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Lights! Copepods! Crappie action!

The Practical Outdoorsman

July 29, 2009
Lights! Copepods! Crappie action! Huh? What's he talking about? I'm talking about night fishing for crappie with a light either suspended above or floating in the water. I use a floating light (powered by a 12-volt battery) as it seems to draw fewer bugs. If you don't mind staying up late and loading your boat in the dark, then this is a great way to catch summertime crappie.

I recently spent three nights fishing, uh, I mean researching this method, and here's how it works. Get on the lake before dark, find your spot, set out your light and wait till it's dark. What happens is a chain reaction. The light attracts zooplankton (tiny crustaceans — copepods) and waterborne insects, which, in turn, attract minnows, which soon draw crappie. As soon as you begin to see a cloud of tiny creatures under your light, the action should begin.

Location. Two of the three nights I fished, we anchored directly near submerged brush on a channel drop-off, and one night we submerged in fairly deep (25 feet) water on a channel with no nearby structure. The two nights on brush resulted in limited catches. The other offered only 10 fish. In other words, submerged brush is a definite plus. Use your depth finder and look for structure, drop a marker and anchor so that you can maintain your position in spite of changing wind direction.

Method. No casting is required. Use a rod and reel if you prefer, but a simple cane pole will work just as well as your most expensive rod since you're fishing right next to the boat around the light. Minnows are the best bait to use, although if the action heats up, small jigs will simplify things since you do not have to re-bait each time you catch a fish. The best bite seems to come at 10 feet deep, although eight to 10 feet is a general range where we caught fish. Use a slip-bobber to make it easier to change depths quickly and experiment a little; try different depths till you find which seems to pay off most often.

The light was taped to the end of an eight-foot piece of wood (about a 1-by-1) and placed in a rod holder on the gunwale to extend it out away from the boat.

Try to stay quiet. Bumps and clangs will scare fish at night just as they do in the daytime.

Hints. Keep it simple! Arrange your gear so everything is within easy reach. The less moving around you have to do, the better; fishing in the dark is much harder than in the day. Wear a cap-light or other headlight to make things easier to find.

Use bug spray. Even with the light in the water, mosquitoes and other creatures will be attracted to the ambient light and to your headlight.

Take a large cooler and fill it halfway with ice and put your fish on ice as soon as they are caught. Even in the cool of the night, they are sometimes hard to keep alive in the live well, especially if you catch a good number of fish.

Take a light jacket. It may be hot when you first hit the water, but it cools off quickly with the sun gone.

Safety. This is especially important in the dark. Fish in familiar water where you're not at risk of hidden rocks or shallow areas where you can run aground. Remember that not all ramps are lighted at night and may be hard to find in the dark. Use your anchor light and remain alert for any approaching boats. Wear your PFD.

Fun stuff. My fishing buddies, Darrel Wiley and Leland Ables, and I marveled at the full moon rising above the hills as the night wore on, the profusion of stars visible when not obscured by the ambient light near the cities, and the number of creature noises that you don't hear in the day.

Also amazing were the kaplunk of a beaver slapping its tail on the lake, sounding as if someone dropped a concrete block in the water, a deer barking at us from the shore, hoot owls and those little owls that make a breathy trilling call, coyotes (stereo coyotes) calling each other from one side of the lake to the other, small and large fish hitting something on the surface and other sounds beyond our understanding, occasionally including the total silence you can only experience in the outdoors.

A great fishing trip is never a given, but this is as close as you may come. You might catch a few, you might catch a lot, but the experience of being out there is worth the effort. Give it try and good luck!

(Bergman can be reached via e-mail at proutdoors@aol.com.)

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