Taking care of safety considerations before the trip allows Shepard to concentrate on fishing and catch nice flatties like this. Note the headlamp to help with tying rigs and landing fish at night.
Night Fishing Safety
by Ron Presley
Things that are routine in the daytime are not routine in the dark.
Florida catfish angler Allen Shepard loves to fish at night. In fact, he claims it as his favorite time to fish. Because he does fish a lot at night, he routinely checks his equipment to be sure it is in operating order. He considers safety among the more important aspects of fishing in a world without daylight.
His concern for safety at night is just as important to daytime anglers that leave the ramp early to get to their fishing holes. For the first couple of hours, they face many of the same dangers as fishing after dark.
“A lot of normal fishing activities seem routine in the daytime,” Shepard shared. “But if I am not fishing in a team tournament, I am likely fishing by myself and that means even more caution is needed at night. I have friends and other anglers tell me that I spend too much time in preparation, but I’ve been in some tight situations and the safety issues are very important. Preparation time is time well spent.”
Shepard is referring to things like weather forecasts, changing discharge rates, floating debris, and plain old lack of visibility as potential dangers when fishing at night.
Shepard is a stickler for safety checks. It is much easier to replace or repair a needed item if you find it before you’re on the water.
“Any boat, large or small, new or old, needs to be checked for seaworthiness,” explained Shepard. “I want to be sure my vessel is ready to go for the waters I’ll be fishing. Conditions can change very quickly so preparation is a life saver!”
“Personally, I make sure my basic safety equipment is readily available and in good working condition,” continued Shepard. “This includes lifejackets with whistle attached, throw cushions, fire extinguishers, and safety flares. And yes, I always take my flares even when state law doesn’t require them. Also, the fire extinguishers and flares are dated and must be in compliance.”
His checklist also includes plenty of rope with a worthy breakaway anchor that will hold in any situation. Anchors are not required safety equipment on recreational boats, but if you should lose power, they can stop your drift and keep you safely in one spot until help arrives. Finally, he adds a flashlight w/strobe and a VHF radio.
“I also check my bilge pumps,” added Shepard. “I backwash the plumbing through the exit ports to clean any debris from clogging. A working bilge is a must. Just imagine taking on water and the bilge doesn’t work.”
Next comes the starting and trolling motor batteries. He checks them regularly for electrolyte level and corrosion at the connections. Shepard includes these checks in the charging process before his next trip.
“Choosing the right battery in the first place is key,” added Shepard. “Battery size should accommodate the number of lights, pumps, and other electrical devices being used and you use more lights at night. If your battery is too small for the load you put on it you are asking for trouble.”
Shepard includes headlamps, extra lamp batteries, and a small first-aid kit with two tubes of Superglue for emergency skin cut repair. Add mosquito repellent, Gorilla Tape, and zip ties, for bug control and temporary fixes and he’s ready to go.
Even when fishing local waters, it is important to consult the weather forecast. A lot of trouble can be avoided by simply not putting angler safety ahead of a desire to go fishing, especially with a bad thunderstorm on the horizon.
If you are river fishing the forecast of upstream dam water release times, water levels, and flow amounts are necessities when fishing at night. Normally there is a phone number to call for these measurements or you can look them up on the internet.
“Night fishing below dams can be a source of danger,” explained Shepard. “If you’re close to the dam, you’re fishing in an area subject to sudden changes in currents. The location of safe anchoring spots can vary depending on flow.”
Shepard gave the example of an angler anchored in 10 feet of water. A sudden discharge, say over a 20-minute period, will create faster currents and a rising river. This can cause an anchor placement to break loose. The boat can involuntarily maneuver into unsafe conditions.
“Boat control can be difficult to maintain or regain,” advised Shepard. “If this happens in darkness and the angler has several reels out it’s going to require time to get them in and get control of the boat again. Staying on top of things during changing discharge conditions is critical. Anglers should always be mindful of conditions and have a plan of action.”
“Fishing new waters, lake or river, is yet another consideration,” continued Shepard. “I make daytime surveys before venturing out at night. This includes marking danger spots such as log stickups, shallow areas, and debris that may be just under the water’s surface.”
Anglers using smaller boats need to be extra careful according to Shepard. He says they should never double anchor in current, or for that matter anchor from the transom at all. Small boats tend to be less stable while standing and if an anchor hangs up, especially at night, it can quickly become a safety issue. Night fishing in any small boat should consist of at least two anglers who are water-safety wise.
“Anglers should always crank the motor before pulling the anchor to ensure an opportunity to exit quickly,” added Shepard. “If you’re using a tiller handle motor, use extreme caution when the anchor is pulled. It is important to take complete boat control as quickly as possible.”
Night fishing also presents the possibility of unseen debris floating down the river. This presents a possible danger while anchored and while navigating from spot to spot.
“Running speed is an issue on a river with high water and possible debris,” cautioned Shepard. “There should be no race against time. Travel time should be considered with no compromise to safety anytime, especially in the dark of the night.”
Large debris can float down the river and hang up on the anchor line. If large enough, it can pull the bow underwater and you take on water. It can also pull an anchor and you’re floating along out of control.
“Floating debris happens in lakes too,” added Shepard. “I’ve encountered it many times on our local lakes, Wheeler Lake, and other Tennessee River lakes. Bigger boats are a plus under these conditions because they are more stable with better control.”
“I don’t want to scare anyone off the water at night,” Shepard said. “But I do want them to look at it differently than fishing in the daylight. It’s a different mindset. I want them to plan ahead and include a secondary plan for unforeseen dangers.”
“Night fishing is awesome for me,” concluded Shepard. “I use daytime planning to execute a safe nighttime fishing trip. I have a little saying that I used with the electric power linemen that I once supervised. If you’re not thinking of SAFETY then you’re NOT SAFE! This is the same way I feel about night fishing. I hope you will try it and do it safely. It can be a great experience!