Wondering what lurks beneath the moonlit waters? With the right gear and some sensible precautions, kayak fishing at night can be just as fun and safe as fishing during the day. If night fishing appeals to your adventurous side, follow these tips to maximize your chances of staying safe and catching a real monster.
6 Safety Tips for Kayak Night Fishing
1 Light It Up
Using a highly visible light source while fishing at night is the easiest way to stay safe on the water. A light pole—one that can be seen from 360 degrees—can keep you from being run over by a boater on a nighttime cruise. Make sure it is taller than your head, so you don’t inadvertently block your own light. If your kayak isn’t motorized, avoid the green and red navigation lights on your bow or stern. Although they are highly visible these lights signal a boat under power, so other vessels may expect you to get out of their way faster than you can. That could end badly.
Reflective tape is another great way to make sure that you’re highly visible. Available at most hardware or marine supply stores, reflective tape can be quickly and easily placed anywhere to make your boat light up like the sun when it encounters even the tiniest light source, even the moon. Place the reflective tape all over your kayak, PFD, and crate.
2 PFDs Please
Yes, we include this in every how-to post. You know why? It’s the most important thing you can do to get ready. Not only will wearing a PFD increase your chances of being seen (after adding reflective tape as we discussed above). It will also make sure that you stay afloat if you accidentally flip or have to abandon ship for any reason.
If you get knocked out of your boat at night, there’s a much greater chance that it will go undetected. In the dark, other boaters won’t be able to see you in the water, so always wear a PFD to give yourself the best survival odds possible.
3 Keep Your Head On a Swivel
Peering around at night sounds useless if you can’t see very far, but at kayak speeds it still pays to keep an eye out. Unless you are fishing a fast moving river, usually you will have ample time to make out obstacles in low light if you stay alert. While you fish, keep your head up and routinely flash a light ahead of you and all around. Make sure you’re not about to run over a dam or paddle straight into a tree or your buddy.
For night fishing, always pack a waterproof headlamp with full batteries and a backup stored in an easy-to-reach drybag. This will allow you to scout around, get your wits, change lures and figure out what’s up ahead. A headlamp is also better than a traditional flashlight for kayak fishing, because it keeps your hands free for changing lures or paddling.
4 Buddy Up
Fishing with a buddy is always a smart idea, but at nighttime it is crucial. Believe me, you don’t want to flip your boat alone in the dark. Dark water is more likely to cause panic, unless you’re a real zen master, but even the most level-headed angler will find it more difficult to self-rescue in low light conditions.
A night fishing buddy can help you to remain calm in an emergency, and be there to render assistance. The rest of the time, they can also make sure you’re having fun. Being alone on a lake fishing in the dark can get boring fast, and even spooky once you start seeing eyes along the bank. A fishing buddy and some lively conversation can keep things as cheery as a bright, sunny day.
5 Blaze a Trail
The most common way anglers get stuck on the water is losing track of the put-in or take-out trail. Keep a highly reflective, blaze orange rag or roll of tape handy to make sure you can always find your way back to the truck. Before you leave dry land, attach your marker to a tall branch that allows it to swing in the breeze. From the water, just a flash of your headlamp will reveal the trail.
Make sure your marker won’t blow in the wind too much and wrap itself around a branch, becoming hidden from view. Also, don’t tie your marker so high that the moon or stars are behind it, because it will be much harder to see when backlit. Saltwater anglers should make sure to attach their marker high enough that the tide won’t come and cover it.
6 Make Yourself Heard
A marine VHF radio lets you talk to your buddies and coordinate your movements. It also allows you to alert an oncoming boater of your position. Learn how to use a marine VHF the right way so you don’t accidentally make a call to the US Coast Guard. Although you might enjoy the small talk, they sure won’t.
Some lively conversation can keep night fishing as cheery as a bright, sunny day. | Feature photo: Ben Duchesney
It’s important to point out that if you are going to rig your entire boat with an official array of running lights (not required, but often a safer move), be aware that you are signaling experienced boaters that your running lights infer you understand the rules of the road…knowing how to pass, how to yield, etc. If you are going to run the full range of light positions and colors on your kayak, make sure you know the rules and what other boats may be expecting of your movement through the water.
Items you did not mention:
2) a backup light source, like a cyalume light stick or two stuck into your pfd’s pocket. A headlamp can get broken or knocked off of your head. Accidents happen.