Courtesy, Etiquette, and Safety
For those of us that enjoy focusing our summer fishing time as the sun sets and the moon takes precedence, we can probably all agree that there is no better feeling of catching large bass at sunset – and catching even larger bass after dark.
As the crickets, bullfrogs, and katydids are in full force during some of the hottest times of the year, the heat gives way to evening humidity and the glow of a black light on the water. As you make you last cast in your coveted “before dark” spot and plan to head to another prime location, you look out from your boat and sharply realize the night sky has taken over your immediate surroundings. What you saw in what seemed like just minutes ago, is nothing more than a few lights in the distance from the shoreline.
This is where, in my early night fishing years, I put my full and undivided faith in the operator of the boat. All I did was show up to fish, they drove around, got us to the next spot, and I simply - fished. My upmost trust was in the fact that my fishing buddy knew where we were, where we were going, and that we were going to safely get from point A to point B. It wasn’t until years later that I found myself with that same operator responsibility and realized I needed to adhere to some basic competencies of not only what I needed to do to have a safe and successful fishing trip with my fishing partner, but also understand that I needed to take note of what other boaters are doing and plan accordingly.
Always be aware of your surroundings.
Take a mental note of what is around you while you are fishing your spot. Not just what is immediately around you - trees, docks, brush, etc. – but boat traffic that has come in around you to fish, standing timber, or other obstacles you may have seen on the way in. You will pass those same obstacles coming back out. Above all this, especially for those fishing a recreational lake, keep a keen eye on recreational traffic that may be entering and exiting the area. By keeping an eye on what’s going on around you while you fish can eliminate a potential prop ding, hull scuff, or worst case scenario an accident with another boat or obstacle in the water.
Just because you adhere to safe boating practices, doesn’t mean other boaters will.
It’s easy to think that everyone on the water has taken a boater safety course, or simply knows to kick on the navigation lights when another boat comes in to an area to make sure they are aware of your whereabouts. But I can’t count the times where I have come up on a boat while on the trolling motor and the only way I knew they were there was the faint sound of voices in the distance. It changes your plan for fishing that location, and subsequently changes your game plan – especially if you are fishing in a tournament.
Navigation on the main lake and always looking ahead.
It’s a game of numbers, and after dark the odds that you will come across a stray boat with no lights, stranded in the middle of the lake are not necessarily in your favor when motoring from one fishing spot to another. It wasn’t until I was less than 20 yards away from a pontoon boat with dead batteries, with no moon light to assist with seeing them, to know the odds are still there and it can happen to anybody.
Always be looking ahead. If you have navigation (GPS), use it to ensure that you are not coming up on mapped obstacles and to stay on course, but keep a keen eye on the water ahead of you. It’s easy to be distracted by the constant update of information and placement of your boat on GPS, but spend most of your time focused on what’s ahead and not on a screen.
If you are operating the boat without navigation (GPS), keep an eye on the coast line to ensure you have plenty of room between your boat and the shoreline. Most lakes have speed restrictions after dark, but that doesn’t mean you won’t come across a random obstacle that you can’t see until the last second.
Predictable and unpredictable weather.
It may be a given to some, but in the rush to head to your favorite lake, don’t forget to check the forecast for the evening. In southwest Missouri, it is common knowledge that a stray “pop-up” thunderstorm at night,that are not in the forecast, are not out of the question. However, in most cases I know the chances for rain or storms before I head to the lake. I suggest you become familiar with a weather app you can download on your smart phone (there are plenty out there) but ensure that it is one that is reliable and as accurate as possible. I prefer apps that rely on NOAA weather information, it seems to be the most reliable in my area. Forecasts can change in an hour’s notice in some areas, so it is important to stay on top of using the information updated in the last hour or few hours instead of relying solely on your local weather forecast given to you the night before on the ten o’clock local news.
Also be aware of what’s off in the distant night sky. Was that flash of light, lightning? There is nothing worse than having a trip ruined by weather before you put the boat in the water, or even worse, after you are on the water. High winds, rain, hail, lightning, and other storm related events can have you rushing back to the ramp or for an empty dock stall. Remember, the safest place for you to be in a strong or severe storm is not in your boat, definitely not with a fishing rod in your hands.
Be considerate of other boaters and campsite areas.
It’s a courtesy that has evolved over the years by our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents – we should always be courteous and respectful to others using the water. By the time you hit you next spot, there may be others that are enjoying the outdoors, regardless of if they are fishing or not. It’s easy to get excited over a large catch or laugh at jokes, but be mindful that others may be in the same area to enjoy the same scenery, with peace and quiet – especially after dark.
Be sure that your boat accessories are in proper working order before you head out.
Sounds simple, but from time to time you may find yourself without navigation lights due to a blown fuse, a black-light that won’t turn on, a livewell pump that simply won’t kick on. Though some issues cannot be reproduced before you head out, most are. Create a checklist of items of things you want to check before you even take the boat off the trailer. Here are some example items:
- Is the drain plug in?
- Are my navigation lights in and do they work?
- Do the accessory plugs have power? (a cell phone charger from your vehicle can verify this)
- Do I have all the tackle I need?
- Do I have a first aid kit in the boat?
- Is the lake map still in the truck?
- Where did I put those flashlights? (at least one per person in the boat)
- Did we put the food and drink in the boat?
- Is there a roll of toilet paper in the storage compartment under the seat? (may sound crazy to some – but for those that have actually needed to use it understand!)
These are just some examples of what you may want to include in your checklist. The important thing, whether you are sharp enough mentally to remember the list or have physically written down, is to make it a habit of going through the list each trip to the lake.
Safety and planning for the unthinkable.
Lifejackets. Wear them. It’s that simple. It goes back to what I started this article on – understanding my surroundings and plan accordingly for the unexpected. Wearing your lifejacket might be the one thing that saves a life in the event of an accident, and for that you may be forever grateful.
Ensure your kill switch is in working order and attached to your person anytime the motor is in operation. In the event of the operator becoming distanced from the boat (i.e. unexpected broken steering cable, capsizing of the boat) it will keep the boat nearby and not operational – giving you a chance to get back to the boat, if applicable.
Slow down and always be looking ahead. It’s not the first time I’ve mentioned this. While in operation, be sure to not be distracted by conversation, navigation (GPS), etc. Whether you are fishing solo or with multiple fishing partners, your safety and theirs are in your hands.
I personally love summer nights, fishing on the water. There is just something about catching bass under the night sky that makes you forget about stresses in your life, in a calm, serene atmosphere. This is by no means a complete list of suggestions to keep in mind when boating after dark, as there are plenty more that could be discussed. The important thing to remember when fishing at night is to have fun, be safe, be aware, and catch some bass!