Fishing the night shift: black bass, catfish and crappie

Gerald Scott - Contributing columnist


Whenever I ask people why they never fish at night, the answer almost always includes an assertion that “I can catch all the fish I want in the daytime.”

Call me greedy if you must, but I can’t. Oh, I can catch all the fish I need between dawn and dusk, make no mistake about that, but needs and wants are two very different things. If I truly want to satiate my desire to do battle with all things finny–and I most certainly do–there’s no way I’m going to forgo the night shift.

Whether you prefer to spend your time fishing for black bass, catfish or crappie, being on the water after dark adds some interesting dimensions to the sport. Space prevents a full treatise on night fishing for any one of them let alone all three. For now I’ll give you just enough of a species by species teaser to tempt you to venture out onto dark waters.

Black Bass. Bass fishing by the light of either the real or an artificial moon was a tradition in southern Missouri long before there were reservoirs there. Having large amounts of flat water to roam just made the sport more popular.

Points are the easiest structure for a night fisherman to locate, and there will be bass feeding on most of them sometime between dusk and dawn. Being on the right point at the right time is the obvious key to success. One of the best night bass anglers I know selects three points within reasonable boating distance of each other. He then rotates among them to increase his odds of contacting feeding fish.

Use dependable tackle that you know how to handle–picking out “professional overruns” in the dark isn’t much fun. Keep lure choices simple. I see no reason to use any lure except a 6-inch black plastic worm, but jigs and slow-rolled spinnerbaits are also good choices. Lures with treble hooks will work, but they raise safety issues I’d rather avoid.

Catfish. Whether you’re after channel cats, blue cats or flatheads after dark, it’s hard to fish in water that’s too shallow. Riffles are the place to be in rivers, and a short cast off a flat bank is a good bet in impounded water.

Since the catfish will be on the move searching for food, finding a good spot on the bank and waiting for fish to pass by works well. A campfire is the traditional primary light source, augmented by headlamps. In my boat, a Coleman electric lantern on a short pole mounted to the gunnel behind the anglers provides sufficient light while attracting about 10% as many bugs as does a gasoline lantern. (Honesty demands I note that 10 percent of one million mosquitoes is still 100,000 of the pesky bloodsuckers.)

Punch baits, fresh chicken liver, shrimp and minnows are top choices for “eating sized” channels and blues. Lively goldfish, sunfish and bullheads are the best bet for flatheads and will attract big channel cats and blues as well. That said, live or freshly killed shad is the premier bait for blues weighting more than about four pounds.

Crappie. Bass anglers and catfishermen try to minimize the amount and intensity of the light they shine on the water, because they believe bright lights will spook the fish they hope to catch. Crappie anglers take the opposite approach. They suspend bright lights over, on or under the water beside their boats.

The method behind this madness is the creation of an artificial “food chain.” The lights attract insects and some species of zooplankton, which attract minnows, which attract crappie. Be patient. It can take a half hour or more for this process to get rolling.

Keep in mind that it’s easier to attract crappie to places where there are already crappie. Anyone who does much summer crappie fishing in the daytime has a mental list of trees which almost always produce fish. Choose one of those for your under-the-lights crappie trip.

Fishing for crappie at night is like fishing for them in the daytime in that some nights the fish want minnows, some nights they want jigs and some nights they’ll hit both equally well. In other words take both types of bait.

Here’s a final tip that’s worth the price of this newspaper: Probably because it’s convenient, most anglers begin their night-fishing trips in the late evening and have headed in by midnight. If your goal is to catch big fish, try arriving at the lake around 3 a.m. and fishing until an hour or so after daylight


Gerald Scott

Contributing columnist

Gerald Scott can be reached at

Sedalia Democrat

Gerald Scott can be reached at

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