Plop.

You hear it from the darkness when each cast lands, and a gurgling sound follows as you begin reeling. You feel the lure working, along with hearing it, but you don’t see it until it approaches and you are about to cast again. It’s easy to get lulled during the way-late hours, but violent strikes come from nowhere and will quickly cure you of any near-napping state.

Working a Jitterbug through darkness on a summer night has a unique romance. More importantly, it’s an exceptionally effective way to catch fish. The basic technique is simple. Cast, reel, catch fish. That said, being intentional about a few aspects can help make your Jitterbugs night trips more productive.

Arrive Early

Getting on the water a couple of hours before dark can provide major advantages for finding fish, working effectively and staying safe. It allows you to learn the lay of the lake, make sure all gear is rigged and ready, identify navigational hazards, and potentially find some fish you’ll eventually try to catch. Don’t worry about fishing initially. Do lots of looking around and getting stuff in order.

Of course, if you end up fully ready before sunset, you might as well try to take advantage of any last-light bite that arises. Not only does action tend to get good at that time, but this provides a nice opportunity to get in a casting groove and begin to gauge what the fish are doing.

Choose Jitterbug Locations

Remember that summer fish often move shallower to feed after the sun goes down. When you arrive, hopefully well before dark, use your electronics to look along channel edges, especially near bends and confluences that are close to big flats. Also look at the ends points that connect feeding flats with deeper water. When you find concentrations of fish, consider likely travel routes into shallow water and the places where you expect them to be.

Because you’ll be casting into darkness with open trebles, pick broad flats, fairly open banks or areas where stumps or vegetation are mostly submerged, leaving the surface open. Except when you have clear skies and a full moon, realistically allowing you to aim casts close to a bank once your eyes adjust, you normally want to be able to just let casts fly and know your lure will be crossing the strike zone.

Carry Less

Stay simple with your gear and approach. Less junk in the boat means less to trip over, and if you’re Jitterbugging, you don’t really need a bunch of rods and tackle boxes. Beyond your Jitterbug, you might want a dark-colored jig or a big-bladed spinnerbait so you can work some areas both on top and beneath the surface and for a follow-up option for a fish that hits and misses. That’s about it, though. Beyond fishing lures, look to see what things in your boat can be stowed or taken out to keep everything as open as possible.

Keep it Steady

A major part of what makes a Jitterbug so effective after the sun goes down is that it’s an easy nighttime target for the fish. It makes a big gurgle that fish can hear from far away, and they can follow the vibration of a Jitterbug steadily swinging back and forth to hone in on the lure. With that in mind, use a slow steady cadence that allows the Jitterbug to do its best fish-calling work.

Wait on it

When a fish attacks, don’t set the hook until you feel the fish no matter how big the explosion is. This can be difficult, and it demands a highly intentionally approach, but it’s vital both to avoid pulling your lure away from a fish that wants to eat and to spare creating a hard hook-carrying projectile that’s aimed at you in the dark! If you just keep reeling when a fish attacks and misses, chances are fairly good that it will hit again and with greater efficiency.

Illuminate Wisely

Finally, if you don’t have one already, pick up a cheap headlamp before you go. There are plenty of fancy lights out there, but it’s hard to beat a single beam that points right where you’re looking when you need light for things like unhooking fish and tying knots. Just don’t forget to click it off before you look your buddy in the face. Also, try not to swing the beam across shallow water where you’re about to cast as that can spook the fish.