Under the Cover of Darkness – Open Offshore Fishing

Chris Raimondi takes us open offshore fishing as the big critters tend to come out to play under the cover of darkness.

Apart from the low light periods of dawn and dusk, there often isn’t a better time to fish offshore than at night. Many anglers consider darkness as dangerous but if a level of common sense and safety is applied, offshore fishing at night can be very rewarding.

Firstly, let’s talk through some of the elements that are essential in ensuring a safe night time session on the reef. Weather is of course a crucial factor whenever you fish offshore but becomes even more important at night. Lack of vision makes travelling long distances a very difficult proposition particularly in rough seas.

Choose conditions which are favourable and get to your location before dark. Anchoring up at night on the reef is also a much safer proposition than drifting or motoring between locations.

If you’re planning an overnighter, anchoring up during the late afternoon daylight on your first few trips is worth doing until you are comfortable with the conditions. When anchoring, make sure you take the current into account. The current tends to roar at night in a lot of offshore areas off South East Qld.

A combination of big tides and the continental shelf means that particularly under a full moon, the current will flow quickly which makes fishing at anchor fairly difficult, particularly in deep water.

If you’re planning on float lining, a popular technique when chasing snapper, ensure you anchor up accordingly, allowing adequate distance between your anchor point and the show of fish you’re trying to catch.

Snapper are a good species to start with when discussing fishing at night. Snapper are a classic low light period feeder. They’ll happily move away from structure to chase a feed higher up in the water column. Although early morning and late afternoon are prime times for chasing snapper, so is night time.

When chasing snapper, anchor up in the afternoon, get a berley trail going and press on into the darkness, particularly in the lead up to the full moon. Often you won’t necessarily need to mark a heap of snapper on your sounder with a steady berley trail enough to bring fish in the area right to the back of your boat.

A bit of rock and rubble in 20-30m of water will normally hold a population of snapper; the trick is to get them feeding because when they’re in a frenzy they find it hard to slow down (a bit like me).

Normally that bite period will hot up in the late afternoon and reach fever pitch right on dark. It’s then common for better quality fish to come on the chew under the cover of darkness.

Winter is the right time for this approach to catching snapper and they’ll continue to chew through until September/October as the water temperature starts to rise.

Another highly sort after Queensland reef species that loves to feed in the dark is the red emperor. To me, these guys still remain as the kings of the offshore reef. There is nothing simple about catching a big red emperor.

They’re hard to find, hard to entice to bite and a really hard fighting fish. Again, dark nights under the full moon are just about your best chance to entice a big red to bite.

The current is often your greatest nemesis with reds typically residing in 60-70m of water so a strong current makes it extremely difficult to fish. Night time often sees the bigger predatory fish come out to hunt meaning smaller fish like parrot, hussar and bait fish hide close to structure.

The presence of these bigger fish means a couple of things. Typically, your bait won’t get picked apart by small fish and will remain intact for longer which is very important in enticing a big red to bite. They’re not normally just looking for a small snack if you know what I mean.

Also, you’ll tend to get fewer bites at night but those that you get will more often than not be from better quality fish. Be patient, a big red can bite very softly and mouth a bait for several minutes before inhaling it. Then the fun starts as they look to get back to beneath their rock with brute power.

There are a host of other species that you’ll encounter offshore under the cover of darkness. Mangrove jacks tend to terrorise lightly floated baits far more regularly during the day. These guys can be caught in fairly good numbers off the Fraser Coast and they get massive! You think a 55cm model pulls hard around the Gold Coast canal pontoons, wait until you hook a 9kg model on the reef.

Again, it’s a fact that the larger, more aggressive predators feel more comfortable hunting their prey in the cover of darkness. Nannygai, spangled emperor and better quality hussar are also key targets during the night. They’ll all hammer baits on the bottom in close proximity to the reef on which they live.

In terms of technique, there really is little difference between fishing the reef at night or during the day. The current can be the major difference in conditions and fishing the bottom at anchor with a strong current can be a tricky proposition.

Keep in mind that at night, fish will leave their structure to hunt so your lines don’t need to be deployed directly up and down on the structure. Mix up your sinker weights. Float line some baits through the water column and anchor some hard on the reef.

It’s all about changing things up throughout the night until you crack a pattern at a certain time. Tide and wind changes will also effect bite periods, as they do during the day. So will the rise and fall of the moon, particularly if it’s a full moon.

Mix things up because at some stage during the night, more often than not the bigger fish will come out to play. Use glow beads or glow sinkers to draw some added attention to your bait.

Try live bait if you have it and just hold on, as the big critters tend to come out to play under the cover of darkness.


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