boating night

WaterLine photo by Josh Olive

Heading out to fish after sunset can be unnerving, but it can also be an incredible experience.

In the heat of midsummer, fishing during the day is often less than pleasant. There’s not just the heat 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.

The easiest way to do this is to grab a headlamp, slap on some bug repellent, and head down to the local pier. This time of year, these spots often host more anglers after dark, so you might find yourself in a crowd. And while there are probably fish around, you’ll be at a disadvantage if you don’t know the pier well. If you don’t want to take the time to learn the terrain, you can hop in the boat and find a more secluded spot.

Being on the water at night can be a little spooky, even on waters that are very familiar. However, it doesn’t have to be dangerous. 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 less 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. The mouth of the Peace River is often loaded with tiny baitfish fry this time of year, which draws a lot of ladyfish. Tarpon show up to eat both the ladies and the baby baitfish.

At night, the bridge area is quieter due to less boat and vehicle traffic and also lighted, which brings the tiny zooplankton to the surface and 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, black drum, bull sharks, 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 ramp next to Port-O-Call, 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, and there are any number of lighted areas that serve as fish concentration points.

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. It can be magical, but be careful getting there — it’s only too easy to get stuck on the bottom in the dark. Take it slow, and take a bright spotlight.

Night tackle is mostly the same as daytime tackle, with one exception: Leaders. When the water’s dark or murky, fluorocarbon leader has less of an advantage over monofilament. Yes, it’s more abrasion-resistant, but is it worth paying several times the price? When the water’s clear, it usually is worth the extra expense. Right now, especially at night, not so much.

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 manager of Fishin’ Frank’s Bait & Tackle and a co-host of Radio WaterLine every Saturday from 7 to 9 a.m. on KIX 92.9 FM. Call 941-625-3888 for more information about the shop or for local fishing tips, or visit them online at FishinFranks.com.

Robert Lugiewicz is the manager of Fishin’ Frank’s Bait & Tackle and a co-host of Radio WaterLine every Saturday from 7 to 9 a.m. on KIX 92.9 FM. Call 941-625-3888 for more information about the shop or for local fishing tips, or visit them online at FishinFranks.com.

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