely will they pull in to a honey hole to find someone else already there. The bass they find are frequently up shallow along bluffs, on shallow humps and feeding flats, and anglers are usually able to approach within flippin' distance without spooking them. To get the most out of your nighttime fishing, give thought to equipment and alter a few of the usual practices that you follow during the day.

One key to successful night fishing is to simplify your gear. Moving around a cluttered boat deck in darkness is a bad idea. Pare down your collection to just a few lures that you intend to use. Put them in a small tackle box that you can keep on the deck, dock, or bank. Decide which two or three rods you're most likely to use, and lay them over to one side, out of the way. Slip a recycled snuff can with worm rattles, hooks, weights, beads -- everything you'll need to retie soft plastics - into your jeans pocket. Make sure you have fresh batteries for your flashlight. Take a few extra safety precautions, and you're ready to launch.

Night Fishing Baits

In dim light, bass are unable to detect colors. Red, orange, yellow, and chartreuse all become shades of gray after dark. As twilight fades, blue is the last discernible color. Even though bass detect the presence of prey in their vicinity by vibrations and noise and use that to search for food, they are predominantly sight hunters. The lack of color doesn't seem to hinder night-stalking bass; they are much better equipped than humans at detecting shapes and movement. For that reason, select baits that help bass see the baits most clearly at night. For dark nights and shady areas, that means black or dark patterns that produce maximum contrast against the clay bottom or against a starlight surface. Carry some metallic (gold, nickel, and chrome) baits that can reflect the glints of dock lights and a full moon.

Here are the baits that you'll find in my night-fishing arsenal, from top of the water column to the bottom:

  • 5/16-oz. Black Secret Weapon Buzzrbait, with a black plastic trailer rigged with a weedless stinger hook.
  • Black Jitterbug
  • Black Hula Popper
  • Black Tiny Torpedo
  • 1/2-oz. Midnight Snack Secret Weapon spinnerbait with black/blue tipped skirt and a black #5 or #6 Colorado blade, tipped with a dark pork or plastic trailer for dark-of-the-moon nights or in the shadows. An alternate gold Colorado blade can be clipped on for fishing around docks.
  • On moonlit nights and around dock or parking lot lights, 1/2-oz. Moonlight Snack Secret Weapon spinnerbait with purple/blue flake skirt and either a black or nickel Colorado blade attachment.
  • Bandit Series 100 crankbait that runs 2-6 feet deep. On cloudy or new-moon nights, as the bait runs overhead, the black profile is easier for upward-looking bass to spot than other colors against the starlight sky. Around dock lights and under the full moon, switch to the Chrome/Black Back pattern.
  • Black 7-inch Berkley Power Worms, Texas-rigged or on a TitleSHot jig head.
  • Black 4-inch tubes, T-rigged or on a TitleSHot jig head.
  • Black lizard or other creature bait Carolina-rigged
  • 3/8-oz. to 3/4-oz. black & blue jig with rattles, tipped with either a black plastic grub or a purple pork frog or eel.

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Night Fishing Tips & Techniques

  • Color Considerations -- Darker color baits create more contrast against the night sky and are easier for upward-looking bass to spot. Blue is the last color to disappear as light fades with twilight or depth. For that reason, if you want to add color to black baits for night fishing, make it blue. When fishing around lights (or under a bright full moon), there may be enough light for other colors to be visible to fish. On clear impoundments like Center Hill and Dale Hollow, especially around dock lights and under a full moon, white and pink spinnerbaits are favorite colors at night. When there is some light penetrating to the bottom, some anglers tie on white jigs or worms. Against the dark rocks or mud, white baits create more contrast and may be easier to spot.
  • Reduce clutter -- Place no more than three rods on the deck in addition to the one you're using, and keep them over to the side of the deck to avoid stepping on them in the dark. Less clutter is better. Keep the deck clear of nets, lures, blacklight cord, rods, jackets, etc.
  • Handy storage -- Use plastic snuff cans as pocket-size tackle boxes, too. In one, store a few worm rattles, glass beads, hooks, and a couple of toothpicks for pegging sinkers. Keep an assortment of sinkers in another.
  • Tools -- Keep hook sharpener, line clippers, knife/scissors, and mini flashlight on lanyards attached to your belt or around your neck so you won't be fumbling around for them when you need them.
  • Lamp-lit Water -- Don't pass up lamp-lit areas around docks, parking lots, parks, etc. at night, because the entire food chain migrates to those areas. As with low-angle sunlight conditions, position your boat to cast toward the light. Bass are looking toward the light and can (possibly) more clearly discern approaching prey silhouetted against it.
  • Retrieves -- Slow and steady does it. Crankbaits and spinnerbaits moving along at a moderate, steady decrease your chances of a missed strike. Fish are able to better home in on the source of the vibration or sound if you keep the retrieve at a slow, steady pace.
  • Sound -- Insert rattles in soft plastics. If your jigs and spinnerbaits don't already have them, buy some clip-on or glue-on rattles and apply them. (I've heard Doug Hannon say they don't really add much sound to spinnerbaits, but I can't see how they could hurt, as long as they are positioned on the hook shank where they won't interfere with hook-ups. Thread a glass bead between your bullet weight and hook. If you use a hook where you can leave the eye exposed, the weight, bead, and metal eye will add a click every time you pick up or twitch the bait. Nighttime is a good time to use brass 'n' glass if you're Carolina rigging, too. Fish sense the presence of nearby prey by vibration and sound. Use of rattles or other sound-emitters will help bass locate your bait. Bass swim toward the source, guided by the sensations they detect with their lateral lines and ears. When they get close enough to spot a moving shape in the water, then they attack in visual mode.
  • Knots -- Learn to tie a Palomar knot with your eyes closed. There are other knots with higher break points, but none is easier to tie and more fool-proof than the Palomar.
  • Fishing Glue -- Use a drop of cyanoacrylate (e.g., Superglue) on the eye of your hook before sliding the head of soft plastic baits up to keep them in place. It's easy to overlook a twisted or slipped lure in the dark. Hold your Texas-rigged worm up against the lighter sky between casts to verify that it is still hanging straight.
  • Keep quiet. Talking and laughter pose no problem, as those sounds don't transmit from the air to the water very readily. But avoid dropping items, dropping locker lids, or otherwise banging around in the boat or dock. Avoid bumping your boat into rocks and logs in the water. Walk softly along the shore when bank-fishing.
  • Avoid insect repellents if possible. But if the mosquitoes are about to drive you off the lake and you decide to spray yourself down, be sure not to transfer DEET to your lures [and don't spray it upwind of your GPS or sonar, as some of them have ingredients in the formulation that will melt the screen]. It is a proven fish repellent, too. Don't rub your hands on your neck and then handle plastic baits, for example, if you sprayed yourself down a few hours earlier. Instead, try smoking a cigar to deter the flying pests. In Tennessee, bugs usually swarm for an hour or so after sunset and again before dawn. In the middle of the night, they're not bad at all.

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Let there be light

A head lamp or small LED lamp that clips to your hat brim is great for hands-free use. Don't shine flashlight or spotlight beams at the water surface where you intend to fish.

Check with your state's boating laws. Between sunset and sunrise, boats are required to keep bow lights (red/green) on when moving and the all-round stern light at all times, even when anchored. For current Tennessee boating regulations on lighting, see

You're much more likely to be approached by law enforcement at night for lighting infractions than for any other navigation rule or a license/title/livewell check.

Be extra vigilant when running at night. Don't outrun your field of view; that is, be sure you can react to an emergency and stop within the area you can clearly see. Carry a spotlight to check your path, and watch out for other anglers sitting on points or on the channel with no lights showing.

I've been using UV lights, usually called blacklights, for night fishing going on 20 years now, and they make a tremendous difference in both my casting accuracy and strike detection at night. In general, blacklights serve to make "fluorescent" mono and "superlines" like PowerPro glow like purple or chartreuse Jedi light sabers. Line watching is especially important for fishing slow-moving baits like worms, tubes, and craws at night, especially when fish are not striking aggressively. The highly visible line makes it easy to detect the tell-tale twitch of a subtle strike.

In theory, fluorescent light will light up a line fifty feet and more away from the boat, but it penetrates water only a few inches. This means that it is invisible to fish a foot or more under the surface and that line underwater doesn't glow. I'll admit I haven't checked out this theory by swimming around my boat under water at night, but I guess I should.

I use blacklights for fishing along banks and around exposed cover. When I'm off the bank and fishing shelves or humps, ridges, shelves and drop-offs, though, I sometimes turn the lights off and fish by feel or by watching the moonlight or anchor light glint off my line. More than one really fine smallmouth angler has declared to me that any boat light -- even blacklights -- will spook smallmouth at night.

The best lights I ever used are ones my partner and I made ourselves years back, but these days I use a "Piggy-Back" lamp by Zorro Baits. It comes with a standard cord and 12 volt plug and costs about $80. The piggy-back model has a blue fluorescent bulb and a small incandescent white light bulb. The amount of white light can be controlled with a built in rheostat, while the UV lamp is on or off.

There are plenty of other UV lamps on the market, starting with the plastic ones like the BlackEye FL-222B that you can pick up at Wal-Mart for as little as $25. Most of them use the same type of bulb, which is the most important part of the whole apparatus.

Some lamps also include a white fluorescent bulb, which is fine for docking or when you stop fishing and want to light up your work area, but it produces too much light for use while fishing. One nice feature of the Zorro light is the flip-top cover that swings over the top. Usually, it shields the boat, but if you want light inside, you just swing the shield over and then the light shines where you need it.

I already have my next UV light picked out. It will be the Nucli-Eye Extreme UV LED Fishing Black Light. Three times brighter than conventional blacklights, it draws only 1/5th the power and casts a wider beam of light, plus it's much smaller and lighter. It has one row of UV LEDs to illuminate your florescent line and another row of blue LED lights to light the bank. You can switch between the UV only, the blue light only, or a 50/50 mix of both. There are no bulbs or lenses to break and the unit is fully waterproof and built to take abuse. The LEDs should last for about 20,000 hours of use. The price on the Nucli-Eye is about $250, but its little brother, with only the UV LEDs, is a hundred dollars less.

The UV light is primarily used to illuminate your line, although when used alone it provides a little definition to bank structure and foliage. As my eyes age, I find myself needing to add a bit of extra light to be able to see the overhanging tree branches, dock pilings, buckbrush, and laydowns clearly. Zorro's white bulb on a rheostat is a good option for people in the same boat, but my advice is to avoid the white light as much as possible. On clear, rocky banks switch it off entirely.

For power, you have three options: (1) cord with 12-volt plug, (2) phono-jack plug, and (3) cordless, battery powered models. I prefer the corded models for use on my jonboat so I can move a single lamp from starboard to bow to port -- wherever I need light. On fiberglass bass boats, I'd probably go with the phono-jack connections, and I'd install four outlets -- starboard-bow, starboard-stern, port-bow, and port-stern. Then, with two lamps, my partner and I could just pop the lamp up and move it to whichever side we're fishing from.

If you opt for the phono-jack plugs, be sure and get an extra plastic insert or two to plug the jack when the light is removed. These jacks face skyward and collect water when left uncapped. Plugging the outlet keeps water from filling the jack and will prevent corrosion.

Most lamps have two or three big suction cups on the bottom that secure the lamps on wide, smooth fiberglass gunnels while also providing some shock absorption to protect the bulbs. For a jonboat with narrow gunnels, you may need to attach a flat piece of Plexiglas or an aluminum mount. Or do what I do -- just suction-mount it on top of your tackle box and position it so the light is cast over the gunnels.

Once you've fished at night with black lights, you'll not want to venture out after dark without one or two on your boat.

When to venture out

Some anglers consult Solunar tables to determine peak feeding activity times. Others go whenever they can work a few hours on the water around their work, family, and sleep schedules. According to my fishing log, there are generally two peaks of feeding activity each night, around 10 P.M. and then again about 1 A.M. That's not to say fishing any other period is a non-productive; you can expect to catch fish on any cast throughout the night.

The most comfortable months of the year in our area for night fishing are between April and September. Percy Priest has produced the biggest bass for me each year in March. But if the weather cooperates and you dress appropriately, night fishing yields rewards year-round. Most of my bass over six pounds have come at night, with the four largest coming in January.

Safety considerations

Safety should always a high consideration for anglers, but extra precautions are warranted at night.

  • Wear a comfortable PFD, like SOSpenders or a Mustang Survival vest.
  • Sit down to fish, or at least use a leaning style butt seat, even if you prefer to stand in the daylight. You're less likely to take a spill when the boat gets rocked by an unexpected wave or bumps into a stump that you did not see in the dark.
  • Carry a cell phone.
  • Use the kill switch lanyard to turn off your outboard if you should be pitched out of the driver's seat or tumble forward off the bench when you collide with a floating tree, unexpected boat wake, or boulder just below the surface.
  • Make sure someone knows where you are and when you are expecting to return so that they can respond if you're way overdue.
  • Whenever possible, fish with a partner in the boat.

Over the past twenty years, I've logged easily twice as many hours fishing after dark than during the daytime. Not only are the lakes less crowded between dusk and dawn, but the weather is generally more hospitable, too. The peaceful sounds of water lapping on the shore, night birds calling, rustling of forests critters foraging in the darkened woods, and the melody of frogs and crickets can wash away workaday stress and cares. Not only that, but below the surface the pace of life is quickening. Feeding bass are on the prowl, alert for their next meal, and every cast offers a chance of the bass of a lifetime!

So the next time your spouse tells you she's going stir-crazy and has a hankering to get out of the house and enjoy local night life, just tell her, "Honey, I'm feeling the same way too. Get dressed while I run out and hook up the boat."

"...What goes on when the sun goes down Makes the every day life of two people in love go round."

About the author
Joe Haubenreich is president of Secret Weapon Lures, manufacturer of premium, high-performance spinnerbaits and buzzbaits. Their lures, made in America's heartland, were conceived on the clear rivers of Missouri and have been honed and field-tested, and daily prove their worth on lakes and rivers across the U.S. To learn more about Secret Weapon Lures, visit on the Web or call toll-free 866-391-6108.

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