Pitch-Black Fishing

Sight is not nearly as important to fish as it is to fishermen

Timothy Kusherets


Note to Anglers: Not all freshwater fishing can be done in the dead of dark legally. Consult your local fishing regulations for the best up-to-date information. You can get all fishing regulations and amendments at www.topfishingsecrets.com

Sight is not nearly as important to fish as it is to fishermen.  Fishing a river in the dark is intimidating enough that most fishermen use lights, lanterns, and fires to illuminate the area of the bank in which they are fishing, but to a fish it’s the same as having a perpetual flare in their eyes which drives them from holds.  It’s a kind of pressure that most fishermen are not aware of because they don’t routinely fish at night. To understand how to fish at night you have to embrace Pitch-Black Fishing.

During daylight hours the pressure fish feel from the beating sun drives them to deeper water or to shaded areas.  The eyes of a fish do not dilate.  The pupils are designed to allow them to see best during dusk and dawn but mostly at night; doesn’t that seem like a good time to fish?

The olfactory capability of a fish is the most important sense at night.  It’s the most important because it’s the thing that will get fish to bite more than anything else.  Every single fish I have ever caught in the dark was done with a regular old corkie and scent; it’s all you need. Fishermen who decide to use glow-balls at night will find it advantages in knowing when to stop reeling in, however, I opt to not use them at all.

The best way to recon a place you want to fish at night is something you should do during the day and that means going to places that are populated with fishermen and fish.  Scout out the areas that are getting most of the hookups and find out what’s predominantly used for scent as well as the size of the offering and hooks.  The holds that produce during the day will still produce in the dark. 

Look at the water and fish the seams and slots and do it a lot.  Practice casting with your eyes shut and open them just after the line has left the casting finger and watch to see how close you get to the target areas of seams, slots, boulders, and drop-offs.  Adjust your casting until you become adept at getting really close to the area routinely without watching the cast.  Pay attention to areas that have snags and memorize them, and trust me, you will find them. While it’s true you’re going to lose setups in the dark by memorizing the location of areas that have snags in the hold you can minimize retying by avoiding them in the dark. 

The only time to use a light at night is when you go down the trail to the hold or when you’re retying well away from the water.  During the dark hours fish will come right to the bank of the river so close you could probably grab them by the tail without ever using a rod or net, if you could see them. There was an occasion I took a trip to a river just to see how close to the bank steelhead would actually get.  The flashlight I took was specifically taken for spotting fish and nothing else.  I had decided that if my theory was wrong I would stay and fish. I saw a horde of fish holding close to the bank in a back-eddy.  Every one of the fish had bolted and that was that.  I walked along the river while shinning my light now and again and I never saw another fish that night.  I went home only to return the next night.  The only light I took with me the second night was a headlamp that was used for tying up far away from the shore where the last thing I did before turning out the light was to apply plenty of shrimp oil to the yarn just below my corkie.  The first hookup came within just a couple of casts.  It was a great looking steelhead that I put back; but that was just the beginning of the night as I hooked into fish routinely the whole time I was there. The experiment was a success but there is more to pitch-black fishing than just finding fish. Anglers should know how to detect strikes and fight fish without being able to see the rod, line, or bank.
It doesn’t matter if you fish with a bait casting reel or a spinning reel, by touching the line with either your finger or thumb as it drifts though the water you will increase the sensitivity of the rod by many times.  Each time you cast out with a bait casting reel put your thumb directly on the line at the spool and keep it there all the way through the drift.  When using a spinning reel cast and flip the carriage over so the guide on the carriage is closest to the butt of the rod.  By placing the guide close to the reel you ensure reliable hook sets each time you feel a strike while allowing the guides on the rod to absorb much of the tension without the threat of snapping the line. 

Fighting fish in the dark is more art than science.  The resistance of the fish and the screaming drag at night can be intimidating but the pull of the rod can tell you everything you need to know.  Practice fishing at home in your living room; it’s the best way to familiarize yourself with fighting fish in the dark.  Set up as though you’re out fishing but rather than tie on terminal gear tie the mainline directly to a doorknob.  It may feel goofy but the exercise has merit.  With your eyes closed pull back on the rod until you hear the drag engage.  Keep on setting the doorknob until you are absolutely sure how it feels.  The next step is to have someone at the end of your line pulling on it while your eyes are shut. The best idea is to practice this in your backyard or driveway. Move your body in the direction of the resistance, which becomes important during the landing each fish. Mastering this fishing technique takes very little time.
Back at the river; if you need to use a light make sure to get as close to the water line as you can but it’s better if you actually get in the river, provided it’s a safe area to do it.  By getting in the river just enough to direct the fish towards the bank you put yourself in the position of shining the light away from the river in the direction of the shoreline, bank and off the remaining fish.  This landing technique ensures that any fish still holding in the area will not leave due to light being shined on them.  If you intend to keep the fish you catch there is nothing wrong with netting or beaching it but if you plan to release it you’re it’s actually better to get in the water to tail it.

The most surprising thing to me about fishing during the night is that few fishermen do it. Fishing at night is highly productive but the need for fishermen to “see” what they’re doing forces fish from their holds the second an angler turns on a flashlight or makes a fire. There’s nothing wrong with taking a flashlight with you to blaze the many trails bound to be crossed, but the moment they get close to where they want to fish is when use of any light should stop. Pitch-black fishing is a great way to fish especially when competition for the best sites along the river are taken up by other fishermen during the day; but more than that, the satisfaction of understanding how fish function under pressure and then landing fish during Pitch-black fishing conditions makes each trip rewarding.

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