Is the heat wave getting to you? During the Florida summer, fishing during the day can be less than pleasant. There’s not just the scorching temperature and soaking humidity to deal with — you also have those pesky (and potentially dangerous) afternoon thunderboomers blowing through.
But there’s an easy way to beat the heat: Fish at night. As an added bonus, you’ll often enjoy better fishing action than daytime fishermen.
Being on the water at night can be a little spooky. However, it doesn’t have to be dangerous, even if you choose to fish from a boat. There are a lot of places you can easily navigate where you don’t have to worry about running into sandbars or other hazards as you cruise through darkened waters. These locations are within easy reach of local boat ramps.
The Boca Grande Causeway and trestles are just a short hop from the Placida boat ramp, even at a slow idle, which makes this a pretty safe place to fish.
The bridge is lighted structure, which is well known to attract snook. This time of year, the salinity is high here because of the proximity to the Gulf of Mexico, and there are lots of snook in the area since they congregate on the beaches to spawn.
In addition to the snook, you can expect to find bull redfish that move in from the Gulf to feed after dark. The reds will often move along the trestle, where you can also find some jumbo mangrove snapper.
The U.S. 41 bridges over the Peace River will also hold snook, though maybe not as many as Placida because the water in the upper Harbor is not quite as salty. However, there are some big resident fish that stay here most of the time, apparently opting out of the spawning festivities. Cobia sometimes cruise though here in the wee hours, probably drawn by the crabs and whiting that are usually plentiful in the area. Tarpon also like this bridge.
At night the bridge area is quieter due to less boat and vehicle traffic. The bridge lights bring tiny zooplankton to the surface, which gets the food chain going. Put your boat in at Laishley Park and you’re just moments away. Be prepared to hunt around a bit, because the fish prefer different places on different nights.
In the mouth of the Myakka River, El Jobean has been a favorite haunt of night snookers for many years. As with the other spots, there are snook here too, but El Jo is sort of its own little ecosystem because of the two bridges and the trestle in such a small area. All this structure is great habitat for predatory fish, providing lots of ambush points, and great habitat for smaller fish because there are lots of hiding spots.
This place is tough to pattern, but it’s rare to go to El Jobean and not catch something. In addition to the snook, some of the other night fish here include tarpon, redfish, mangrove snapper, pompano, trout and cobia. Of course, you won’t catch them all on the same night (usually).
Launch your boat at the El Jobean boat ramp, go down the canal and run out to the middle of the river, then turn and go toward the bridges. There’s a shallow flat to the right of the channel, and unless you’re familiar with it you can end up grounded.
The Venice Intracoastal has lots of fishy spots, including multiple lighted docks (both above-water and underwater lights) and of course the Albee Road Bridge. As with Placida, this area is near the Gulf and so you should expect lots of snook and probably some big reds. There are also some very nice trout that sometimes hang around the underwater lights’ shadow lines. The Higel Park boat ramp on Tarpon Center Drive, right next to the Venice Yacht Club, offers easy access to this waterway.
Most of the saltwater canals in Port Charlotte and Punta Gorda offer good fishing at night. If you happen to live on one of these canals, the best way to proceed is to stay on the trolling motor and never fire up the big engine. You can cruise silently without disturbing the neighborhood or the fish. These canals have hundreds of lighted areas that serve as fish concentration points. Many homeowners have underwater fish lights that stay on all night.
If you’re a more experienced boater and familiar with local waters, you can certainly fish in other locations at night. The flats become an entirely different place after the sun goes down and the boat traffic dies off. Fish tend to abandon their hiding spots in the deep grass and under the mangroves, instead moving about more freely.
Phosphorescent algae provide light on the dark flats, flashing as fish move past them. Sometimes the glowing algae is so thick you can even identify the fish species by the light trails they leave. Drums will be drumming, baitfish will be flipping out of the water, and fish will be popping all around you (they can’t be as big as they sound, can they?). It can be magical, but be careful getting there — it’s only too easy to get stuck on the bottom in the dark.
Fishing at night is an otherworldly experience for those who have wet a line only in daylight hours, but once you try it you may find yourself becoming more and more of a vampire, sleeping the day away and spending more time stirring at night. As long as you don’t start drinking blood, it’s not a bad thing.
Robert Lugiewicz is the longtime manager of Fishin’ Frank’s (4200 Tamiami Trail Unit P, Charlotte Harbor) and a co-host of Radio WaterLine every Saturday from 7 to 9 a.m. on KIX 92.9 FM. Contact him at 941-625-3888.