The night was coming on fast as I picked up my fishing partner Gary Kunes at his dock and we set out for a night of Lake Wylie nightstalking for the slabs this lake is known for. As we set up and prepared the boat for a another night stalk I looked over our operation and realized that we was a long way from how we used to night fish years ago before the evolution of fishing equipment had evolved to the present state .
There’s more to night fishing than just dipping a few minnow and hoping for a bite to take a good mess of fish home for some tasty fillets fried up golden brown for a Saturday afternoon fish fry with the family and friends. When I first became interested in crappie fishing, I was a day fisher hunting the brush piles and docks during the daylight hours, braving the hot sun, fast boats and a ton of water craft that seemed to be every where interfering with all our fishing plans and making it tough to stay on fish once we did find em. This was back before we had sonar and we located brush piles by throwing weighted treble hooks in the water .
Years ago, more than I care to remember we began our nightly search for slabs to escape the maddening crowds and boats present on the weekends, I was limited to making my night trips on the weekends because I was still working. As everyone knows, with so many boats on the water now, the weekends are a mad house on the waters. On the weekends the night is the best time to fish cause the water traffic is usually a good bit lighter.
Like any evolution , it was a long slow process to learn what I’ve learned from the beginning in 1968 when I purchased my first boat, a 14 ft alumacraft with a 20 hp motor, which I used for 30 years till my second boat, a 20 ft sea ark with a 90 hanging on the back. In this narrative I am gonna explain to you how I have my boat set up and how I anchor the boat for a successful night stalk.
To start with, if you haven’t done this kind of fishing before, you will need a good topo map of the lake you are going to be fishing in. Finding a starting spot is fairly easy with a map. Just look for any steep drop offs, points or ledges that are close to deep water. River and creek channels are also a good starting point. Find yourself some spots at different locations in the lake, so you will have several options in case the wind is blowing in one spot you can move to a quieter area. You will want to set up in a location that is fairly protected from the wind. I NEVER set up over a brush pile because you will be hanging your rigs all night and retying small hooks with thin lines it’s a real chore for aged eyes.
Once we arrive at our location, the first thing to do is find a spot where the falling bank, levels out on the bottom, in deep water, in 20 ft of water or more. If you have a good map, you can get by without sonar if you have to. However sonar makes it a lot easier to pinpoint exactly where you want to set up.
I don’t look for fish when I am searching for a spot, but seeing fish makes me feel good about where I’m at. remember the lights will attract the small stuff that in turn attracts the minnows which in turn attracts the crappie, so not seeing any fish when I set up is no big deal for me because I know the lights will usually bring em in. Be patient and give em a chance to work before you decide to move to another spot.
I seldom fish water any shallower than 20 ft deep. You may want to throw a marker buoy out so you will have something to relate to when you are setting your anchors. I carry two chain style anchors aboard my boat, with each anchor having 150 ft of 3/8 in nylon rope stored in plastic buckets to keep them from getting tangled. Once we’ve decided on where we want the boat to be, we drop a buoy and move a short distance from the spot and drop one anchor and drag it with the boat till it hangs, then we will move to the other side of the buoy and drop the second anchor and pull towards the first anchor which has been set till the second anchor hangs.
On hard bottoms you may have to make several drags till the anchor hangs. Once you have both anchors set, then you can shift the boat in either direction you want with the anchor ropes till its located over the spot you want to fish, then tie one anchor off and then draw the boat very tight with the other rope and tie it off so the boat wont be shifting with the wind or wave action. This is very important as you must be able to see the bite when it comes and if the boat is moving to and fro you will not be able to see many of the bites due to the shifting boat.
When you get ready to pull anchors , if they are hung to the point you cant pull em loose by hand, then tie the anchor rope to the tow hook on the transom and pull in the opposite direction you hung it and they will come free. In all the years I’ve been using the chain style anchors I’ve never failed to recover one. At times I’ve had my doubts but they finally pulled free. Caution: don’t tie the anchor rope to a boat cleat and use the motor to pull it free. You will probably pull the cleat out and make some nasty looking holes where the screws had the cleat attached. The cleats are not made for pulling, but for holding. That’s a huge difference.
Once the anchors have been set, then we finish setting the boat up for the nights stalk. The submersible fishing lights are set in the water. The fishing lights I use are made by Qbeam called starfires. The floating and clamp on lights also work great and are used successfully by night stalkers. Over the years I’ve used a lot of different lighting setups from car headlights with a pair of wires attaching it to the battery, lanterns then on to the floaters to the submersibles and the green fluorescents. I seemed to have better results with the white lights than the green ones but That will be a matter of preference for each angler. Some swear by the whites and some by the greens.
Some nights you will notice a lot of bait fish swarming around your lights and some nights you don’t see much, if any. Don’t despair if you don’t see any bait fish as you will usually catch fish even if the bait fish are not visible. They are probably deeper and out of sight.
For lighting the inside of the boat, I use several clamp on lights you can find at most hardware stores which I’ve modified by removing the clamps and adding a large plastic alligator clamp, which I mount on several short poles mounted on the center console, with one light pointing to the front and one to the back. this gives very good lighting for the interior. The clamp on lights have been modified by removing the 110 volt bulb and replacing it with a 12 volt, 40 watt rv light bulb and adding a couple clamps to clip em to the battery.
In warmer weather the bugs that gather around a light can be aggravating so locate the lights where they present the least amount of interference. I’ve noticed a lot of nights, the bugs seem to be worse when we first start but seem to taper off later in the night. A slight breeze will also help keep the bugs away.
Aboard my boat I carry 4 deep cycles and one cranking battery. The 4 deep cycles are used for the submersible lights and for the clamp on interior lights. Also onboard I have two on board battery chargers of two 10 amp banks each, with one bank attached to each of the deep cycles. When I return home and park the boat its just a simple matter of plugging in the chargers to recharge the batteries for the next trip. Make sure you keep your batteries charged at all times and keep a check on the water levels. It will extend the life of the battery considerably.
I have plenty of rigs on my boat for visitors to use, or they can bring their own . Quality rod holders are a must for your night stalk as you will be using multiple rods. Over the years I’ve lost a few rods overboard due to carelessness so I keep a weighted treble hook handy to retrieve the rod. Sometimes I get it back, sometimes I don’t. The treble is good to have though in case you do loose one. I use driftmaster rod holders and have never lost a rod out of one by it being pulled out by a crappie. I have room aboard my boat for up to 8 fishermen, with each fisherman having a rack of 4 rod holders for holding his rods.
The number of rods used by each fisherman will be up to the the man and the laws that govern how many rods are allowed for use. Some nights you can handle six rods or more and other nights its all you can do to keep two rods in the water. In my state there is no limit on the number of rods you can use on a boat so if we have a full crew then each man uses up to 4 rods. Arrange your holders so they will be convenient for you to reach your rods on a moments notice once the bite happens.
The rods I use are all ugly stick ultra lites. I like these rods because of the very soft tip and the rods are very tough and durable. All my rods are treated very rough, rode hard and put up wet so to say, and a rod that’s quick to snap wont last long aboard the beast. Your choice of rods is a personal preference but again you must have a rod with a soft tip that will readily show you the bite when it comes. Rods with stiff tips will not do this so you will miss a lot of bites with stiff tipped rods. This is not a time to employ your bass or catfish rods. I also use the 9 ft ugly stick crappie rods which again shows me the soft bites of a hungry fish.
Keep in mind that tightlining over the side of the boat your rod tip is serving the same purpose a a cork in showing you the bite. Like a cork, a good rod tip will show you everything that’s happening below the surface with your bait. If you cant see the bites you cant catch the fish!!!!!!!!!!
Once you have selected the rods you are gonna use, a very useful thing to help you see the bite is to paint the rod tips white with a flat white spray paint . Wrapping a piece of electrical tape around the rod at the second eye will keep your paint job looking neat and professional. I know it will be hard to take a can of white paint to your rod tips but this will greatly increase your ability to see the soft taps that come with a bite. Bite the bullet and paint the tip. you wont regret doing it. Actually my night fishing rods are used exclusively for night stalking so painting the tips dint bother me a bit. If you’re using the longer rods whose tips are out in the dark, away from the light, you will notice a huge increase in your ability to see the light bites crappie have. If you are around the boat landings watching boats put in you will quickly be able to identify the night stalkers in the know because their rod tips are usually painted white or some other highly visible color so they can pick up on the bite. Anything you can do to your rigs to help you notice the light taps crappie are famous for, do it.
The reels I use are all ultralites, loaded with 6 lb high visibility line which will aid you in detecting a bite. Before you set your rod in the rodholder, check the drag and adjust as needed to a slab wont break the line because of a drag that’s stuck. A lot of times, if a drag hasn’t been used in awhile they will sorta stick and wont give when needed. A short tug on the line will free it and get it ready to go.
Pay attention to what the line is telling you. If it suddenly goes limp, set the hook. If you suddenly have a line that is hanging at an angle different than the rest of the lines, there is a fish moving with the bait, set the hook. I use a removable split shot, usually a #3, and #4 gold eagle claw hook to complete the terminal end. Don’t put the shot on the line over a couple inches above the hook because your rod tips are usually fairly close together and if the minnows have too much freedom to swim around they tend to tangle with each other and create a mess for you.
Once you put your rods out, fish tightline with minnows. Start out putting your baits at different depths until you find a depth that they seem to be hitting the most at, and move all your baits to this depth. 8-10 foot is a good starting point. Most of the bites that come will come will be a very soft tap, often times just barely moving the tip, indicating a bite. Be prepared to lift the rod immediately after the first tap. If you wait till the second tap it usually don’t come. Lifting the rid immediately will often times set the hook in the fish before he has a chance to spit the minnow out.
Keeping minnows alive on the warmer nights can present problems for you. I sometimes use the floating minnow buckets I hang over the side to store them in till they are needed, then I dip a few at a time into a storage bucket within reach. This will keep em alive. If I buy my bait from a dealer whose tanks are refrigerated then I use the little bubble aerators available for around 5 bucks and run off batteries. If you take minnows out of refrigerated water and put em in warm surface lake water for storage the shock will kill a lot of em. Buying bait from a dealer who uses refrigerated bait tanks you need to use caution. The refrigeration will keep his minnows alive till he sells em, but once you’ve paid for em and walk out the door, they are yours. I’ve also noticed that minnows bought from a bait dealer whose water is not refrigerated tend to live longer once you take then out of the store in warmer weather than one whose tanks are refrigerated. Just a thought to keep in mind.
In cold weather I prefer the small minnows because they seem to live fairly well after a hook damages them. In warmer water, the larger minnows (medium) seem to hold up to hook damage better and not die as quickly. Where you hook the minnow is a matter of personal preference. I usually go in one eye and out the other.
Occasionally we will put out a bobber, normally one per angler. If you get too many bobbers floating around they are going to get in everyone’s way. Usually the folks on the down current end of the boat will be the only ones that can use a bobber out in the dark without creating problems for everyone as the bobbers will drift down current and the lines will drift in next to the boat be in the way. The bobbers we use are mostly the lighted ones that we can see out in the darkness. If you’re fishing close to the boat, , then regular bobbers will work fine if it is illuminated by the boats lights. If you haven’t tried the lighted bobbers yet you should get you one and give it a try. It is extremely exciting to watch a lighted bobber in the darkness start dancing when the fish takes the bait. We fish a fixed cork about two ft of line below the hook, usually a # 2 eagle claw gold and no splitshot. Some nights it seems like our best action comes on the lighted bobbers.
On board your boat you should also keep a camera handy to get a photo of a nice fish as soon as it comes out of the water. They look better when first caught than after they’ve laid in a cooler and got their “clothes” ,messed up. The excitement of the catcher is also more obvious at this time. I know the guys that fish with me sometimes gets annoyed with me telling em to hold up your slab and lets get a photo. Believe me its a lot easier to do it right after it comes out of the water than after he’s tossed it in a cooler. Sometimes they will grumble but always look forward to getting the photos which I give em when I get a chance.
Most nights you are going to catch some fish. Some nights more so than others. Different locations produce differently on different nights and some locations are seasonal, being better at different times of the year. Finding your hot spots is a matter of trial and error. Once you have pinpointed your holes and know the conditions that produce a good bite at that location you are well on your way to harvesting a quality mess of tasty crappie fillets. Finding good locations on your lake comes with experience. As I said earlier, a good map is worth its weight in gold for doing this.
A bonus of nightstalking is the lights attract many different species of fish and you will also catch LM bass, catfish, perch, etc. In cold water lakes where there is a more variety of fish to catch, you will also catch them around the lights. Catching a bass or large catfish on a ultralite rig is exciting and gives you ample experience in untangling the huge messes they make with the rest of the rigs you have out.
We nightstalk year round and usually catch most of our bigger fish through the colder months. In our area there is plenty of nights that you can spend on the water fishing if you carry a duffel to store your clothes in to use as you need em. When the nights turn bitter cold, then I come out of the dark and start drifting the deeper water with minnows during the warmer hours of daylight.
The methods and equipment I’ve described is how I have my boat set up. If you are new at the night stalking game, I would recommend you join a crappie fishing forum like www.crappie.com and get to know some locals who will take you out on a night stalk. By doing this you will be learning a lot of short cuts on how you can to set your boat up by following their leads or modifying their methods to suit your particular situation.
If you are a laid back type of fisherman who enjoys being on the water when the sun goes down, when the pleasure boaters, water skiers and and jet skis have called it a day, anchored in one spot enjoying a quiet night with your family or friends, then you should give nightstalking a try.
Suddenly I was brought out of my thoughts and back to the present by Gary hollering, “fish on. Hey Rango, are you gonna put a line in or you gonna sit there all night?”. Time to start baiting up and helping him out with the bite. Good luck with your night stalking and good fishing.
This is how I have my rod racks constructed on my boat, referred to as “the Beast” by those who night stalk out of it. As you can see, if you have your rods at your fingertips you can respond to the bite very quickly. The type of rod holders and how you have them mounted is a matter of personal choice, however they must hold your rods at the ready so you can respond immediately to the bite.
Here is one of the two chain style anchors i use on the beast. as you can see from the design, if you snag the anchor on something you can pull the rope in the opposite direction of the hang, the slip ring on the shaft will slip to the anchor head and pull the anchor loose. a very effective anchoring system that works fantastic for me. these anchors hang and hang good and very seldom will i have an anchor slip out of its set and create drift problems for me. note the storage bucket that keeps the anchor rope stored and tangle free. Its a good idea to tie a block of Styrofoam to the end of the rope incase the rope gets away from you or you need to toss the anchor rope overboard to free the other stuck anchor with the motor.
The submersible lights I use on a night stalk. the lights you use are a matter of personal choice. there’s many different styles and configurations on the market. Id recommend you try several different lights to see which one works the best for you.
Here is a typical clamp on light with a small reflector that’s been modified by adding alligator clips to hook on the battery, a strong clamp to attach it to a light pole and a 12 volt 40 watt rv bulb that runs off a deep cycle battery. I use two of these lights on the beast, mounted above the console, one pointed toward the front and one pointed toward the back. these two lights completely light up the boats interior, making it very easy to see what’s going on in the boat. this setup can also be clamped to the boats gunnels and shined on the water to draw the minnows in.
Once you have your anchors set, the fishing lights and interior lighting on, and your rods in the rod holders, this is what your setup will look like. the water is lit up by submersible lights which will attract the crappie to the bait fish that is drawn to your rigs.
The end result of a successful night stalk
Cold weather don’t stop our nightstalking, unless its a bitterly cold night. as long as the temps are bearable we will continue to fish through the winter months and some of our best night and biggest fish are caught during the colder months.
Even small children can participate in a night stalk and they usually catch their fair share of the crappie. memories to last a lifetime are made on nights like this.
Bass, commonly referred to as “green carp” by local night stalkers are a common visitor to a night stalk and these fish can wreck havoc on a night stalkers setup. very seldom do you get one to the net without a mess being made of your setup.
Catfish are also a common visitor to your stalker setups at night. referred to as “thugs” by area night stalkers, these creatures can also create huge problems on a night stalkers set up with ultra lite rigs.
If you do your homework and set up successfully for a night stalk for crappie you can be carrying a cooler full of fish like these pictured home for a family fish fry.