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Other than a few ambitious deep-water trollers and leisurely perch fishermen, there’s not much activity outdoors these days, at least from the consumptive angle. There are certainly plenty of boaters, 4-wheeler riders and other “alternative” sports going on, but for the hook-and-bullet crowd late summer is what “the doldrums” are all about!
Of course, there is always something to do with rod or gun in Maine. The high odds pursuit right now is night fishing for bass, which one rarely hears about in the press (most likely because nighttime photos of most anything are difficult to take, and if you’ve ever had a flash bulb go off in your face in the night, you know how much fun that can be!).
Like most outdoor sports, night fishing is a world of its own. For one thing, darkness is not the best medium for any sporting activity, especially one involving fishing line, sharp hooks and boats or canoes. Fishing can be complicated enough during the day, never mind in pitch darkness with trees, brush and other obstacles looming somewhere out there.
I fell into night bass fishing decades ago when I was actually fishing for horned pout (or bullheads). I’d hooked a really small one, a mini catfish the size of a hot dog. I unhooked the little croaker and tossed it back into the water, wishing it well and inviting his grandfather back for a meal of rotting deer liver. Well, the fish barely touched the water when a monstrous splash split the night. In the fringe of light from the hissing Coleman lamp (which I’d hung over the side of the canoe on a stout pole), I caught a glimpse of a broad tail that, 40 years later, still sticks in my mind as clear as day.
Already a devout bass fisherman, I wasted no time in changing gear. I removed the bait hook and sinker and snapped on a fat, black Jitterbug, which I tossed as far out into the darkness as I could. I could see my line whisking off the reel as the lure went out, but nothing else. I heard the Jitterbug splash down, and in true bass-fishing fashion, I let it lay there for a few seconds. Slowly taking up the slack, I started reeling, listening intently for the pop and gurgle that makes this lure so irresistible to hungry bass (night or day!).
I had a difficult time figuring out where the lure was because in the still darkness the sound carried all around me. Suddenly, there was a stupendous splash and a loud “bloop!” I raised the rod tip and was fast to my first nighttime bass, a largemouth that, when it was all over, weighed 5 pounds and was just over 20 inches long. Yow! I compared that fish to my half-bucket of bullheads and decided then and there to become a nighttime basser!
The pursuit of bass after dark has taken me all over the East, Midwest and South, and the tricks of the trade are the same. It’s best to fish water you are already familiar with because there is an element of danger in night fishing, especially from a canoe or other craft. You don’t want to have to deal with unseen rocks, logs or other debris in the dark! Of course, have all the necessary and required safety gear onboard – and I’d recommend that you wear your PFD, too! If you are going to fish a river at night, pick a wide, open section and stay put – it’s too dangerous to be paddling around a river at night, even one you know well. Smallmouths will move up and down the river over the course of the evening so you should have plenty of customers.
Select a spot that is open, relatively uncluttered (above the water, at least) with trees and brush, and that is no more than 8 or 10 feet deep. Be sure that there is plenty of room for casting, retrieving and playing fish that you catch, otherwise you’ll end up snagged on just about every cast, and that can quickly quell anyone’s ardor for night fishing!
Ordinary bass tackle will work, but the odds are best if you use topwater lures that splash, gurgle or otherwise make noise you can easily hear over typical night sounds like loon calls, water rushing, motor noises, traffic and the like.
The procedure is simple enough. Wait till well after sunset and then start casting. Be sure to cover all the water you know is in front of you, and make your casts about 6 feet apart in a wide circle around you, working from left to right (or right to left – the bass don’t care!). Let your lure hit the water, and then let it rest for a few minutes before starting your retrieve. Let the lure do its work, but add some action by jiggling your rod tip or pumping the rod slightly. This will make the lure jump and hop like a desperate frog that’s realized what a grave mistake he’s just made!
Bass will hit hard and fast in the dark (it’s their preferred feeding time), so keep your line tight and be ready to set the hooks when you hear that first splash. Bass are remarkably accurate with their strikes, even in the dark; so don’t be tentative about it. If you miss the fish on the first try, let the lure rest a few seconds (which lets the fish recover from its embarrassment) and then start reeling again. Odds are the fish will do a much better job the second time around!
Under Maine’s general law, both smallmouths and largemouths may be taken at night except in certain waters as noted in the regulations handbook. In our area, Stetson Pond is a perfect place to go for largemouths, and most of our local rivers, lakes and ponds also have healthy populations of smallmouths.
If you’ve never tried night fishing, you are in for a surprise. The wild world is a different place after dark. You’ll hear things you never heard before and will probably start to wonder if those Bigfoot reports could be true, an interesting concept to consider about the time you realize that you are the only one on the water!
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