Night Time is the Right Time

You don’t have to look back very far in bass fishing history to quickly see that there is no better time of the year to catch huge bass in Southern California then during the summertime. However, there is one catch… You must fish at night. Now, I’m certainly not saying that it is impossible to catch a double-digit bass during the day in the summertime, just that it is common knowledge (or at least should be), that the majority of Southern California’s giant bass feed primarily during the hours of darkness. Need proof? OK, try this on for size:

June 15, 2002 - Mark Taylor and Frank Annunziata of Simi Valley win a night team tournament at Lake Casitas with a 5-fish limit weighing 46.20 pounds.

June 29, 2002 - Taylor and Annunziata win a night team tournament at Lake Casitas with a 5-fish limit weighing 36.38 pounds.

July 27, 2002: Sean James and Tim Grinolds of Simi Valley win a night team tournament at Lake Casitas with a 5-fish limit weighing 46.06 pounds.

August 24, 2002: James and Grinolds win a night team tournament at Lake Casitas with a 5-fish limit weighing 41.84 pounds.

June 28, 2003: James and Grinolds win a night team tournament at Lake Casitas with a 5-fish limit weighing 35.89 pounds.

Although all of these examples came from night tournaments held at Lake Casitas, there have been a number of other incredible night tournaments winning weights at Castaic Lake, Lake Piru, Lake Perris, and at San Vicente. Unfortunately, there are very few other lakes in the Southern California area that allow nighttime bass fishing.

Having put on over thirty night tournaments over the past decade, I have learned quite a bit from top finishers at these events. The first (and most obvious) thing I have learned is that that the same teams consistently do well at night tournaments, year in and year out. Why is this? Well, there are actually several reasons. The first (and perhaps most important) is that, unlike daytime tournaments where it is almost considered a sin to “Nostalgia Fish” (fish spots where you have done well in the past, regardless of the time of year or seasonal patterns), most night tournaments are won in the same areas where previous night tournaments have been won. As silly as this may sound and almost without exception, repeat top finishers constantly tell me that they caught their fish exactly where they caught them in the past. (Obviously the key here is to FIND an area with tournament winning quality fish so that you have an area to keep going back to!). Another nighttime lesson that I have learned over the years is that age-old adage “Big bait = Big fish”. Again, almost without exception, most of my night tournaments are won on larger profile baits. And by this, I do not necessarily mean the “Super Sized” trout imitators (although a few have been won this way), I mean 7 and 10-inch Berkley Power Worms, Roboworm Zippers, 7 and 10-inch Bonzai worms, and (by far) the most successful nighttime tournament winning bait of all, crankbaits. Several years ago, when my staff and I ran the first dozen or so night tournaments at Castaic Lake, the father-son team of Mike and Dave Woernley of Santa Clarita consistently finished in the Top-3 by throwing large crankbaits. To this very day, they are still constantly among my top finishers and they still throw crankbaits. And it is certainly no secret that Sean James and Tim Grinolds have amassed a phenomenal and unbelievable record of huge tournament winning weights over the past two summers, all with crankbaits.

There are a number of other nighttime tactics that I have learned over the years, but I am going to keep them to myself (Hey, I fish an occasional night tournament, too, you know!). However, I will share with you the one tip that is, by far, the most important tip of all; GUTS. Not the macho “Meet me at the bike racks after school to fight” kind of guts, but rather the fearless confidence to cast your bait right into the nastiest trash that you can find (which is usually the very thick and very tall eel grass that literally chokes our lakes during the summer months). Obviously, you’ve got to be willing to get your hands (and your boat) dirty and wet if you decide to fish this way, as it is what I call “high maintenance fishing”. You will constantly be pulling grass and muck off of your bait after every cast, but the rewards will greatly outweigh the inconveniences (and your fish will probably outweigh your competitor’s).

Nighttime bass fishing requires a lot more attention than does fishing during the day. If you are anything like me, I pretty much tossed all of that high school biology crap out the window on graduation day. The one thing that I did remember (and is extremely important when it comes to night fishing) is that oxygen is not produced once the sun goes down. (It’s that photosynthesis thing). As such, it is imperative that you leave your aerator (livewell) pumps on and running all night long. Leave them in the “On” mode rather than the “Timer” mode. Aerator pumps draw very little from your batteries and you will lose nothing by leaving them on all night long, but you may lose your fish if you do not. Another thing that you should do is to use a livewell additive to help keep your fish in good shape. There is a new product on the market call “Bass Medics” that is taking the country by storm as one of the best livewell additives made. Other popular brands include “Catch & Release”, “Bass Alive”, and “Please Release Me” (the catchiest name). In addition to a livewell additive, you should also toss a handful of ice into your livewell every half hour or so.

Obviously, safety is another big concern once the sun goes down. Most (smart) tournament organizations require a wake less (or 5 MPH) speed limit at or shortly before dark. Although this should be a “no brainer”, you’d be surprised how many brainless people violate this very important safety rule. Fortunately, most anglers do comply with this rule, and those that do not usually get caught, cited, and disqualified from the tournament. Another huge night safety issue is lighting. All boats are required to have their navigation (bow) lights and their anchor (stern) lights on at all times during darkness. Although this can be inconvenient for the back seater (Man, that light pole can cause some nasty backlashes!), it is extremely important to keep your lights on at all times. (Tip: A lot of guys put a small piece of electrical tape on the front portion of their anchor light to keep the light from being too bright when fishing). As before, I saved the best (safety related) night fishing tip for last. Regardless of how hot it is during the day prior to your night tournament, you should ALWAYS bring a pair of long pants, a sweatshirt, and a jacket with you whenever you fish at night. In Southern California, it ALWAYS gets cool and damp at night and can make for a very long and very unpleasant experience if you do not have these things with you. And don’t forget to bring a towel. Everything gets wet at night, including your boat seats. (There’s nothing worst than having a wet wedgie at the weigh-in!).

When you are night fishing, every fish seems like a ten pounder and you never know how big they really are until they’re in the net. (Tip: Tape a flashlight onto your landing net just above the hoop. This makes netting fish a lot easier after dark). In addition to being a blast, night fishing is also the source of countless very funny fish stories, like setting the hook when you feel something, only to find out that it was a bat hitting your line, or setting the hook when you feel your line suddenly go slack, only to discover that you had reeled your worm out of the water – and you didn’t even know it. (It’s a little scary when your worm whizzes past your ear at Mach-3!). Another story recently told to me was a guy who felt a bite and he set the hook, not realizing that he had cast over a small tree limb. His hook set pulled the fish right into the limb, which knocked the fish off and catapulted it half way up the bank. (Don’t worry; the fish made it safely back into the water). I’m sure that anyone who has fished at night has a hundred funny stores, too.

Nighttime bass fishing can be fast and furious, and a lot of fun. Give it a try. I can guarantee you one thing; even if you don’t catch many fish, you will definitely come back with some great stories… and perhaps the fish of a lifetime.

Thanks for your time and always remember: “The shortest distance between two points is a reef!”

Ron Cervenka