The granddaddy of all bullfrogs vibrated the stifling July darkness with its incessant “buuroorumph, buuroorumph, buuroorumph!” The monotonous drone of a zillion katydids was equaled by the hideous buzzing of two zillion bloodthirsty mosquitoes. Sweat drenched my long-sleeved shirt, with turned-up collar, and the red bandanna tied over my nose and face. My baseball cap rode low on my brow, scarcely leaving enough gap for me to see the moss-matted water by the light of the quarter moon. The conditions forced my friend Dennis and me to react to strikes of marauding bass by sound, after they exploded on our weedless frog lures.
We were fishing at Big Oak State Park Lake, in Mississippi County, Mo. The water resembled a green lawn. The lake was so thick with moss in the summer that finding an open spot was almost impossible. As a result, very few people fished Big Oak for bass at night. I admit, a person did have to want a bass pretty badly to endure what nature dished out on such trips.
We began fishing right at dusk. Our weedless frogs brought immediate results as hungry bass busted through the thick moss at the sound of the frog skimming the surface. About one strike in 10 resulted in a hook set, and one hook set in four resulted in a landed bass. The trick was to keep a bass from wriggling back through the thick moss.
By 10 p.m., several bass in the 1.5- to 3-pound class had fallen victim to our nighttime tactics. The excitement of hearing a bass explode in the darkness kept our adrenaline flowing almost as fast as the sweat. Around 10:30 p.m., Dennis heaved his weedless frog into the darkness for the thousandth time. It sounded like the frog landed in open water – a small pocket in the mass of moss, no doubt. Dennis twitched the frog one time. The sound of the strike made us both jump.
"Holy mackerel!" Dennis yelled, as line screamed from his reel. Dennis leaned back on the rod. I thought we were about to wrestle our first alligator. Ten minutes later we rolled a 20-pound ball of moss into the boat. The dim beam from our flashlight revealed that the bass was still on.
After cutting the moss away, Dennis claimed the largest bass of his life, a stocky, 23-inch fish! Neither of us had a scale, but estimated the fish at 10 pounds! The year was 1967.
A Tactic Revisited
The responsibilities that came with working my way through college, serving in the military and raising four children ate up almost 30 years before my next nighttime bass fishing trip. In the summer of 1996, I was invited to cover a night tournament on Lake of the Ozarks (LOZ).
Memories of my experience on Big Oak Lake, 29 years previously, flooded my mind as my wife, Charlene, and I motored into the LOZ darkness to join the night bass tournament. The surroundings were quite different, however. No moss, no mosquitoes. LOZ is open water surrounded by businesses and residences on most arms of the lake. A full moon made navigation easy. Tactics centered around locating submerged brush piles on our electronics and working big worms slowly through the brush.
Rolla, Mo. anglers Ricky Carroll and Ron Turner won the tournament, which ran from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m., with a total bass stringer of 15 pounds. Carroll has been night fishing for bass for over 10 years.
"I began night fishing some of the Bass World tournaments just for fun," Carroll explained. "I soon discovered, however, that I could catch a lot more fish at night and could usually catch better bass at night. I enjoy getting out of the summer heat, too. Also, LOZ can be overrun with boaters and skiers on a hot summer day but once the sun sets, you’ve got the lake almost to yourself. Very few people bass fish at night."
Lures, Locations And Lots Of Bass
Carroll utilizes two primary lures for nighttime bass fishing excursions: big worms and jig-n-pigs. "I prefer big worms in the 11- to 12-inch range," Carroll said. "Berkley Powerworms in red shad, blue flake, black or purple are my favorites. Bass pick up the big worms and hang on!" A Texas rig is Carroll’s choice of presentation.
He plies moderately deep brush piles around boat docks in 10 to 20 feet of water. Because bass often rely on hearing to hone in on prey at night, Carroll almost always inserts a rattler into the head of the worm. “I drag a long worm over a limb, shake the worm five or six times and let it drop,” he said. “If a strike doesn’t come on the drop, I let it sit for 15 to 30 seconds. If a strike still doesn’t come, I slowly hop the worm until I make contact with another limb, and repeat the process."
"Pay close attention to how your first few hits occur," Carroll added. "Don’t assume the bass are in the exact same spot as last time out. Bass sometimes hang right on the edge of brush piles, or on the inside, towards the banks. At other times, bass bunch up on the outside of brush piles, closer to deeper water. Most often, though, they bury themselves right in the thick of the piles. Adding a brass weight with beads helps in that situation.” Carroll also stated that brass clacks louder than lead.
If the big worms don’t do the trick, Carroll switches to a Denny Brauer rattle-back jig. He prefers black/blue, black/black, or brown from 3/8 to 1/2 ounce. He dresses the jigs with Uncle Josh’s #1 jumbo pork frogs in black, brown or blue. Occasionally, he replaces the pork frog with a Gene Larew Salt Craw.
After winning the LOZ tournament, Carroll and partner Ron Turner fished from 3 a.m. to 6 a.m. Their catch in that three-hour period was even more impressive than the winning stringer. The pair brought in seven bass, all over 3 pounds, just for pictures. Turner’s largest went almost 7 pounds. Carroll indicated that they had caught a couple dozen more bass. All fish were released after pictures were taken.
In addition to brush near the docks, the two often key on secondary points with a creek channel swing. And brush is a must. Lighted boat docks are also productive. They prefer calm water in the dark of the moon. The phase of the moon can be the real difference in the bite.
Fishing for bass after sundown works well on all Missouri lakes, as well as most good bass lakes around the country, especially those that receive a lot of daytime fishing pressure and boating activity. July and August are typically the most productive months. You can literally have the lake to yourself at night and catch more and bigger bass – all in a calmer, cooler setting.
[Editor’s note: These tactics will work on many lakes throughout the country, where you can catch heavy stringers of bass and other species of fish without fighting the crowds. One word of caution, however: fishing and boating at night requires even more caution and safe boating practices than daytime activities. If you are unfamiliar with nighttime operations, check with your local Coast Guard office or the state boating administrator’s office for guidelines and regulations.]