If you are like me the greatest problem you face at this time of the year is starting and in some cases finishing fishing in the dark.
My work and family life leaves me with very little free time during any daylight periods at this time of the year. I work a normal five-day 9-5 week and have most weekends free, which I prefer to spend with my family. At this time of the year I also travel to and from work in the dark, so most of my available free time is during darkness. Analysing that further, if you work a forty-hour week Monday to Friday, then you potentially have possibly sixteen hours of daylight (weekends), but a hundred and twelve hours of darkness per week you could fish. So if you are going to fish efficiently the chances are you will certainly need to do a significant amount in darkness.
I have never had any issues starting and finishing fishing in total darkness. Nearly all my early Carp-fishing career was done in those circumstances especially during the autumn and winter. I also fished a venue where night fishing wasn’t allowed, supposedly, but you could start at first light. The standing joke made by all the members at the time was, ‘first light’ actually translated to any time after midnight.
In the past we actually went night fishing, which meant you fished all night as though it was the day. No sleeping, bedchairs or bivvies – the only comfort I had was an umbrella and deck chair. Moving swims in total darkness was just an accepted part, but it was always done quietly.
The secret to effectively fishing in the dark is preparation, organisation and an acceptance that your only disadvantage is the lack of daylight. I also think you need a degree of motivation especially at this time of the year. Most of my fishing is concentrated around doing midweek over nighters. This takes on a whole new meaning with daylight reduction; it invariably means every aspect of my fishing will be done in total darkness. You need ultimate confidence in your approach and ability, because if you doubt any aspect then it won’t be long before you blame the darkness for blanking. Once you start doing this it won’t be long before you stop going. If you fish weekends then generally you will only start in darkness, but the approach needs to be the same. Time for most of us is precious so wasting it on a poor darkness approach knowing it will be light when you wake-up in the morning isn’t an excuse. Remember 8.00pm in February should be viewed exactly the same as if it was June, the only difference should be the lack of daylight and colder temperatures.
If you adopt this approach you can only effectively fish if you have done all the necessary preparation. I have always mapped my chosen venues extensively ensuring I know distances to spots, depths and features in every swim. It is also important you record a feature on the skyline to ensure you have a directional element or target to aim a cast towards. I have tried using a compass to do this, but it’s hard to correlate a cast and compass bearing at the same time. It is also important you do this from the same position in every swim. I wouldn’t consider fishing any venue at this time of the year with none of the above information or any past daylight experience.
At one stage I used to commit all this to memory, but these days I record it in a small notebook. The notebook then becomes my guide in the darkness. You also need to always feather a cast and feel your lead down into position. This can then be compared with your daylight experience there are some aspects of watercraft you cannot record, knowing when something feels right is almost instinctive.
The second aspect is a measuring location. I look for fixed markers and then by pre- measurement make other references for my desired distances. It’s amazing how a tree-lined lane can give you every combination of distance you could ever need. The secret is knowing which trees are applicable to the appropriate spots. I’m always looking for easy solutions, my time is at a premium so knowing I have only to run my rods out and clip-up to these fixed markers is essential. I can then cast with confidence concentrating on direction, technique and the feeling as the lead hits the lakebed.
Baiting-up in the dark also brings its problems, whether you do it at the start or end of the session. I have three different throwing sticks and one main catapult to cover all my options of bait size. One of my throwing sticks I have had for over twenty years and know its capabilities exactly whether its night or day. It’s important you learn the technique for all your potential spots and use the appropriate tool. I cannot explain this aspect simply it’s where watercraft takes over from an exact science. Like I said earlier I wouldn’t consider fishing any lengthy campaign at this time of the year on any lake I didn’t already know well.
If you are into spodding and feel it’s appropriate you can quite efficiently do this in total darkness with the aid of a reasonable head torch. The method needs two lengths of industrial reflective tape preferable white and blue, for some reason those colours seem to reflect well over water. Wrap the tape around the top of the mark float and the pointy end of the spod. Cast your mark float using your guide marks to your desired spot and allow it to raise in the normal manner, tighten the float so it’s cocked up right and then just point your head torch, illuminated obviously, in its general direction. Industrial reflective tape will pick-up and reflect very low levels of light, which can be seen quite easily up to 80-90m with a good quality head torch. You can then mark your spod up and cast towards the marker float checking both reflective bands against each other.
My overnight sessions this year won’t include any spodding or marker float use. This additional disturbance will do too much damage to my prospects of catching on such short sessions. My perfect approach is hopefully three casts one for each rod, unless I see something worthy of a recast before bed or after landing a fish.
The second consideration is organisation; gear needs to be thinned down to a minimum and essentials. It’s far easier to set-up and pack-up in the dark if you have no clutter. The luxuries are dumped, the tackle bag reduced to just appropriate essentials. My gear now consists of a small tackle bag, large unhooking mat and sling, bait bucket, water bottle, bedchair, sleeping bag, rod quiver and three rods, six light-weight bank sticks, three buzzers and a brolly fitted with full sides. My tackle bag contains my mashing gear, camera, tripod, scales, spare head torch and terminal gear etc.
My photograph technique is simple and based around doing self takes with a Canon Powershot. I like this camera, because it has a flip around screen and does multi sequence shots on the self-timer, which you can instantly view giving you time to adjust your position between pictures. However, I’m no David Bailey so it’s probably not that good, but it is quick, compact and very easy to set-up.
I’ve tried fishing without a constant supply of tea and coffee, don’t bother, it’s essential. I only take healthy convenience foods (biscuits, cakes, buns and pasties) which last all of 15 minutes.
I use a single bank stick set-up to give me space amongst other reasons; it seems easer in the dark to deal with one thing at a time. Carrying your bivvy separate is also a good idea, having instant access to it is very important especially when you arrive at a swim just as it begins to rain. Keeping warm and dry is also very important, my sessions end with me going to work, so I always try to get a good night sleep. A good comfortable bedchair and sleeping bag is essential. I’m using the new Cloud 9 systems at the moment, which does the trick for me. The only discomfort I want to feel is hopefully dealing with a fish at some point during the night.
My current choice of venue means I’m usually fishing by about 6.30pm. I wouldn’t dream of going to sleep at home until probably mid-night, but when its cold or the wind is blowing it’s always tempting to jump into that nice warm sleeping bag, don’t. Like I stated earlier, why would you go to bed at 7.00pm? From now until I eventually turn-in, which is usually around 11.30pm, I watch the water.
During this period always be prepared to move if something gives you cause to believe there’s a better prospect somewhere else. I know lots of anglers retreat to their bivvies and either go to sleep or watch television. Each to his own, but you will miss opportunities and essential observations which might not benefit you that night, but could in the future.
This approach to Carp fishing is not suited to every venue; very weedy waters can be a nightmare. The problem will depend on how extensive the weed growth is and its type, some venues it will continue growing all year, which means constant change. Constant change isn’t good when you are relying on some pre-measured accuracy. Finding small spots in weed beds when it’s blowing a gale and dark can be very hard. You can do the ultimate cop-out and fish the margins or chuck a PVA bag out, my advice would always be leave these venues alone until you have some daylight hours. The other type of venue to avoid is those that have a poor track record for night bites. One of my close-angling companions doesn’t believe there is such a place; his opinion is there’s just a lack of effort. My advice – stick to some certainty.
Making things easy helps, being able to drive close to your chosen swim is a major advantage both for setting-up and packing away. The other part of darkness fishing is coping with this shrouded world and the frustration from not seeing your surroundings properly. It’s a fact that humans suffer from depression or seasonal affected disorder (SAD) due to the lack of sunlight. I once worked full time down a coal mine so I know all about getting depressed if left in the dark too long. Winters were a nightmare some weeks I only saw daylight at the weekends and that could amount to just a few hours. Keeping the enthusiasm going largely depends on how motivated you are and how difficult the fishing becomes. That aspect will always be down to the individual, but don’t blame the dark – it doesn’t stop you catching fish if you approach it correctly.