When thinking of night fishing for trout and redfish on the Texas Coast, most anglers envision insomniacs perched on the rails of a light-drenched pier. The more eclectic of the group might even conjure the surreal experience of night wading a back bay shoreline. But even among the most seasoned coastal veterans, the concept of night driftfishing still borders on the unreal. But as more anglers fill Texas’ coastal bays with sophisticated equipment and acute angling insight, night drifting can be a good hedge to oppressive crowds and spooky fish.
Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark…Just Be Cautious
How many times have you pulled up to a prime time reef for an early morning drift only to find a crowd of boats already in action? I can virtually promise you that will not happen at night. For the most part, the bay will be yours. No crabbers, shrimpers, oysterboats or fellow anglers will interrupt a thoughtfully planned drift. Additionally, fish are generally less spooky at night and have a greater proclivity for surface feeding. The surface temperatures are usually lower than during the heat of the day, and the relentless strafing of outboard motors is non-existent. You can focus on your drift, and the subtlest splash of a mullet or hint of a slick is magnified with movie theater-quality amplification.
But, remember that nightfishing always sounds easier than it is. After surviving the inherent danger of getting to a favorite spot, night drifting can be a bit of an out-of-body experience. With all landmarks and most conventional fish signs out of play, it is shocking how quiet and alone a night drift can be. I have always felt that night fishing can be one of the most exciting forms of fishing when it is good, but is tantamount to standing alone in a dark closet when it is off. It is amazing how pleasantly distracting the seemingly countless sights of a bayscape can be when conventional driftfishing is slow. At night, it is just you and the lights of the boat’s dashboard. This requires an extra amount of patience when embarking on a night drift. You have to have the right mindset. Often, the most elementary parts of fishing, like moving from spot to spot become surprisingly troublesome. Just remember the most familiar reef or shoreline can become as treacherous as a pitch-dark living room, but when you’re on the water, you risk more than a stubbed toe.
File a Flight Plan
It is probably always a good idea to layout a general plan for a day of fishing with a friend, although most anglers seldom do. At night, it is essential. Make sure one or more friends and family know where you are leaving, your general fishing plan and your expected time back to the ramp. Night fishing brings a host of potential problems that are much more menacing at night. If you breakdown or have a problem, your pre-planning make greatly reduce the time it takes to help you.
Also, do not go alone. Although hard-core anglers can often be loners, and it can be pretty difficult to convince even the closest fishing buddy to spend a night drifitfishing with you, there is a definite safety factor in having some onboard assistance. Also, remember what it is like if the fishing is slow. It is one thing to blind cast in the dark, and an entirely different thing to do it alone.
Most conventional fishing and safety equipment needs apply in night driftfishing, but there are a few items that take on significantly more importance at night. A global-map GPS is a great tool for night drifting for a number of reasons. It is vitally important in arriving accurately at all your proposed fishing spots, but also it is a great tool to track your drift patterns. It can be hard to accurately repeat a successful drift in the brightest of daylight. At night, it borders on the impossible. A quality GPS will help that cause.
A good console-mounted compass is another important navigation tool. It is good for general orientation, but more importantly, provides a vital backup for a failed GPS. Just because you have the best electronics does not mean they will always work, and the money-back factory guarantee does not provide much direction in the middle of the night.
It may sound obvious, but bring plenty of lights. You will need a small flashlight for general on-deck duties, a floodlight for locating navigational markers or signaling approaching boats, and a good back up for any failed deck or running lights. There is no such thing as too many lights.
Most importantly, check your ego when you get in the boat. Too much confidence in your knowledge of a given bay or reliance on the high-tech accuracy of your electronics is a time bomb ticking. Remember that there are floating obstacles, unlit boats and a number of navigational hazards that can quickly end a fishing trip and worse.
Pick a spot
Picking a spot to try a nocturnal drift may not be as hard as it sounds. One of the real secrets for success in night drifting is targeting the same spots you fish in the daylight. Pick a real confidence spot when you are just starting. Preferably somewhere near your launching spot. This will allow you to focus on getting oriented to night drifting and not wondering how you will find you way around. Actually, you might even try some of the spots that are so trendy that you have taken them out of your repertoire because of the constant crowds. These areas get pounded daily, but are usually popular because they harbor consistent numbers of fish. Night fishing provides a good way to fish them without the crowds aggravating you or the fish.
Because most fish signs will not apply in the dark, use every advantage you can to select a good set of spots. Try to time the tide as best as possible. Although there are countless theories on the value of incoming or outgoing tide at virtually every spot in every imaginable bay, the real thing to key on is movement. Make sure you set your trip around solid tidal movement and preferable a period of change in tidal flow. This will allow you to fish a number of tidal speeds and maximize your chances of timing the best bite.
Use the moon. Logically, full moon periods are big bite times on mid-bay reefs and shorelines. For the most part, I would have to agree. Also, a bright moon allows you to see slicks and active bait during your drift. But do not pick your night trips exclusively around bright nights. In my experience, a clear sky with starlight can produce as big a bite as any night or day.
Although wind is often a limiting factor to driftfishing, at night it can be deadly. Murky water and a chop will cut any night trip short. I would try to focus night drift trips around light wind nights of summer and early fall.
Do not be afraid to go shallow. Often trout and redfish will use the cover and cool temperatures of night to feed on shorelines, and this same cover can work in the favor of an opportunistic drifter. Try drifting a shallow back lake or secluded shoreline that is generally crowded during the light of day.
In night drifting, I have always felt compelled to follow the conventional logic that dark colors are best. The thinking is that dark baits provide a better silhouette against the subtle light from the moon and stars. I must admit that it makes sense and does seem to work. Additionally, I try to use baits that provide a lot of inherent vibration or sound. Although trout have acute vision even at night, I have to believe that a little rattle or vibration can be a much-needed attractant. I also prefer large baits. Larger bodied baits provide a larger silhouette and are an easier target.
Topwater baits are the easiest and most prevalently used bait in night drifting. They generally have a large rattle, large silhouette, lots of swaggering surface disturbance, and most importantly, keep you focused during your retrieve. I find it hard not to throw a topwater at night, but do not limit yourself to this one technique.
Jigs can be extremely effective as well. Although jerkworms are all the rage on most Texas bays, the forgotten shadtail jigs is still my favorite for night fishing. Its natural tail vibration and swimming action may not illicit more bites, but it makes me feel like they will. Also, a number of the shad-style baits come with a scent impregnation that is another low-light attractant.
An old night-wading technique is to take a ½ – ounce silver spoon and paint one side black. This allows the bait to still pick up some surface light during the retrieve but also have an intermittent dark silhouette. The spoons natural ability to flutter makes it a first choice for vibration, and it allows almost direct contact with the bait during the retrieve. Try it. You may find yourself using them more on daytime driftfishing as well.
Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained
Like most night drifters, my experience has mostly been centered on getting to a spot before daylight and trying a few night drifts to kill time before first light. But the technique can be incredibly effective as the mainstay of a trip as well.
It is not uncommon to pull up on a reef or shoreline at first light only to see a blanket of slicks and the tail end of what was likely an extended feeding period. It does not take many of those experiences to realize that you were probably a few hours late. Night driftfishing can be the most effective tools through those periods.
I cannot say that night drifting is an everyday tactic. But with more saltwater anglers filling the bays and back waters, it provides a new technique and a much-needed change of pace to mainstream fishing practices. If there are no secrets spots left on Texas’ bays, at least there may still be a secret time.