Winter Night Fishing: Techniques and Places To Go
Night-fishing is better than watching TV.
Why would anybody in their right mind want to fish at night and in the winter to boot? Well because it's different, it's fun and can be really productive, especially at docks, bridges and piers when fishing in the shadow-line of the lights. It is very different from the normal everyday daytime fishing. The baits and lures you choose will be different along with the presentations being slower. Timing and adjusting your casting process to the low-light conditions and the places you are fishing becomes more challenging. Let's start with the species that you should be targeting in the winter at night.
Pursuing Winter Trout at Night
Speckled Trout are known as spring, summer and fall daytime grass flats predators, but they are also great winter night time predators. One of the reasons for that is there is no pressure on them from numerous boats and anglers. Another reason is they have the security of night and some pretty good structure nearby, such as docks. They have the deep water and a shadow line they can take advantage of. Docks, bridges and piers are all great places to find winter trout.
A 7-foot light to medium powered spinning rod with a moderate to fast action tip is the best weapon. The moderate action tip is for your live baiting, and the fast action for casting artificial lures. A 3000 size reel with 15 lb. to 20 lb. High Visibility Braid (high-vis), and a 20-to-25 lb. Fluorocarbon leader is ideal to complement the rod. Make your fluorocarbon leaders at least 28 inches or longer. I prefer a 36-inch leader because you're fishing under and around docks, bridges and piers.
The reason for the high-vis braid is so you can see the line in the dark and against the dark backgrounds. This is a very important part of night fishing. For hooks, use thin wire, # 2 to 1/0 sized J-Hooks. The light wire hook will let the live shrimp swim and look more natural. It also lets the hook penetrate the trout's mouth quicker and not create a large hole in the trout's soft mouth, where he can shake off. Use some split shots in BB size # 3. The split shots are used to get the bait down in the water column or slow it down in the tidal current. This will keep the shrimp in the strike zone longer. Make sure you use the smallest split shot possible to get the job done.
You'll need a headlamp so you can see when tying knots in the dark, baiting up, etc. A Q-Beam if you are on a boat to spot-check channel markers. Note, do not shine your Q-Beam at people's houses when you're fishing around their docks. If you have a boat it is good to have a product like FishNLight. It is a boat light that can provide a wide-sweep of light.
It creates a 360 degrees x 270 degrees light pattern. When using it off the bow or stern of your boat, it will light up a wide area that creates your own shadow line and manufactured structure if you can't find any dock lights. It creates ambush lines for predators. They also make a dock model if you live on the water and have a dock. Bring good quality mosquito repellent -- forget it once and you will never forget it again.
Baits and Lures for Night Time Winter Fishing Florida
The best bait for winter trout fishing at lighted docks, bridges and piers is the shrimp. Not just any shrimp – a healthy, lively shrimp. As you hear me say all the time, buy some extra shrimp to chum with. When I night-fish in the winter around docks, bridges and piers, I hook the shrimp in the head, under the horn and in front of the black spot. The black spot is the shrimp's central nervous system and it will kill the shrimp quickly if you pierce it with a hook. Remember a light wire hook lets the shrimp live longer and swim more naturally. I definitely have noticed the difference from using a live and frisky healthy shrimp versus a beat-up, less frisky or dead shrimp. The less frisky or dead shrimp just does not produce as well.
As far as artificial lures, the DOA shrimp in Glow color is the go-to bait and the back-up is the DOA Paddle Tail in Nite Glow. These are slow presentation baits with a slow falling unique action that are superior in the winter time for trout at night. The DOA paddle tail requires a jig head. Jig heads in the 3/16th oz. size to about ¼-oz. should be all you need. Try to use the smallest jig head weight as possible to get the job done. You want the jig to fall at the slowest rate possible.
Winter Night Time Fishing Techniques and Places To Go
Whether you are fishing docks, bridges or piers, you want to find the ones that are going to be the most productive. Most bridges and piers are pretty good with both lighting and access. It is also easily to obtain fishing reports for bridges and piers. But fishing docks are going to be harder and an anglers own decision on which ones to fish. So here are a few pointers. Find docks with the best dock lights. The better dock lights give off larger, longer and better shadow lines. Docks that are closest to deep water are better. At night you can tell if a dock is in or around deep water by the size of the boat sitting in the water. If you see a dock that's lit and a sailboat sitting next to it, it's sure bet that the water is deep. Sailboats have a rudder that sticks well below the surface and require deep water to be docked.
Once you find a suitable dock, quietly approach the dock and position yourself to make casts against the tide (up tide) and let the shrimp drift with the tide. Keep your bail open and feed the line off your spool by hand. This is the most natural way to present the shrimp. This way you keep a slack line. Add a split shot if needed. I don't chum right away -- I will wait to see if I can get the trout to be cooperative first. If not then I will chum with live shrimp. Chumming is the same as fishing your shrimp. Toss the chum up-tide and let it drift into the strike zone, which will be the shadow line in and around the dock. The closer you get to the dock the better.
Once the shrimp gets through the strike zone, reel it up and repeat the cast going up-tide. If you see the shrimp pop up to the surface, you can bet there is a trout chasing him. You have to also watch your slack line. This is where the high visibility braid comes into play. If you see your line twitch or jump, a trout has grabbed it. Do not set the hook. Trout will whack the bait first and hold it in their mouths, and if they feel any pressure they will spit it out. Wait until the line straightens out, then tightens up, pause a second and then set the hook.
As far as tide goes, either incoming or outgoing is fine as long as the water is moving. Many anglers like to fish at night on the full moon phase, because of the natural light and gamefish feeding. The fish can be spread out and a little harder to locate because they have so many areas with light to feed. But the new moon is just as good or better because it limits the amount of lighted areas you can fish and it will concentrate the trout in fewer areas.
Other Night Winter Fishing Species
When night-fishing in fall or winter, there are other species that will hang around docks, bridges and piers. Many of them, such as snook, will require a whole different type of tackle, baits and techniques.
You can learn about fishing for snook and many other species in our Educational Portals. The link at the end of this article will take you to the Portal Entrance and from there you can scan for the species that you would like to target.
One good thing about using the tackle described above is that by using the same tackle, you can expect to pick up lots of fun fish like ladyfish, black drum, flounder and spade fish. Because you are fishing at night, you will have to adjust to casting at objects in the dark.
If you're in a boat, file a float plan with somebody dependable. Use marked channels when possible and make sure your port, starboard, stern and anchor lights all work properly. Have your sounding device working properly. Be respectful around owners' docks and property. Be quiet and don't trespass on their dock. Do not shine any of your lights into their homes. You have every right to fish in and around their docks, but not to climb up on their dock, even if your $20 lure is caught on some dock furniture. Get as close as possible to remove most of the fishing line from the lure and then cut it.
"Captain David's Final Question."
Q: How can a night-angler create structure and use it to catch gamefish?
To answer the question, see the string in the Q & A Forum.