Surfcasting After Dark
with Allan Burgess
Most experienced trout anglers are well aware of the advantages fishing after dark. Cruising trout lose their inhibitions and will come right into the shallows chasing bullies and smelt after sunset. I think I have probably caught as many sea-run brown trout at night as I have during the day. It is amazing that the trout can even find a tiny feathered lure in the blackness under water. But at this time of day, they certainly seem easier to catch. The same thing applies to surfcasting after dark.
Sea fish species, such as red cod, also come in close to shore to feed under the cover of darkness. In fact, red cod in shallow coastal waters are known to hold up in cover during the day. They venture out only as the sun is setting. I have frequently fished a beach without much luck during the day only to have my fortunes change for the better with the onset of darkness.
By “Surfcasting After Dark” I am referring to arriving during the daylight hours. This allows plenty of time to get set up, carry down your gear, push rod spikes into the sand or shingle, and generally get ready for the evening ahead.
The summer holidays are great for night fishing. If you are away camping without the pressure of having to rise for work, you can afford to stay up most of the night and sleep in the next day. At this time of year, beach fishing after dark is very popular, particularly if the days are very hot and windy. The wind will frequently die down in the evenings and fishing will become more pleasant.
Another consideration on the subject of wind is that during the day the wind may be blowing in off the sea. Then in the evening the wind dies down and blows back the other way. This change of wind direction is caused by land heating during the day and cooling at night, while the temperature of the sea remains constant. This effect happens a lot during the summer particularly on the West Coast of the South Island. It means that the sea can be rough during the day and then flatten at night. This makes after dark the ideal time for surfcasting.
On a bright moonlit night, no torch or lamp is really necessary. Your eyes grow accustomed to the gloom to such a degree that if you turn on your torch it tends to blind you for a time after you switch it off.
However, on cloudy nights, unless you are a cat, you do need some sort of light to see what you are doing when baiting your hooks or unhooking a fish. You may even have to turn your torch onto see which species of fish you have caught!
For many years I fished at night with a Tilley lamp. These things run on Kerosene. They work well so long as you can keep them out of the wind otherwise the glass goes all black and you are forever cleaning it.
I have now changed over to a rock gas powered lantern. This puts out an incredible amount of bright, white, light, equal to 200 candlepower. Best of all it is not affected by the wind! Mine even has Piezo ignition. This means you don’t need matches to light it. Just turn the gas on, push the button, and it lights.
You need to find a good protective case to carry your gas lantern, otherwise, the cloth mantle and glass globe are easily broken. What you need is some form of packing around the lamp so that it can’t bang around in its case and become damaged.
It is possible to fit a tube to the gas bottle to raise the height of the lantern. But I have found a simpler method is to just pile up sand or shingle to form a mound about a foot higher than the surrounding beach. Then place the light on top. The light floods down on to the sand for a “street light” effect. You don’t need a big heavy gas bottle. One of two or three kilos is more than sufficient and will keep you going for many nights without the need to refill it.
These things are so bright that you have to avoid looking directly at the light. I find the best idea is to place the light about ten meters behind me up the beach so that I am looking away from it. This way I can get a good view of any fish I am winding up the sand.
Small chemical lights can be fastened to the tip of your rod and glow in the dark. When you get a bite they start dancing around so you know when to strike. They are available from your tackle store. One stick will glow for at least 24 hours. Even better than the chemical lights are the new battery-powered LED rod tip lights. They come in several colours; blue, green and red. They are excellent. You can see in the picture of surfcasters fishing on the beach at Kaikoura their tip lights glowing like a row of stars. That is why you don’t want a white light because it would blend in on a stary night. If you site a bit further back up the beach you can see your rod tip better without having to bend your neck as much.
At night you have to be that extra bit more careful. Avoid getting too close to the surf in your attempts to cast your baited hooks further out. Remember the fish come in close at night. So long casts aren’t that important.
Get into the habit of putting your gear back in your bag or vehicle immediately after using it. Otherwise, you will very easily forget items you have used and leave them behind in the dark. It is only later, the next day, that you realize you’ve left your good fishing knife at the beach!
Though it depends from one locality to another, generally red cod and other species will come in with the rising tide. So it is a good idea to plan your trip accordingly.
Why not give night fishing ago over the holidays! I have found it very enjoyable, especially in Canterbury where we can get many hot nor-west days over summer, the beach is often a cooler and a more productive place to fish after sundown.