As musky anglers, we can all agree that nothing beats the thrill of the adrenaline rush when a musky stops your bait cold, as it violently strikes and begins thrashing to begin the daunting battle that ensues. Now imagine, it is the middle of the night and the only thing around is the local loon that eerily calls in the dark and it is just you and the moon, that mother nature has provided you with to light the night sky. You are slowly retrieving your bait, as right next to the boat, out of nowhere, as you can see nothing but the dimly moonlit sky, white water breaks as the giant musky you have been hunting inhales the bait you are throwing. The giant fish seemingly breaks the surface and the silence of the night simultaneously. This may be the most exhilarating and chaotic event in all of sports. It may not always be the best to fish in the dark, but in some situations, it provides a tactical advantage to do so and that is when you will find me out on the hunt at night. I fish a heavily trafficked area with pleasure boaters and other anglers so it can often be advantageous and simply more enjoyable to fish at night as it is much more peaceful and calmer on the water with limited traffic and often limited wind. It also returns the ecosystem to more of a sense of normalcy as there are not boats driving over the fish constantly as they are all day long. In this article I will discuss hunting muskies at night and the challenges that come along with it, as well as some of the tactics and safety measures that should be used to produce fruitful trips out on the water in the dark.
Fighting and handling the apex predator of all freshwater fish, the musky, can be dangerous in and of itself as it involves removing large hooks from a very powerful fish’s mouth with large, sharp teeth. Now add in the fact that this all must be done in the dark with limited visibility, and you can end up in a treacherous situation real quick. There are a few key things you can do and bring with you on the boat to make sure your night ends on a positive note and the fish you catch swims away safely. First, make sure the boat is clean and everything is picked up and put away, as everything becomes a tripping and hooking hazard in limited sight conditions. Second, always make sure your net is extended, locked in place, easily accessible, and ready to go for when that fish surprises you. This will allow you to be able to pick up the net and be ready to put the fish in the bag as soon as possible. Have all of your release tools organized and in a specific location where they are easily accessible so they can be found for easy use in the time of need. It is also very helpful for the landing and release procedure to have some form of lighting to assist in the process. This can be lights mounted on the boat and/or headlamps, just as long as you can light up the fish and bait in the net to unhook the fish and snap a quick photo before release.
Now that safety has been covered, I will discuss some of the baits and tactics I use to help me turn each night into a successful trip. Often at night the fish will move into shallower water to feed but this does not always happen. Keep an eye on the bait fish on your locator and pay attention to what they are telling you. Just as you would while fishing during the day, follow them, if they move in shallow, you do the same and if they stay out off the break or weed edge, you do the same. I often use baits that are bigger or louder at night to get the attention of muskies. The reasoning behind this is that the sight of the musky becomes more limited in the darkness and they rely on their lateral line and vibrations more for hunting prey. By using bigger baits that displace more water or baits that give off more sound or vibration you are appealing to their lateral line hunting method more so than just their sight. Some examples of these baits for fishing shallow water at night include, the Fat Bastard (topwater), double #10 blade bucktails of any company, Figure 8 spinner baits and the Livingston Lures Titan. The large bucktails, spinner baits modified with larger blades, and the Fat Bastard are all sending off good vibrations, as the Titan displaces a lot of water and has the EBS (Electronic Bait Sounds) to give added vibrations. When I fish deeper water in the dark, I will often use larger rubber baits like the Waterwolf Ratzilla, or deep diving cranks, often jointed, with lots of vibration and rattle such as the Livingston Lures Pounder.
So, the next time you are out with no one but a loon around in the pitch dark of summer, just remember to follow some of these tips and tactics to not only be successful but also to stay safe as they are proven to lead to putting big fish in the boat, which can be lead to a hazardous situation in the dark. Now you will be ready when the white-water breaks and the chaos ensues. Practice safe catch and release and always protect the resources!