How to Go Night Fishing: The Complete Guide for 2023

Oct 13, 2023 | 9 minute read
Reading Time: 9 minutes

Picture this. You’re cruising along your chosen fishery under the cover of darkness. Your only guiding light is the moon, which is full and bright, and the waters are silent and still. Who knows what’s lurking beneath the surface? Well, if you choose to indulge in a night fishing trip, you will!

A silhouette of a person sitting on a boat, casting a fishing line inti the water on a calm body of water at sunset

At its most simple, night fishing is exactly what it sounds like. It’s any type of angling that involves casting a line when the sun has set. There’s a whole variety of techniques you can use, it can take place from a boat or on foot, and you can target fresh, brackish, and saltwater species.

So what sets night fishing apart from casting a line during the day? Well, plenty of species feed freely in low light conditions during the nighttime. This means that there’s a lot of activity beneath the water. Because you’re targeting a lot of fish at their preferred feeding time, the angling action is usually top-notch.

Fishing during the night also requires slightly more skill than daytime fishing, so there are plenty of bragging rights to be earned. Don’t worry if you’re a novice, though – anyone can go night fishing. All you need to know is where you can go, what you should bring, and what you can target. On all those counts, we’ve got you covered! Let’s dive in…

What species can I target when night fishing?

This has to be the first question on any potential night angler’s lips. Basically, you can target pretty much any fish species that you’d also go after during daylight hours, especially in freshwater fisheries. However, there are some species that are much more active at night and therefore will be more likely to bite. Here’s a quick rundown…

A man in glasses and a baseball cap holds a shiny Snook to the camera at nighttime

Top Saltwater Night Fishing Targets

Let’s start with North America. In many US states, night fishing in bays, coastal waters, and even the open ocean are tried-and-true staples for many anglers.

New to angling in general? You’ll likely start off in the same way that many expert night fishers did: going after inshore fish. Snook usually make the top of most saltwater night fishing lists. This is when most anglers catch trophy varieties of this species. Using live bait and focusing around docklights, bridge lights, and lighted sea walls is irresistible to these fish.

If you’re fishing along the US’s Gulf Coast, especially around the Lone Star State, you can try out a Texan tradition and go gigging for Flounder at night. Redfish and Speckled Trout are popular inshore night fishing targets across the Gulf States. You may even encounter the “Silver King,” Tarpon. Elsewhere, inshore Shark species are nocturnal hunters that make for popular targets, as well as Red and Black Drum varieties.

If you’re fishing along the East Coast, especially around New York and New Jersey, Striped Bass are the target of choice once night falls. And once you’re ready to head further offshore, to reefs, wrecks, and even the open ocean? You’ll have anything from Snapper, to Grouper, to larger Sharks, to big game species like Billfish on offer.

A young angler holds a Shark at dusk aboard a charter boat with the sun setting and water behind him

If you’re located in Europe, especially the UK, night fishing means targeting species that thrive in cold, dark waters. The ever-popular European Bass, Cod, Whiting, Pollock, Dogfish, and even Conger Eels inhabit the waters of the Atlantic. Further afield, the deep, brackish waters of the Baltic are home to Sea Trout. Going midnight fishing for them is something of a local pastime.

Top Freshwater Night Fishing Targets

Night fishing for saltwater fish is popular, sure. However, we think it’s fair to say that, for once, freshwater fishing takes the crown on this one! A large number of freshwater species boast a winning combination for night fishing: predatory behaviors, and excellent vision in reduced lighting.

In North America, common freshwater night fishing targets are a real “who’s-who” of game fish royalty. Firstly, there’s Salmon. Depending on where you’re fishing, the varieties you’ll be able to go after will differ, but Coho and Chinook are the most popular. You can also target Salmon varieties in Europe, especially Scotland, and even in parts of Asia, such as Japan.

Another international freshwater fishing favorite has to be Carp. These fish really come alive at night, and you’ll find entire books and websites dedicated to night fishing for them. Carp don’t need to see their food to find it, so murky, dark water conditions don’t bother them. During the spring and summer months, they’re active all night long, as the waters cool and insects (their preferred prey) are out in droves.

A man wearing a bucket hat holds a large Walleye at dusk with the water behind him

You can also go after Trout varieties, Pike, Walleye, and Largemouth Bass, depending on where you’ll be fishing. Pike are especially popular in Nordic countries, as well as parts of the US and Canada (Ontario and the Yukon region are especially popular during summer). During the winter, anglers across the globe like to ice fish for them under the cover of darkness.

The above fish aren’t the only species you can go night fishing for, but they’re some of the most popular. And for good reason! Want to know if your chosen target will make a good fishing target at night? The short answer is this: Although the majority of fish are active at night anyway, if your chosen target is predatory and feeds under the cover of darkness, then chances are you’re onto a winner.

Where can I go night fishing?

The answer to this question is pretty much the same as the answer above. Basically, you can go night fishing in any fishery, providing that it’s open and legally fishable during nighttime hours. Although night fishing is more common in some countries than others (think North America and the UK, for example), it’s something you can try out no matter where you live.

A  view from behind of a man sitting by a waterway on a dock at dusk and fishing with two rods on a rest in front of him

Because of this, we’re going to focus on the types of locations that generally make for good night fishing spots, especially for beginners. You can also check out what types of fishing are on offer near you. Get in touch with a local guide or captain and see what night fishing opportunities are available!

  • Coastal waters: If you’re brand new to night fishing, coastal waters are your best – and safest – bet. Not only can you approach them on foot, but you’ll be fishing from relatively flat, secure land. This goes a long way towards helping you get your bearings in a setting that’s brand new for you. You’re a lot less likely to get your line tangled up in weeds or structure, too.
  • Piers: Again, piers are an excellent option for night fishing anglers who are just starting out. You’ll likely have lights dotted along the pier to help with vision, first of all, and will have a bird’s-eye view of your chosen fishery. In addition, your chances of encountering a fellow night fisher are much higher. Just make sure that your chosen pier allows 24-hour access.
  • Docks: Fishing around docks is pretty legendary in the world of night fishing, for one reason: docklights. Game fish are attracted to these lights as they illuminate their prey for them. They’ll also illuminate your target fish for you, and provide plenty of helpful guidance when fishing at night. Just be aware that some docks are attached to private homes.
A view from the land of a small fishing pier, stretching out onto the water as the sun sets in the distance

We’d always recommend visiting your chosen fishing spot in the day before attempting to fish it at night. That way, you can familiarize yourself with the area and discover where your target fish usually bites. You can also spot any potential hazards.

How do I fish at night?

How to go night fishing is more about planning and preparing your trip than getting to grips with a specific fishing technique. Staying organized is one of the most important things you can do on your trip! After all, you don’t want to be scrambling around and tripping over some rods and reels while you’re trying to reel in a fish that’s bitten.

You can go night fishing either on foot or by stepping aboard a vessel. For beginners, sticking to shallow waters that can be accessed without a boat is both easier and safer than trying to navigate your own vessel. If you’re set on fishing from a boat, we’d recommend fishing with a local and experienced charter captain or guide.

A view from the bow of a boat towards a captain as he drives his charter boat out on the ocean at sunset, with a fishing rod leaning over the side of the boat on the right-hand side

Here are some of our top tips, both for when you’re preparing for your trip and when you’re actually out on the water:

  • Check your gear the day before you go. Taking the time to rig up your rods, re-tie any loose knots, and fix up any potential issues such as re-spooling a reel a day or two before you embark on your trip will make the world of difference. Rigging up your gear using a headlamp or torch can be finicky and frustrating, so save yourself some time by rigging up before you set out.
  • Time your trip wisely. In general, fishing during the night is most productive between 8:00 p.m. and 3:00 a.m. Clear and calm nights are the best time to plan your trip, as opposed to when it’s windy and the waters are rough. In clear, calm waters, fish usually become active once the sun has completely set.
  • Arrive at your spot before the sun sets. This will allow you to set up your gear and familiarize yourself with your surroundings while there’s still some natural light around.
  • Look for light. Docklights, pier lights, bridge lights…bait fish flock around underwater lights, and chances are your target species isn’t far behind. These types of lighting can help you get more of an insight into what’s happening beneath the water, as well as guide your way.
  • Be prepared to move on. Although you want to keep your movements to a minimum when night fishing, it’s important to know when the fish just aren’t biting and cut your losses. Experienced night fishers suggest giving a specific spot 90 minutes, and if there’s no action, move on.

What techniques can I use?

Two people sitting on rocky structure under a starry sky with their fishing rods in the water wearing headlamps with some light pollution in the distance

Generally, you can use any technique that you’d implement during the daytime. However, the techniques that generally work best when night fishing are those that rely on touch and movement, rather than sight.

For example, spin casting or bottom fishing, where the rod is in your hand and you’re more likely to notice sudden movement, can be easier for beginners to master than, say, trolling or chumming, where you initially rely on sight to notice a bite.

Weirdly, techniques such as bow fishing and gigging, which require precision, are excellent night fishing options! This is because you’ll usually be traveling on a vessel with special lights to illuminate the shallow waters below you. Similarly, ice fishing can be effective during the nighttime, but it’s important to choose a spot during the daytime where lots of fish hang out.

In order to make your chosen technique more effective under the cover of darkness, there are some small changes you can make. Opt for glow-in-the-dark lures and lines, use cut bait or fish oils to enhance the scent of your chosen bait fish, and make good use of rattle lures to entice your fish.

What should I bring with me?

The fishing gear you’ll need to bring along actually doesn’t differ too much from what you’d take on a daytime trip. What matters the most is knowing what you want to target and what technique you’ll be using, as this’ll help you decide on the terminal tackle and rod setup you should bring along. If you’re not sure where to begin, you can check out our ultimate guide to gear and tackle.

A man inspects his fishing rod in darkness with the light from his headlamp illuminating the gear

There are some additional pieces of equipment, however, that you’ll want to bring along to make your trip goes as smoothly and stress-free as possible. Check our list to make sure you have everything you need before you head out:

✔️ Rechargeable head lamp. Having at least one light source is critical when it comes to being out on the water at night. Use a rechargeable head lamp and you’ll have your hands free for fishing.

✔️ Torch and batteries. As above! Bring an additional light source for backup. Torches also provide a “moveability” that head lamps do not.

✔️ Insect repellant spray. You won’t have to worry about sunburn when fishing at night, but you’ll have to trade it in for bug bites. Bug spray is a must, especially if you’re fishing in marshy or freshwaters.

✔️ Weather-appropriate clothing. Temperatures drop at night anyway, so you can expect your nighttime expedition to be colder than a daytime trip. Keep an eye on the forecast and bring along waterproof gear and a change of clothes if necessary.

✔️ First aid kit. It’s unsurprisingly easy to cut yourself on hooks, lines, and other fishing gear when you don’t have natural light to aid you. A first aid kit is a must during any fishing trip, especially so at night.

✔️ A lifejacket or high-visibility jacket. If you’re fishing in deep waters or from a boat, a life jacket is essential. Otherwise, you can bring along a high-visibility jacket to make your presence known to other people who may be around.

Night Fishing: An Unforgettable Adventure Under the Cover of Darkness

A person walks along the riverfront at sunset holding a fishing rod, with a bridge in the distance

Whether you’re a seasoned angler looking to try something new, or simply can’t imagine anything better than the tranquility of casting a line as the sun sets, night fishing has something to offer everyone. It takes some planning, but the experience you’ll get to take home with you is well worth the effort. Grab your fishing gear and your head lamp, and get ready to discover the magic of fishing under the stars!

Have you ever been night fishing? Where did you go? What did you catch? Let us know in the comments below. We love hearing from you!

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Katie is a Philosophy graduate from the UK, and now she spends her time asking (and answering!) the important questions, such as: What, exactly, are the best ways to bait a hook for Redfish? She first cast a line in Florida as a teenager, and it took her a while to circle back to angling as a hobby, but now she's hooked. Her personal fishing highlight? Reeling in a rare Golden Trevally while cruising the deep waters off the United Arab Emirates!

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