Advanced Seasonal Structure…Night Fishing for Crappie
By Tim Huffman
The year was 1981. My partners and I put a couple of lanterns out on pieces of conduit wedged in the boat. We were fishing a large river reservoir in Oklahoma. Our adventure started before dark to make our setup was safe and easy. We took our time rigging, setting poles and getting comfortable. The next few hours were filled with fun and laughter but only a few fish.
After the wait, it was like someone turned on a switch and crappie were coming into the boat non-stop. Action was fast-paced. We caught over three hundred crappie.
Like a Boy Scout…Be Prepared
Getting the boat ready, equipment rigged and a game plan needs to take place before the trip. Working on in the dark on the water isn’t the best method, so have everything prepared.
Lights. A lantern still works but there are so many better options that make night fishing easier and safer. For example, 12-volt lights work great for hours when hooked to a spare battery or the trolling motor batteries. LED lights require little power.
Lights can be floating, fully submerged or above the water. All work to attract baitfish and crappie. Most fishermen prefer the green colored lights for maximum success. They work quickly to attract insects and baitfish, and are easy on the eyes.
A second light source should be a cap light and a small flashlight. These are good for all the little things you never think about during daylight hours. Tying knots, finding small items and numerous other jobs. A light on the cap keeps both hands free and puts the light where you need it.
Third, you need a large spotlight for running, signaling and emergency situations.
The fourth is boat running lights because it’s the law and adds safety.
Cell phone. You need it for emergencies and to monitor weather.
Rod holders are a nice convenience and can save you money by preventing lost rods. You don’t need fancy but the easy-to-use types are best.
A landing net is important at night. It’s not only good for landing a big slab, but it helps when trying to quickly land a white bass or catfish.
Have tackle organized. You don’t need a lot of tackle, but having the right hooks, sinkers and jigs near-by will save time at night.
The right spots are usually ones that are good during the day. Look for cover on a ledge. Baitfish and crappie follow the edge contours. A point or hump are similar, potential spots.
Find your spot before dark if possible. This will make for safe motoring and give time to pinpoint a spot using the locator. Anchoring seems to be out of style today, but you’ll want to anchor the boat for night fishing. Get it exactly right before going to the next step. Anchor where everyone in the boat will catch fish.
After getting positioned, pay close attention to landmarks. As it gets dark, notice the lights at ramps, houses or other places you can use as guides when headed back in the dark. New electronic mapping can reduce worry and get you back the way you came.
Place lights and turn them on. Get the tacklebox, minnow bucket, hat light and any other items ready to use. Get poles ready, baited and placed. A variety of pole lengths is best but whatever you have will work. Poles 8- to10-feet long are good to reach the outside edges of light, but if more than two people are in the boat you may want to stick with shorter ones.
Use insect repellant if needed.
The next step is critical. Relax, talk and have fun. It may be a couple of hours before fishing gets hot.
Tightlining is good because the bait stays near the light. Minnows are a great choice because they do the work while a fisherman watches the pole tips or slip-floats.
Night fishing is simple. No casting is required. The fish come to the light in search of food. All a fisherman has to do is watch for the bite, set the hook and bring the fish to the boat.
Fish may come to the brightest part of the light but most will hang around the edges. Baits placed in the dark/light transition areas are most likely to be successful.
Fluorescent or reflective tape and paint are handy for marking items you want to find quickly. For example, a little reflective tape on your pliers makes them easier to find in low light.
Not all lakes are equal. Some are good night lakes and others are not. A little research or a few phone calls should reveal if it’s good or has potential. You may have to make a few trips to learn for sure, and to find the best locations. The best day areas can also be good at night. Private docks with exterior lights can be good, too.
Night fishing can be done in any season. Summer is one of the best because it allows a fisherman to get away from the intense heat of the day and away from pleasure boaters. Winter is the most underestimated season.
Note that everything is magnified in the dark. Sounds, bites and the fight of a fish are all more intense and fun. Problems are magnified, too. When a motor doesn’t start or a wheel bearing goes bad at 2:00 A.M, getting help may be a problem. However, the rewards can be amazing so give it try.