Night time bottom fishing
The sun is setting; a giant globe of fire that appears to being swallowed up by the vastness of the ocean. Most boats are heading back into the port from a long day of fishing; but not us. We’re heading out, past all the returning boats. Our day has just begun, and it’s 5 o’clock at night. Night fishing in Key West is one of our area’s best kept secrets in the fishing world. Snapper fishing, swordfishing, and shark fishing, the night fishing in Key West offers a great deal of opportunity for some species that are nocturnal feeders and don’t bite as well during the day.
Fishing Key West at night has a lot of advantages. The most obvious advantage is that you’re not fishing in the sun. No need for sunscreen and sunglasses on this trip. The ocean is calm, the weather is beautiful and cool. It’s really relaxing to fish at nighttime. You’ve got the whole ocean to yourself. Unlike the day, which can be crowded with dozens of other fishermen fishing the same areas as you, the ocean at night is relatively unoccupied by other fishing vessels.
One disadvantage of night fishing is that some species don’t bite as well at night than they do during the day. On the flip side to that though, there are quite a few fish that bite better during the night. Swordfish, snappers, sharks, barracuda and a dozen other species bite so much better during the night time than they do during the day. My two favorite styles of night fishing are swordfishing and anchor fishing for yellowtail snapper. Both are types of fishing that offer a lot more action at night than they do during the day. Also yellowtail snapper and swordfish are 2 of the best eating fish in the ocean. Swordfishing in Key West. Florida deserves its own article, dedicated to the fine art of Swordfish fishing.
Bottom fishing is great because we anchor the boat and chum the water. Rather than drifting or trolling and looking for the fish, you’re chumming the water and getting the fish to come to you. We use ground up fish, guts, squid and glass minnows to chum which attract fish from all over the surrounding reef to swim around our boat. This type of fishing can yield more action than any other style of fishing in Key West.
Snapper have always been one of my favorite fish to catch and to fish for. Anyone can catch them, they aren’t that difficult to target, but skill does play a big part of catching good numbers of them. Snapper are extremely smart fish and they are cautious feeders. Anyone can bait a piece of squid on the hook, drop it to the bottom and catch a snapper, but to catch a lot of them on a single trip takes talent. First off, figure out what type of snapper you’re targeting. For yellowtail snapper, you want to use a light tackle rod and reel combo with 10-15 pound test line. Yellowtails aren’t big fish. They range in size from 1-4 pounds. Use a small hook, 2.0 being about the biggest but I prefer smaller and fresh bait is a must. Yellowtails love cut baits such as mackerel, bonito, ballyhoo and squid. The fresher your bait, the better your chances are of them hitting your rod, instead of the guy fishing next to you. Also, fish don’t have a fork and knife to eat their food with out there, so don’t use too big a chunk or it is difficult for them to get it into their mouth. Light line and light lead are usually more than enough weight and are what you want to use for yellowtail. You basically want to drift your line back in the current with the chum, as if your bait was a piece that came out of the chum bag naturally. They are mid-depth feeders so you don’t have to be all the way down to the bottom. You just have to be in the chum trail. Yellowtails hit hard, so you’ll know when you get a bite from one and you’ll be able to tell it’s a yellowtail when you’re fighting him. Yellowtails are a blast to catch, and when you get into a school of them, you can catch them one right after another. They are both a ton of fun to catch and DELICIOUS TO EAT!
Mutton snappers are a lot larger in size and therefore can eat a lot larger bait. Whole ballyhoo, whole sardines, ballyhoo plugs, bonito strips, butterflied goggle eyes and speedo/tinker mackerel filets are all great baits for mutton snappers. For muttons, you’re going to want to have a larger rod as well. Mutton snapper can be between 6-12 pounds, sometimes even a bit larger. They are very strong and can easily pull you down into the rocks of the reef below and wrap you up/break your line. Once you get them off the bottom 20 feet or so, you’re in the clear, but until then, they can get you in the rocks at any moment. 20-40 pound test rods and reels with a long fluorocarbon leader is probably the best tackle to use for muttons, although I’ve seen muttons caught on all sorts of rigs. Muttons traditionally live on or near the bottom so you’re going to have to get your bait down to them with a 1 ounce, 2 ounce, 4 ounce or larger lead, depending on how strong the current is that night. For muttons, make sure to use fresh bait, the fresher the better. Try to make your bait look as natural as possible. Remember that if you feel them, they can probably feel you. Try to keep your line slack while they are biting and as soon as you think they have the bait, “try them” by winding fast and setting the hook. Muttons are a great fish; fun and challenging to catch and great eating so good luck.
Mangrove snapper are probably the reason snappers are named “snapper”. They have about the nastiest bite of any fish and the second you aren’t paying attention to them, they shake their head and grab hold of your finger. If this happens, it’s going to take a pair of pliers to get them to let go. Their teeth are small and spaced out, so they won’t chop your finger off or anything, but it’s going to HURT!! So don’t stick your fingers in or near their mouth. I’ve been bitten by mangroves a lot when I was fishing the docks as a kid and my dad always had to pry their mouth open for me. Mangroves live in shallow water, sometimes in only 1’ of water around the mangrove trees in the shallows. They also live around the pilings of docks, piers and bridges. We catch the ones out in the ocean on the wrecks and the reefs. You fish for mangroves a lot like yellowtails and muttons, same types of baits work for them as well. Live shrimp is a great bait to use for mangrove snapper fishing. Light tackle will get you the best bite, but sometimes they get fairly big and will eat larger baits as well. Whenever your catching yellowtails and muttons, there are probably some mangrove snappers lurking near, so be ready to catch them.
Cubera are the king of all snapper. Cubera snapper are the largest of the snapper family. They closely resemble the mangrove snapper in appearance and it’s difficult to tell the species apart except for the sheer size of cubera. Cuberas bite during the day or the night, although night fishing for them around shipwrecks is probably the best way to target them. Believe it or not, but lobster is the best known bait to use for catching cubera snapper. It is rare that we have live lobster to use as bait however, so we usually catch them on big chunks of cut bait or on live baits. Cubera snapper have huge dog-like teeth and are a very strong predator fish. I’ve caught them from 40-60 pounds out of Fort Lauderdale, so they get bigger than any of our other snappers. I will give you a warning about cubera snapper. They have a chance at getting a toxin called ciguatera poison in them and if they have that, they are poisonous. I do not recommend taking the chance of eating one, it’s just not worth the risk.
There are literally 400 different species of snappers that swim in the Atlantic Ocean, so I can’t name every one. Those are the main types of snappers that we get out of Ft. Lauderdale while on our night fishing trips. Most snappers average about a pound in weight, so they aren’t very large. But they sure are fun to catch and all snappers taste excellent. Snappers aren’t the only fish swimming out there in the reefs of Fort Lauderdale waiting for a good dinner.
Occasionally we catch a few other fish while on our night time anchor fishing trips. Cobias, that migrate through Ft Lauderdale in the fall and winter months, aren’t caught every night, but we do catch a pretty fair amount of them. Cobias migrate through our waters, usually following stingrays which uncover crabs and other crustaceans while they flap their wings close to the sand. Whenever a stingray uncovers a crab or other shellfish, the cobia following will swoop down and eat it quickly. Cobias look a lot like a shark and are often misidentified while on the line, until they get close to the boat. Cobia swim in schools and when you catch one, be ready because there very well may be a few other nice cobias swimming with him. Cobias are excellent eating, and make great sushi or steaks on the grill. You usually catch one when you least expect it, so you never know when one may jump on the line.
Groupers are another fish you can catch when snapper fishing in Fort Lauderdale. They live on the bottom in the reefs and typically swim and eat with the snapper. Black grouper, gag grouper, red groupers and scamp groupers are the species we most commonly catch out of South Florida. Groupers are notorious for eating your bait and then swimming right back into their hole to digest their meal. Once they get back in their hole, the chances of you getting him out without breaking the line are slim to none. That’s why, with grouper fishing, you have to get him off the bottom as soon as you hook him. If you think you may have a grouper on the line, put a little extra drag on the line and make him or break him right off the bat. If you can get him off the bottom a bit, then loosen your drag slightly and fight him up. Groupers will eat just about anything from a tiny chunk of yellowtail bait, to a fish they can hardly get into their huge mouths. They aren’t picky eaters, but they sure are hard fighters. Groupers are also all great eating fish.
Other reef critters that live on the reefs are commonly caught anchor fishing in Fort Lauderdale. About 15 different kinds of grunts are caught on just about every night trip we run. Trigger fish and unicorn file fish will also take your bait. They usually eat coral rock but they won’t turn down a nice chunk of squid. Puffer fish, squirrel fish, toros, goggle eyes, barracuda, small sharks, mackerels, kingfish, blackfin tuna, octopus, and even lobsters have been caught on our night anchor fishing trips. When your doing that kind of fishing, you never know what you might pull up. Usually the action is good.
Key West night fishing is great throughout the year and it’s a fun way to try a different style of fishing. Night time anchor fishing trips, shark fishing trips, and swordfishing trips(which I left out for a different article), are all great ways to try fishing in the twilight hours. Give it a shot, you may like the Dark Side of fishing.
Night fishing is done at night as the term suggests and I am writing this just to share my experiences and tips that I know as a retiree who is just spending his sundown years obsessing about his angling hobby since I hardly had time for it in my younger years busy making ends meet. If there are those who know much about the subject and are aware of other useful tips, feel free to share as well but for beginners the main thing to know is that night fishing is not really done only when no sunlight exists. In fact, you can technically be called to be fishing at night when the sun is setting, since the rays of light are just about to disappear and the conditions are being put in place for the situation to occur. Many would be surprised that such an activity exists because they will not be able to imagine how one can do this when it is almost impossible to see, and if one has to use lights to do so, then would it not sound to be defeating the purpose if this hobby is in place simply because to surprise the fish and get them without alerting them to a possible danger of a human catching up? However, I love fishing at night because not only is it an easy piece of cake but the fun factor is high.
But there are circumstances which promote and encourage the hobby of fishing at night and actually provide a more conducive environment for one to be able to enjoy a larger haul and more catches. It is definitely harder in a sense that if your eyesight is poor, trying to navigate through the waters, marshes, rivers or what have you might be quite difficult and risky, therefore it would be important for a night fisher enthusiast to make sure safety precautions are in place. But the rewards are great because fish would usually come up to the water surface since there is less heat after sunset, which allows them to come up to the surface to get oxygen or better air, instead of the opposite in the daytime when the heat drives them to go deeper underwater to get what they want. Now those are a few tips which I learned early in the game but perhaps there are a few beginners who are not aware of yet.
I think an obvious factor to look out for and determine is the weather on the night you will be going out fishing. This should be a no brainer in my opinion because you would not want to get trapped in really bad weather such as a torrential downpour and high tides when trying to catch fish in a deserted place. The lack of light during the occasion would also make any situation much more dangerous, so wait out for clear skies (if you can say that when you cannot see what’s in the sky especially for a person like me with aging eyesight!) and if the reports confirm that there will be no rain or fast winds, all the better.
The ideal type of fish to net during night fishing is the kind that hibernate on sunset, or are slow moving in general. Bass fish comes to mind in that respect as they basically stay around in the same areas for long periods of time. It is why bass fishing can be done day or night and is extremely popular. It makes an angler’s job so much easier and relaxing, as well as providing the prospect of easy and bountiful catches. A tip if you intend to hunt for them once the canvas of darkness befalls the water – stake out bass where you might find lots and lots of crawfish. They are attracted by that and if a location of that sort is available for you, then be prepared to lug home lots of bass. Tips for crappie fishing at night can also be shared across the methods used for other types of fish and vice versa.
Oh and if you are in such a situation and have lots of luck in snaring a huge catch, then make sure you have a boat and engine that is in proper working condition. Obviously you need to check this in advance before you set off on the night fishing trip. Trust me, you do not want to suffer a breakdown of equipment in the middle of nowhere and in darkness. Waiting till day breaks with a huge but rotting harvest is a sore experience as I found out to my cost once early on!
The type of tackle to be used for fishing at night would be those which are heavier. This will allow you to get a good feel if the fish bite since you will need to rely on that with limited visibility. Heavier tackles and lures include pork rinds, rubber and hair jigs and they are cheap and easily available which makes the whole process a real breeze. To deal with the lack of light, which would be very important since it can be quite a challenge trying to hook your lures when you can’t even see your hands, make sure your boat is carrying around a few light sources such as torch lights (or flash lights as some of you refer them as), I carry a couple of spares with me whenever I set off on my fishing trip, just to be sure. Extra batteries should also be available since it isn’t very helpful when you have a torch without power. Keep them dry otherwise they’ll become pretty useless.
I’ll talk more about other tips that might come in handy for everyone who’s into night fishing in my next post. Not sure when that will be because it’ll hopefully come if I return safely from my next jaunt out to the seas when nobody’s around and I can’t see a thing! But if you’re into bass fishing, just remember the few tips that I shared above that should help you catch a few more the next time you do it at night or otherwise.
If you like the night, then night fishing is where it’s at. The night fishing is always good. At night, we fish the shallow reefs to the deep wrecks in over 2000 feet of water. The only thing we don’t do at night is troll. Some fish go dormant at night and others are just waking up for the catch.
We catch lots of yellow tail, mangrove, mutton, lane, and cubera snapper; and red, black, gag, and goliath grouper; cobia, jacks, and sharks. I like to leave for the night trip about 2 1/2 hours before the sun goes down, so that way we get to see the sun set and fish for the evening bite. That’s the best time for big black grouper.
Whether you’re looking to pull in monster sharks, get some fresh fish for dinner, and have a great time and not get a sunburn, night fishing is the way to go.