Fishing at night...

Ken Jones

Staff member
Date: July 12, 2007
To: PFIC Messsage Board
From: greykin
Subject: Fishing at night

Hey guys, recently my schedule for fishing changed so I'm more capable of fishing at night than during the daytime. But I have a problem - I never seem to be able to catch anything at night, and where I go (range from Hermosa in the north to Newport in the south, with Seal Beach Pier the most common) the "rush" of bites that usually happens around 5-7 PM is followed by a "dead" period around 7-10 PM, at least from what I could see of my own results and the results of people around me. So my question is, is this just the way things are or am I doing something wrong? What could I be catching and does anyone have any tips on how to be successful at night? Thanks

Posted by dompfa ben

When in doubt, play Fleetwood Mac

'Cause when the loving starts and the lights go down
And there's not another living soul around
You can woo me until the sun comes up
And you say that you love me

Conventional wisdom suggests that the first few hours of dark are a scary time for some fish, as their eyes adjust to the darkness, and they prepare to survive for another night. Sundown in summer is also often accompanied by strong winds ("sundowners") as the temperature gradient from ocean to land causes the air mass to move. This churns up the water for a little while (at least), and that might be another reason that fishing mellows for a while...or at least until things settle down a bit.
And that's not even considering that there could be tidal issues, or certain species that are diurnal, or an influx of nocturnal predators, or fish that are "full" of sandcrabs or grunion or simply "not where you're fishing."
There are a couple of things you can do to up the ante, however:

1.) Switch over to baits/lures that rely on smell and noise, instead of sight. Ever find your way to your vibrating cell phone in the middle of the night? Ever walk out to the car at night, and get a little weirded-out by the smell of a skunk? Think of that...and apply it to fish that are hungry. What are you feeding them, and how will they find it?

2.) Target something different. Often, surf species like perch and corbina are much more prone to eat during daylight hours than at night. Similarly, you'll catch more sharks, rays, thornbacks, etc. at night. Some species, like yellowfin croaker, will still eat at night, but for some reason will key in on different baits (Yellowfin croaker will eat sand crabs all day long, but often won't touch them at night. Try a long, thin strip of squid, or a blob of mussel to keep them biting after dark.) Or soak a whole squid for bat rays...especially at Seal Beach at night...
3.) Go get dinner, and come back later. As mentioned, fish move around—some will head out a bit from the beach to "sleep it off," while others that are active at night take a little while to get into the "feed zone." Some of them eat other ones as they pass each other at dusk, and then again at dawn! If the tides are not ideal during that 7-10 PM time period... go do something else, and come back. Or schedule your trips accordingly.

4.) All other things considered, Tide is King. Fish the traditional 4 hour window, from 2 hours before high tide, to 2 hours after.

5.) Get your bait off the bottom. The bottom is full of hungry, pesky crabs at night that are actively crawling around eating anything they can...including your bait. Suspend your bait under a bobber, or if the conditions permit, fly line a chunk of mackerel or anchovy on a small hook. When your line goes taut, reel in your fish.

6.) BYOL. Bring your own light. Lots of folks seem to have luck with those cyalume light sticks. The theory is that the light attracts plankton, which, in turn attracts baitfish, which in turn... you get the idea. If that fails, you may have to use something more drastic:

Posted by Dubbe

If Fleetwood doesn't work the oldies will. Oldies work for some reason. I found out one night fishing with a buddy who brought a boom box. Try using fresh bait live or dead, fish the right bait for the species.

Posted by Northern Boy

Fleetwood Mac isn't considered old. According to Milton Love, very few Pacific coast species are active at night.

Posted by Danthefisherman

Which ones aren't? I think most, maybe all, fish can be caught at night. Which means they are feeding, and in turn active. Just to name a few, I've caught sharks, perches, bait fishes (all kinds), rockfish (including lingcod), flatfish, and striped bass all while dark. My list isn’t THAT long, and I've got a ways to go and many more fish to catch, but there are definitely more than a few Pacific coast species active at night. Then again maybe the fish were sleep walking when they came across my bait...

Posted by Northern Boy

All I can tell you is what the book says, which is that most CA fish aren't active at night, in contrast to say a coral reef, where many species are active at night (I don't have it in front of me so that isn't a direct quote). I know all the species you mentioned can be caught at night, so who knows. There's certainly many more species in CA waters than those you list.
Posted by Danthefisherman

I still want to know what is considered "oldies". Glen Miller? Beethoven? Maybe they are both oldies? At least to me and the younger generation. As far as fish go, the Pacific ocean is big, so I'm sure there many more species besides the ones in CA. Nice salmon too by the way!

Posted by Ken Jones

Yes, many fish feed at night while there are a few that go to sleep. Nighttime is usually best for sharks and rays as well as many croakers. Perch and rockfish will also hit at night. On the other hand, sheephead, rock wrasse, senorita and a few others sleep (and in some cases actually bury themselves during the night).

Posted by piemel

Sleeping fish are amazing to watch. If you ever have the chance, do a nighttime scuba dive. I have been able to swim up close enough to sleeping fishes to put them in the palm of my hand. There are some that will produce a slimy cocoon around them to prevent the predators from smelling them while they are asleep. Coolest thing though was staring a sleeping wobbegon shark right in his face while he was sleeping in a ledge under a big rock

Posted by greykin

Wow lots of good information. Thanks a lot guys!


Well-Known Member
I started fishing with my dad when I was 6 years old in Cape Canaveral Florida. Usually we fish at night. Lots of fish. We sometime used lanterns lowered down a rope.

Red Fish

Senior Member
Ken, we had this discussion the other night somewhat. With my fishing the SF Bay (mostly from shore) for the last half-century. I definitely have made a few observations. Yes, it's species specific at night. Shark for instance: more sharks come off the channel at night and more closer in. Look to Florida beaches at night for an example. During the day in SF Bay, you can catch adult sharks all day long by just being anchored at a channel along the deepwater channel of SF Bay at 40-50.' If you could find a pier at the channel, you could do as well during the day.

Red Fish

Senior Member
Striper and some Halibut too can be caught at night depending on tides. Striper will go close to shore in a couple feet of water and night and aren't spooked. Of course it is tidal. Some say black lures work at night and swear by them. I have observed if you fish at night where there are bright lights on a pier or under a bridge, baitfish will be active and the bite, especially on lures can be the same as daytime.

Ken Jones

Staff member
At one time, and it seems like ancient history, several piers had outlets on the pier where you could plug in an electrical cord and drop a light down by the water. The lights almost always attracted bait fish which in turn would attract larger fish. Those were the days.

Unfortunately, for a number of reasons, including abuse and the price of electricity, cities have done away with the lights.


Active Member
Thanks, Ken. I knew I'd seen those lights written about somewhere. They are set up to drop from a boat on the water -NOT from a pier20 feet off the surf! And they are definitely not built to hold up in salt water conditions.