The steady gurgle of a Jitterbug can lull you into a daze, but don’t let that happen. Night bites on topwater plugs occur with zero warning, sometimes right at the boat, and they tend to be violent.

Don’t let that scare you away, just don’t get too relaxed. There’s something truly thrilling about casting by the light of the moon (or into total darkness), fishing by sound and feel, and being at least somewhat startled by every strike.

There is one aspect of this type of bass fishing that needs to be stated right up front -- no matter how huge a splash the bass makes, NEVER set the hook until you feel the fish. Bass hit and miss a lot at night, sometimes knocking the lure clear out of the water, and there is little more dangerous than a big hookset that sends a treble-hook-armed plug flying from the surface toward the boat in total darkness. In fact, wearing safety goggles isn’t a bad idea.

As summer sets in, bass seek thermal refuge by day. In lakes and reservoirs, they stray a bit deeper and hold over humps or along channel edges. Stream smallmouths move into shoals where the water is cooler and generally well oxygenated, or to the edges of a pool with overhanging trees or undercut banks.

After hours, though, when darkness sends the pleasure boaters and swimmers home and brings cooler temperatures more conducive to feeding, those same fish go on the prowl. Lake fish move shallower, often to flats adjacent to deeper waters, and river fish head to the tailouts of big pools where the shallower water creates more current. They feed heavily on minnows and craws, but they also stay alert for frogs, snakes, terrestrial insects or critters of other kinds that find themselves swimming on the surface.

Bumping the bottom with a dark worm or slow rolling a spinnerbait can produce well at night, but neither generates the thrills of the surface gurgling approach. As importantly, topwater offerings tend to attract the attention of a larger grade of fish than will most subsurface presentations.

Because the fish tend to cruise big open areas, the best lures stay moving and can be used to cover water. Even though you need to cover water, the actual movements of the lure should be slow and steady so bass can hone in on the lure and are more likely to connect when they attack.

Two outstanding performers for this situation are an Arbogast Jitterbug, which has been drawing fish to the top for 75 years with its steady wobble and gurgle, and a Buzz Plug, which is a relative newcomer that offers buzzbait appeal but can be fished much slower because it’s a floating plug.

The classic Jitterbug comes in four sizes, which range from 2 to 4 ½ inches long. The 2-inch version is a gem for streams and light spinning tackle. The 4 ½ incher, at the opposite end of the spectrum, tends to draw fewer strikes, but any fish that attacks it is apt to be a good one. Jitterbug variations include a jointed version, which adds wag as it wobbles, and clicker versions of solid and jointed Jitterbugs, which deliver extra sound to attract bass.

The Buzz Plug and smaller Buzz Plug Jr. provide a louder gurgle but a less pronounced wobble than the Jitterbug. ‘Bug vs. Plug isn’t necessarily conditional, but more a matter of nightly bass mood and something best discovered through experimentation.

Many anglers believe that black is the only color lure you need for night fishing, and they’re not totally wrong. Although it seems like a black lure would just fade into the darkness, look at it from the fish’s point of view – from below. Fish see a surface lure at night by looking up and seeing the bait’s profile or silhouette, and a black lure produces a stronger image.

For either lure, the best presentation rarely varies. In fact, it almost seems too boring to work so well. Make a long cast, let the bait settle for a moment and then reel it back steadily at a slow to moderate pace, all the way to the boat. When the lure passes close to a pronounced stick-up or other piece of isolated cover that you can see, pausing the retrieve for just a moment can prompt a strike.

When bass do connect, you’ll know it. You’ll hear the splash and feel the surge almost simultaneously. When you do feel the fish, a short, sharp wrist snap is all that is needed to drive the hooks home.

When a bass blows up on your bait but misses, resist setting the hook. In fact, if you can keep you composure (which isn’t easy), the very best thing to do is just keep reeling at the same steady pace. Often the fish will hit again, and when it does the strike normally will be less dramatic but more efficient.

If the fish doesn’t come back, you sometimes can draw another strike by repeating the same cast and presentation. A better strategy, though, is to keep handy a dark-colored, Texas-rigged YUM Dinger and to cast it as close as possible to the spot where the blow-up occurred. Often the bass will nab the worm before it reaches bottom.

Final Night Fights

- Arrive an hour or two before dark, scout the area and fish with your favorite summer evening lures. Letting your eyes acclimate with the approaching darkness and getting a feel for the area and where snags are situated while it’s still light can help you fish more efficiently in the dark.

- Wear a headlamp and use it as needed to help you unhook fish, retie and do other jobs in the boat. As much as is possible, though, avoid shining the beam across areas where you will be casting. That definitely can spook the bass, especially over shallow flats.

- When you’re landing fish, keep pressure light and use a net to scoop fish into the boat. You don’t want a plug to come lose and shoot like a slingshot toward your face.

- Don’t run and gun at night. Select an area and work it thoroughly.

- One great hotspot for night fishing with a Jitterbug or Buzz Plug is a well-lit marina. The lights draw insects and baitfish, which in turn attract bass. First focus on the edges of the light where it fades into darkness.