Night Time Trout Fishing BYOL
Learn the tactics and how-to for successful nighttime trout fishing!
While fishing lighted rigs at night is as old as the rigs themselves, a relatively new breed of fishing is being discovered: Anglers supplying their own lighting source with the use of compact generators or 12 volt battery operated lighting systems. Yes, the term B.Y.O.L. has taken on a new meaning among the angling world: Bring Your Own Light. Avid night anglers are finding many advantage, especially when fishing areas of submerged structure or other productive spots, in both outside and inside waters.
For example, one summer night while fishing at one of the Kerr-McGee rigs off the ship channel in Breton Sound, (Louisiana) a boat tied up on the opposite side of the rig from us. We were fishing for specks with the aid of a 12 volt clamp lamp, when we could not help but notice what was taking place just across from us. With close scrutiny we observed a small Honda generator and a single quartz floodlight being setup and aimed at the water's surface. It didn't take long before one speck after another was boated; while our light became dim and useless. Their powerful light drew minnows to the subsurface, turning it into an endless reservoir of bait which was at their disposal with the use of a dip net. The water was illuminated with such intensity that it looked as though a UFO was about to emerge. The light acted as a magnet drawing predators to their quarry.
The Breton Sound area during the spring and summer seasons is very productive with specks, particularly around the oil production rigs and wellheads. This fact makes the area highly recommended for night-time trout fishing-BYOL.
Reaching this area can be accomplished from Venice via Baptiste Collette. While Venice is the closest way by launch to the Breton rigs, it is also the longest way by vehicle if you are coming from the New Orleans area or further. On the other hand, Hopedale is closest by vehicle from the aforesaid area, but you'll have a much longer ride by boat to reach Breton Sound. It's a matter of which you would rather take: the longer drive by boat or vehicle?
If planning a trip to this area, be it day or night, one should be very cautious in this large body of water which is known to kick up quickly. Checking the weather forecast and planning ahead cannot be over emphasized.
Another thing about this area that you want to keep in mind, is the location of Gosier and Breton Islands in relation to the rigs you will be fishing. These islands will offer some safe protection during a thunderstorm, if you utilize them properly and fish at locations nearest them.
The Kerr-McGee rigs, located to the west of Gosier are the ones to highly consider when 'B.Y.O.L.' fishing, but don't overlook the numerous wellheads in the area either. The average depths for the aforementioned areas are 14-20 ft.
Now that some of the preliminaries have been covered, the first question is: What type of lighting system should one use?
Which Type of Lighting System?
Over the years there's been different ideas as to what's the best lighting system to use when night fishing. Some say green light, because it gives the appearance of a full moon. Others say white light, because this is what bait fish are naturally drawn to at lighted structures on or near the water. Though all of this is debatable, I might add that in my over 30 years experience night fishing I've caught fish with ever kind of lighting available. It all boils down to personal preference and what works for you.
There are basically two categories of lighting systems you can use: Generator and 12 volt systems. Each has it's own advantages and disadvantages. Note: I won't address color preferences. I'll leave that for you to experiment with. All I'll say is that I prefer white light such as produced by clear element type bulbs.
With generator type systems-even the quietest ones-you are going to have noise which can hamper the fishing if the trout are in a skittish mood. Besides that, you have to add gasoline to it and carrying it to and from the boat (if it's not already part of the boat's built-in equipment). However, this doesn't mean generator lighting systems don't work well for night fishing.
Safety is perhaps one of the most important factors to consider when using a generator around water. Remember, this is at least 110 volt system that if not handled and setup properly can cause electrocution- not to mention a fire hazard. Thus, it is important to consider where the generator will be located-if using a portable unit-so that the exhaust can be properly directed away from people and objects.
Most anglers use one or two 500 watt Halogen lamps for lighting, and this is aimed down toward the water just over the gunnel-don't projected it out. When fishing waters 10 ft. and deeper, it's best to concentrate the light in one spot so that the bait and specks gang up close to the boat and below.
If you project the light it will cause the fish to scatter over a larger area away from the boat, making it harder to catch them and the bait. The object is to bring the fish and the bait to you. To aid in this, try keeping any lighting aboard the vessel off if possible. This keeps the fishing light system more effective and concentrated. If you have to use lighting aboard the vessel, keep it below the gunnel area and close to the deck.
As a rule of thumb: fishing deeper water (over 10 ft.), concentrate the light; fishing shallower water (below 10 ft.), project the light.
12 Volt Systems?
There are several types of 12 volt lighting systems available for night fishing: submergible light systems that utilize Halogen lamps, light systems that utilize green, black, or white light florescent tubes, and surface floater lamps that utilize car seal beams inside Styrofoam. While all of these work, I prefer the Brinkmann Starfire II submergible light that utilizes a 250,000 cp Halogen bulb enclosed inside a Pyrex tube.
This particular light is very effective and can easily illuminate the entire area around the boat. There's no need to lower the light any more than 1 ft. below the transom as this will inevitably obstruct fishing lines when a hookup occurs.
Though seeming made of fragile construction, the Starfire II can last for years if properly used. For example, certain precautions must be taken so the Pyrex tube doesn't break. Besides not dropping it on the deck, forgetting to retrieve it before taking off, or knocking it against the hull, the light must stay submerged any time the element is glowing or the Pyrex tube will explode from overheating. Always carry an extra battery just for the lighting system-don't use the boat's cranking battery for obvious reasons. For added insurance-just in case the inevitable strikes-bring along an extra Starfire II. There's nothing more painful than having one break during a feeding frenzy. The Starfire II isn't easily found here lately, but you can buy one on-line by clicking the Starfire II link image at left. Once the web site opens, type "'Starfire II"' in the search box on the upper left-hand corner and click "'find product."'
How to Fish the Lighted Area
Effective night fishing takes more than just having a good lighting system and knowing where to fish. Boat positioning, type of bait, proper hook size & leader, presentation, test line, tide, and rod & reel can make a difference in catching or not.
Positioning the Boat
Proper positioning of the boat is essential for success. When fishing a wellhead or rig, position the boat at the corner of the down current side if possible. Most importantly-if the seas aren't too rough-is to hookup backwards, closest to the structure with the outdrive up. Specks like hanging near the structure to ambush bait fish. If you cannot hookup backwards, get closest to the rig with the bow forward into the current. It may take longer for the bait to ball up and for the fish to be drawn to it-but give it time.
One main advantage in night fishing is that the lights will draw a certain amount of bait-pending the tidal movement. When the tide is moving you can have an endless reservoir of bait at your disposal at the dip of a net. However, never trust the fact that there will always be enough bait in the water. Many times small glass minnows will ball up under the light and will either stay out of reach or be too small for use. Thus, it is advisable to bring cocahoe minnows along. Nevertheless, don't neglect using the 3-inch long glass minnows that often show up. Trout love these type minnows and will strike them even when in a finicky mood. Likewise with other types of bait that will show up, like ballyhoo or needlefish. That's right, needlefish and ballyhoo! Specks will hammer these species no matter how long or large. I've caught specks on 2-foot long needlefish. But as with all baits, they have to be properly rigged and presented.
Rigging the Baits
It is important to match the right size hook to the correct bait or you won't hook the fish and/or the bait will not swim freely. When using glass minnows it is most important to use hooks light enough for the bait to swim naturally and briskly, yet strong enough to hold a fish on the run without bending. Use Eagle Claw # 6 plain shank, regular eye hooks for these type minnows. These are small hooks but they are very strong and will allow these light-weight minnows to swim unhampered. These hooks are very effective in hooking the trout in the hard part of his lip where he's unable to throw it. It is very important to carefully hook these minnows under the lip and ahead of their eyes while supporting the other side of their head. Glass minnows are extremely delicate and will die instantly if hooked improperly. Use a landing net on all large trout to avoid losing them.
When using live cocahoe minnows, the hook has to be larger-DO NOT attempt to use the aforementioned hook or the trout will not get hooked. Use a Kahl hook # 2/0. Hook the cocahoe through the bottom of his lips in the hard part of his mouth. In both cases when the minnow is properly hooked and lowered into the water, he won't come off; and you'll be able to feel the line lightly vibrating when a trout is eyeballing him for the kill.
When using ballyhoo or needlefish give the trout time to take the bait. If you can catch a needlefish or ballyhoo, don't neglect sending him down to the hungry trout below. To do this, (needlefish only) break the needle nose off for handling purposes and hook him with the 2/0 Kahl hook through the hard part of his nose. On ballyhoo the nose is soft and there's no need to remove it. Lower the bait down to the bottom or into the feeding zone with the bail opened and the line retained between your fingers. When a strike occurs, let the line run loose for a 5 count, and then close the bail and set the hook. If you do not allow time for the trout to swallow the bait, the hook will not set.
Each type bait requires a different rigging and presentation. Basically no matter which bait you use, a drop leader rig will do the job. Construct this with a 4 ft. piece of 40 pound mono without any swivels or snaps-DO NOT use steel leaders. The first drop is for the hook and the lower drop is for the weight; the top section will be a double knot loop for fastening to the fishing line. Keep the first drop (for hook) at least 12 inches from the top, and the bottom drop (for weight) at least 12 inches below it. Tie the hook directly to the line and the weight can be attached by means of a loop. Fashion this so that the weight can be removed from the loop without cutting the line. Simply double back the mono at the end and tie a regular not leaving the loop opening about 1 inch in length. Use a 1-2 oz. weight (pending tide) that has a lead cast eyelet. Push the loop through the eyelet and pass it around the weight. This way if the weight tangles in the landing net- which it will enviably do-it won't take long to unloop the weight from the leader and free the line out of the net webbing. This is very important when fish are continuously coming aboard and the net is needed by someone else. Also, use ONLY enough weight to get the line relatively straight down. If you over weight the line, you will have trouble feeling subtle strikes.
Find the feeding zone and use different techniques. When fishing at night with lights it is crucial to find the feeding level which changes as the bait balls up under the light. If you don't try different feeding levels you may not catch fish. In some cases, for example, you may start out catching fish on the bottom- and then not get anymore strikes other than perhaps hardheads. This should be the time to check your fish graph to see where the fish are feeding. Many times they will move up from the bottom and within 5 feet from the surface-usually just out of sight from the surface. A good indication as to where you want to lower your bait is by letting the bait down until it just disappears from sight. Let the bait hang on a still line. Or you can try different depths starting from the bottom, allowing the bait to stay at certain levels for 2-3 minutes at the time.
Incite the trout to strike with your presentation. At times you want to get your bait noticed by the trout. Remember, your bait may be camouflaged among thousands of other bait fish, and it might not get noticed unless you make it stand out. To get it noticed, briskly jerk the rod tip in quick succession causing the bait to shutter without moving your weight too much; then let it sit still awaiting the strike. This simulates an injured bait fish which can trigger a vicious strike. Other times the trout want no action at all on the bait. Try letting it sit still. The key is to try various tactics. When you find the right one, stick with it.
Tide is necessary, but don't base your trip on tide alone. Without getting in to too much scientific details, let's just say it's best to fish with at least some tide movement-either incoming or outgoing. The main thing is to have some movement. The incoming tide seems to be best because it brings in clean Gulf water. On the other hand, falling tide can bring much bait fish and crustaceans from inside marsh areas. However, it can also dirty up the water, making it harder for trout to see the baits. Fast moving tides are not as good as the slower moving tides-until they slow a bit. Some say two hours before and two hours after is best. There's much substance to that claim. Some of my best catches were on tide movements less than one foot. Keep in mind that barometric pressure, wind direction, moon phase, and other factors all play a part as to how fish react.
Moon phase can effect the fishing for the good or bad, depending on which phase it is in. Once again, don't base your trip on any one factor. In simple terms, the less moonlight, the better the night fishing will be. Why? Because your light becomes more obvious amidst darker surroundings. When there's more light shining from the sky, the better the fish can see, and thus they will feed everywhere. With less moonlight the opposite occurs. Have you ever shined a flash light in the daytime? You can hardly notice that it is on; but at night you can vividly see it. It's the same principle with the moonlight. If you try to light up something already surrounded by light, it's hardly noticeable.
Test Line, Rod & Reel
Light or cheap test lines equals many a lost fish and unnecessary rigging. If you don't want to be one who spends the night constantly re-rigging your line while others are catching baseball-bat sized speckled trout one after the other-DON'T SPOOL YOUR REELS WITH TEST LINE ANY LESS THAN 20 POUNDS. It is best to use a good braided line of 6/20 Spider Wire. I've seen anglers fishing with 10 pound mono literally empty their tackle box of all weights, hooks, and leader material due to having to re-rig so many times. Then they want to invade your tackle box to do the same thing. Get a freakin' grip! Remember, you are fishing next to barnacle-invested structure, not to mention hefty sized offshore brutes.
Refrain from using a cheap rod and reel (no closed faced Zebcos). Use A quality reel with a good drag system and a 6-6 1/2 ft. rod that is rated for 1/8-3/8 oz. lures in the light-med. range will put a whippin' on 'em. Steer clear of pistol-grip rods (which will ruin your wrist) and bait casting reels which will most likely bird nest under this kind of straight-down fishing. I recommend an open faced spinning reel (at least 3 ball bearing type) rated for 8-12 lb. test in the light weight range. Large rods & reels are totally unnecessary and cause wrist fatigue-not to mention the fact that they are very unsensitive. Once again, you are not casting when fishing concentrated light in depths deeper than 10 ft. In areas where you are projecting the light without nearby structure (depths under 10 ft.), you can get by with lighter line and lighter rods and reels. In such cases you may even be able to bring your Zebco!
But whatever you decide to do, by all means don't neglect fishing "'Night-time Trout-BYOL!"'
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