How to Catch Big Fish at Night

The tactics and tackle you need to land giant trout, cats, muskies, and bass after hours

The best time to catch fish during the summer is at night when the water is less crowded and the fish are moving. Field & Stream’s guide to catching big fish at night will teach how to rig limb lines for catfish, how to catch largemouth bass with rat lures, how to catch trout with a Jitterbug, and how to rig for muskies.

Rig Glowing Limb Lines

One hot summer evening, my buddy Will Robey called me up and spoke as quietly as if he were colluding with the Russians. “I have built something special,” he said. “Bring a fillet knife. I already have a bucket full of pumpkinseed bream for bait.” Robey had perfected a glow-in-the-dark limb line. He shrouded it in secrecy for fear that the glow would attract thieves to our flatheads. But he never said “off the record” when sharing his design with me. Here’s the secret:

  • Trotline Cord: You need 2 feet of 200-pound-test for a leader, and 6 to 10 feet for tying the rig to a limb.
  • Heavy Barrel Swivel: Join the lines with a swivel to keep thrashing cats from twisting the hook loose.
  • Egg Sinker: Two ounces of lead above the swivel keeps your bait in the strike zone.
  • Trailer Reflector: Trailer reflectors threaded onto the line provide a convenient place for writing your legally required information, and they also allow you to check your lines at night from a distance with a Q-Beam. When you see that flashing light, don’t fret—it’s a catfish, not a cop.
  • Heavy Hook: Use a 6/0 Kahle hook (or larger if you’re expecting mammoth flatheads), tip it with a lively baitfish, and tie it to an overhanging green limb larger than your thumb but smaller than your wrist.


Give Trout the Jitters

Mouse flies at night might be all the rage these days, but what if you can’t even cast a fly line 20 feet in daylight? Grab a spinning outfit and tie up a Jitterbug. These classic topwater lures were made for bass, but if you know where to cast one, a big, mean brown trout will get sucked in by that unmistakable gurgle as fast as an old bucketmouth.

Jitterbugs shine on calm water, and lucky for you, quiet pieces of river with a little bit of depth are prime late-night trout-feeding haunts. Focus on the heads and tails of pools and long stretches of deep, slow water that don’t seem to have a lot going for them during daylight hours. Remember: Big browns might not live there, but they’ll travel a good distance to dine there at night.

To mimic a live mouse trying to swim in the current, launch upstream and as close to the opposite bank as possible and reel slowly. You want the lure to make a sweeping arc as it moves. And if you hear the surface erupt or even just hear that gurgle stop, wait for the rod to load before you swing.


Hunt Monster Muskies in the Dark

Come summer, a lot of muskies feed only at night, so if you want to crank in your first 50-inch fish, break out the headlamp. Bait selection for night fishing is key. Lures with a steady, straight retrieve make it more difficult for the fish to miss in the dark. Your two go-to baits should be big: double 10 bladed bucktails and prop-style topwaters are both proven lure styles. Target the shallows, working both bucktails and top­waters over the weed tops. No need to burn baits at night. A slow, even retrieve triggers the best results. —M.M.

Feed a Rat to Bass

At night, all kinds of critters dimple the water surface—insects, bats, amphibians, and rodents. Even if bass have never seen a swimming rat, the Spro BBZ-1 Rat(complete with molded ears!) is so lifelike when it shimmies across the water that they’ll mistake it for a protein-packed meal. Reel the lure slowly, allowing the lip to dig a little, but not so much that it dives beneath the surface, and be ready for another (not-so-subtle) surface dimple: a smashing bass strike. —Pete Robbins

Written by chillman for Field & Stream and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to