I have mentioned this many times before; will again here because I have a couple of observations and points I want to make.
I do not own a boat. Someday I hope to, but so far I have not owned a boat. Do not get me wrong, I have nothing against fishing out of boats and do it every chance I get. I do own a float tube or “belly boat” and have spent a lot of time over a lot of years fishing out of that tube. But, much of the time I am fishing from the shore or most often while wading. That can be a challenge or a disadvantage if you look at it that way, but I would like to think that over the years I have learned a few things about catching fish from the shore or while wading. I am not going to take the time right now to discuss all my shore-fishing/wading strategies; if you have been reading my blog for awhile you have probably picked up on a few of those already, but I am going to mention a couple of things.
Spend some time looking at my fish pictures and you will likely notice a lot of shots taken in low-light conditions or after dark.
Even on large bodies of water a variety of species of fish spend at least some time each year near the shorelines. Shallow water is usually some of the most productive habitat in terms of producing a variety of prey that fish like to eat and therefore most species of fish will visit those areas, areas close to shore, at least part of the time. Now, admittedly, for some species during some calendar periods, they spend most of their time off-shore and during those periods if a person does not have a boat they may not have much success. But even for open-water species that may spend most of their time roaming off-shore, especially during the summer, there can still be times when the conditions are right and they move close to shore to feed. Prime times for a variety of species of fish to frequent areas of shallow water, areas where a shore angler or wading angler can contact those fish, are often periods of low-light–mornings, evenings and after dark. If you are a non-boating angler, you especially want to fish those prime times when there are low-light conditions, and that is especially true during the times of the year, like now during the summer, when some fish spend most of their time out off-shore.
So, that is one big reason I spend a lot of time fishing after dark. If a body of water has any water clarity at all, at least a couple, three feet of visibility or more, then fishing after dark is potentially a good strategy. Now, when fish, especially big predator fish, move shallow to feed, they are on the prowl. I like to say they are mobile, agile and hostile. They are also very much “on point”, very aware of their surroundings. Fish cruising shallow water looking for something to eat have all their senses on “high alert” because they are trying to find prey. Those fish also can be nervous in shallow water because they feel more vulnerable to predators themselves (they all live in a “fish eat fish” world). Fish moving shallow to feed, even after dark, can be spooky because they are very much attuned to their environment.
For that reason, I prefer to use no lights while fishing after dark. You will NOT find me using lanterns, black lights or even camp fires while I am fishing after dark. Maybe I am paranoid but I believe that light can spook fish.
And I have come to the conclusion from observing other anglers that a lot of them are scared of the dark. I have seen a lot of bright lanterns, fires and flashlights shining while fishing after dark. I usually try to get as far away as possible from all of those lights.
OK, I know what some of you are thinking, so after saying that let me back up and once again say there are darned few things that are guaranteed, that are stone cold 100% rules when it comes to fishing. I fully realize that at times the use of lights after dark can actually attract fish and create feeding frenzies. Right now, in the middle of the night, on many Nebraska reservoirs, especially those with some clarity to the water, anglers can put a variety of lights or lanterns over the side of the boat and attract zooplankton in the water which in turn will attract baitfish which will attract predators like white bass, wipers and maybe even some walleyes and catfish. And by “fishing the lights” anglers can rack up some great catches on summer nights.
I also know that security lights around docks seem not to spook fish and in many cases seem to actually attract bugs or baitfish and then bigger fish that like to eat those prey. And I know that a lot of really nice fish have been caught while fishing around the ole Coleman lantern or a campfire.
So, here is what I think about all of that: Steady, consistent sources of light may not spook fish and may even attract some prey items. But, I believe bright lights and lights that are suddenly “flashed” or shined upon the water can send fish scurrying for deeper water and safety. Likewise, moving shadows cast on the water in front of lights may also indicate to the fish that some predator is lurking and they will get outta there.
My preference is to fish after dark with no lights. I wear a small mini-mag flashlight around my neck and only turn it on when landing fish or changing baits. When I am changing baits or fooling with equipment, I am careful to shine that light back towards land and not out over the water I am fishing. If you have to have a night-light while you are fishing after dark, keep it relatively dim and consistent. Whatever you do, do not go shining bright flashlights or lanterns onto the water and try to keep your movements and shadows to a minimum. If you are using lights to attract baitfish and then larger predator fish after dark, keep the light shining consistently and positioned so you are not casting shadows onto the water.
Am I paranoid and getting carried away about this? Maybe, maybe not. All I know is in my experience I have had my best success without the lights. All I know is this 47-inch pig came on a gloomy, rainy, dark night when there was not another soul besides me on the entire reservoir, and the only time I turned on a light that night was when I was ready to land her.