- David Brown
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Florida's summer will offer an increasingly difficult combination of daytime challenges, with extreme heat and frequent thunderstorms limiting your angling ability. The window may seem narrow, but you'll often find greater opportunities on the other side of sundown.
Cooler air and water temperatures make the scene more comfy for fish and fishermen, so activity is less hindered. Make no mistake you'll sweat during a night fishing trip, but the action can be red hot. Here's a look at what you can expect.
Because the majority of inshore and coastal gamefish are sight feeders, widespread feeding typically diminishes after sundown. Sunset often sees a strong day-ending feed, as predators take every opportunity to fill their bellies. Look for the classic ambush points around passes, oyster bars, island tips — anywhere fish can pick off passing meals.
Once the natural light departs, the inshore action becomes more concentrated around manmade illumination specifically, the lights along docks, bridges and piers. The latter is mostly a landlubber deal, as U.S. Coast Guard regulations prohibit motorboats from approaching piers. Take a stroll onto one of these fish-attracting structures and you'll find a plethora of targets such as snook, trout, ladyfish, bluefish, cobia, sharks and tarpon lurking around the pilings and any perimeter reefs.
Boaters will do well by targeting the light rings of docks and bridges. Here, snook, trout and ladyfish patrol the light edges and ambush shrimp, crabs and baitfish that flow through these portals of visibility. (I've even seen flounder rise to grab a bait from the lights.)
Live pilchards ("whitebait) and shrimp will work, but artificials allow for more targeted casts with the repetition needed to tempt the fish. Small white or chartreuse bucktail jigs, plastic shrimp or weighted flies in glass minnow or shrimp patterns do the trick.
Full moons illuminate the beaches, thereby yielding great surf action. Soft plastic jerkbaits in pearl, chartreuse and glow colors will nab snook, trout, redfish and jacks.
Wading in the dark is a lot of fun until you reel in half a fish. Sharks feeding in the surf care very little for humans, but the sight of a large dorsal fin zipping past your knees is enough to send you high stepping back to the sand.
Big game hunters know that swordfish are most active at night, so break out the heavy weights and glow sticks. The sword action off Miami and the Florida Keys can be intense and the potential for hauling up a true giant adds to the intrigue.
Big sharks also love the night life, and when those hammerheads, bulls, tigers and blacktips get a whiff of your chum slick, it's just a matter of time until someone with lots of teeth finds your bait. Steel leaders and 12/0-16/0 circle hooks baited with mullet, mackerel or bonita chunks will do the trip.
Bottom fishing offers the most consistent nighttime action, as snapper (mangrove, red, lane) and grouper (red, gag, black) are easily stimulated with a frozen chum block and occasional chunks of cut chum. Dead baits are most effective at night, as low light decreases the visual attraction of live baits.
Mangrove snapper are particularly active during the full moon period, so time your trips around the big spotlight and get ready for some crazy action.
Advantages of after-hours fishing:
• No need for sunscreen
• No concerns of dehydration and heat exhaustion
• Less boat traffic
• Baitfish last longer in livewells
Balancing these advantages, are a handful of considerations worth noting:
• Low light means navigational challenges, so if you're not used to running in the dark, take it slow and pay close attention to the navigational markers. (A chart plotter is very helpful in keeping you on a safe course to and from your destinations.)
• Less visibility makes it harder to watch your line, so casting accuracy, fish fighting and handling fish at boatside require more effort.
• Sight-fishing mostly diminishes (except for dock/bridge lights)
For any nighttime fishing trip, regardless of depth, leave a float plan with at least one reliable source who can notify authorities is you exceed your planned return time without communication. Float plans should include your vessel description and registration numbers, names of all aboard, cell phone numbers, your launch time and port, the area you intend to fish and your estimated return time.
Download a U.S. Coast Guard approved float plan template at www.floatplancentral.org
Editor's note: David A. Brown has a B.A. in journalism from the University of South Florida and you can see his work in Florida Sportsman, FLWOutdoors.com, Cabela's Outfitter Journal, TIDE, In-Fisherman, Louisiana Sportsman, The St. Petersburg Times and Saltwater Angler. He also ghost-wrote and published "Fish Smart Catch More!" for Tampa's cable TV host Capt. Bill Miller (www.billmiller.com) and a couple more publishing projects will be docking soon. He operates a professional writing/marketing agency, Tight Line Communications.
After-hours fishing abounds with opportunity