Is it Illegal to Fish at Night? Rules Explained

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Some of the best fishing sessions we’ve ever had have been at night. Night fishing is almost always legal, but just to be sure you should check out your local fishing regulations if you aren’t positive. While fishing at night is typically always legal, there are precautions you should take if you plan to wet a line after daylight hours.

Why is Night Fishing So Productive?

Fish can be more active at night time

Many species of fish have evolved to become effective nighttime feeders, and as a result spend most of their time feeding at sunrise, sunset, or in the middle of the night.

Other species feed during both daylight hours and after dark, and in most cases, nocturnal fish can be caught during the daylight hours as well.

Another factor that can lead to heavy nighttime feeding is boating and angling pressure.

During the summer months, there are many lakes that feature high levels of pleasure boating traffic throughout the day, and this usually forces the fish to seek shelter in deep water.

As a result of high boating traffic, fish tend to feed in the evenings, morning, and after dark.

Some of the more prominent fish species that feed after dark are species like catfish and walleye, but other fish that feed prominently during the day like bass, muskies, and crappies can be very active at night.

What is the Best Bait for Night Fishing?

Live bait works well for many species after dark like catfish and walleye, but for very aggressive and active predatory fishing like bass and muskies, large lures that make noise and vibrations are your best bets.

Spinners with large blades and topwater excel at catching fish while night fishing, and dark colors like black work best due to silhouetting the best against the background and dark sky.

Spinnerbaits, bucktails, plopper style lures, and large crankbaits are the go-to lure for many anglers fishing at night.

Slow to moderate retrieve also work the best after dark, and slowing down your presentations gives the fish a chance to hone in and strike the lure in the extremely low light environment before the lure makes it back to the boat.

Can Fish See Lures at Night?

Most predatory fish feed by feeling, and use their lateral line to sense and detect vibrations in the water from the prey, and this is how blind fish are able to hunt.

Believe it or not, most fish use eyesight very little when it comes to feeding night or day, with the exception of fish like trout that feed on insects directly on the surface.

Most predatory fish feed by feeling, and use their lateral line to sense and detect vibrations in the water from the prey, and this is how blind fish are able to hunt and survive in the wild.

At night fish use their lateral lines almost exclusively, I say almost because a fish will see the lure once it’s close enough, and close enough at night is within a foot to a few feet at most depending on the silhouette and clarity of the water.

Once a fish is close enough to see the bait at night, it’s close enough to strike it if it wants to feed.

Think of a fish using its lateral line similar to radar, it feels the vibration and tracks it down, and in doing so the vibration becomes stronger and stronger until the fish sees the bait.

Fewer anglers about

One of the major advantages to fishing at night is the lack of anglers on the water, and in many cases, you will find that you have the entire like to yourself.

Things a calmer and more peaceful at night, and you don’t have to worry about your favorite fishing spots being occupied by other anglers, and no wave action from boats flying by close to you where you are fishing.

Fish that feed at night also lose many of their inhibitions the night and are less wary of predators like eagles or osprey, and the darkness gives them a heightened sense of security.

Fish can’t see the angler

Fishing at night requires stealth and the darkness helps in the stealth factor by hiding you and to a certain extent your boat.

It’s important not to use lights and flashlights when fishing unless you need to for tying knots or seeing things in the boat, and you should also be as quiet as you can be, as the silence of night amplifies noise like knocking things up against your boat like fishing rods.

Do you need a fishing license to fish at night?

You absolutely need a fishing license to fish at night, you need one during the day, so why wouldn’t you need one after dark?

Fishing without a license as an adult and failing to show proof of having a license in the event a game warden checks you will result in heavy fines for breaching fishing laws.

Fishing Safely At Night

When out night fishing, you should slow down whether you’re in a boat, walking onshore, or in pretty much anything you do while fishing at night.

There are several precautions you should take if you plan to fish into the wee hours when there is very little light. While a full moon can provide some light at night time, nighttime fishing can be much more hazardous than fishing during the day in many ways, and anglers should always put safety first.

Slow down

When out night fishing, you should slow down whether you’re in a boat, walking onshore, or in pretty much anything you do while fishing at night.

When walking the bank it is very easy to slip on a rock or tree root and find yourself falling down a steep bank or in the water.

When navigating at night in a boat you could potentially crash into docks, the bank, or shallow sandbars or reefs.

It’s very easy to become disoriented on lakes you know very well after dark, and this is even more crucial when fishing on lakes you aren’t familiar with.

Even when it comes to moving around in the boat grabbing gear, putting it away, or whatever activity you’re doing.

You can easily miss-step or trip over a rod and end up in the water, or hit your head on something.

Keeping lures stowed away is crucial when fishing at night, and if you have lures laying around on the boat deck, seats, or anywhere, you can easily hook yourself due to simply not seeing that they are there.

Wear appropriate clothing for nighttime fishing

Wearing safety orange or yellow clothing with reflective patches is a good idea when fishing at night in the event something were to happen.

The bugs can be very bad at night, so long pants and a long sleeve shirt are a good idea along with insect repellent, and without it, you might find you won’t last very long before calling it quits.

Carry a good flashlight and headlamp

Obviously, flashlights and headlamps are a must when night fishing and a key part of your fishing tackle.

When you hook a fish you can quickly turn on your headlamp to see what’s going on, and you can see where the fish is, allowing netting to occur while lessening the chance of hooking your lure on the outside of the net and losing the fish as a result.

You also need lights to see while you tie knots, change lures, organize your fishing space, and even for navigation.

I along with many other anglers keep a spotlight in my boat, and when fishing dangerous bodies of water like rivers filled with trees, I can see and navigate slowly and safely.

Choose a spot that you have scoped out during the daylight hours

If you are fishing for a species that feeds at night on a lake you are unfamiliar with, it’s a good idea to scout the water during the day when it is light.

Scouting during daylight allows you to see any potential hazards, and it also always you to find any potential fishing spots, how they are laid out, and what the structure or cover looks like and if there is a particular place you think is sure to hold fish.

Scouting a new lake is essential during both day and night fishing, but when it comes to night fishing, it’s more crucial than ever for both safety and fishing success.

Always wear your life jacket if you’re in a boat or kayak

Obviously, flashlights and headlamps are a must when night fishing and a key part of your fishing tackle.

Even though it is not mandated in fishing laws or fishing regulations for many states, wearing life jackets when night fishing is a very good idea, and I would dare say a requirement.

With no anglers or boats on the water, if you were to fall in far from shore it could cost you your life.

Getting into a boat without a ladder can be very difficult, and if you are in a canoe or kayak the chances of you going overboard are much higher.

The worst-case scenario when falling in with a life jacket is swimming back to shore but in the best-case scenario, it will save your life.

Make sure your boat or kayak has the appropriate lighting

This is another part of fishing regulations that applies to night fishing, and not having the proper lighting is illegal.

Fishing boats will have the lights needed built-in, with red and green lights for the bow, and a standard light pole for the rear.

For kayaks, you might have to install lights, and while there might not be regulations for non-motorized boats to have them, it’s still a good idea to add them for safety in case there are any other boats on the water.

You should check your lights often to ensure they are working before heading out to the water, and if you are on the water without fully functioning lights, you will be fined in the event a game warden sees you, and you also put any other boats and yourself in danger.

Let someone know where you are going and when you will be back

Another good thing to do for safety is to let someone know where and when you will be fishing, and when you plan to be back, and this isn’t a good idea for only fishing for all outdoor activities like hunting and hiking as well.

Always leave with a fully charged cell phone or bring a battery bank to charge one.

In the event something happens like an emergency and your phone is still functional you can call for help, or simply check in with friends or family.

A charged phone is also useful if your boat or vehicle breaks down.

A fully charged phone might seem like common sense, and it is, but typically you use your phone all day and charge it at night, and at night most people will likely have a low battery from all-day use.

Know your boating and fishing regulations

Every state or province has different fishing regulations, and in many cases, bodies of water have specific regulations or special rules on fish species harvest and even areas that may be off limits for spawning fish or other reasons.

Be sure that you have a firm knowledge of the special regulations for the body of water you plan on fishing, and this is easy to check quickly if you have a pamphlet on your state’s fishing regulations and rules.

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Jeff Knapp is an expert fisherman, guide and outdoor writer whose work is widely published across a range of sites including Tackle Village. Jeff is based in Pennsylvania and loves exploring the waterways of that state in pursuit of smallmouth bass, largemouth, panfish and trout.
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