What Is The Best Time To Night Fish At A Lake?

While fishing on a lake is a diurnal activity for most “casual anglers,” a large contingent of anglers swear by night fishing. There are several benefits to fishing on a lake in the dark, but knowing the best time will improve your fishing success.

Most anglers agree that between 8 pm and 3 am is ideal for night fishing on a lake. The most productive times are one to two hours after sunset and an hour before dawn, thanks to lower light conditions. However, these “golden hours” vary according to temperature, season, and fish species.

Night fishing opens up a world of possibilities, but not every hour nor every night produces the best results. Below we’ll explore why predawn and post-sunset fishing is good and what some of the variables that influence it are.

multiple fishing rods on a lake shore at night time

Why Predawn And Post Sunset Are The Best Times For Night Fishing At A Lake

While you’ll want to be on the water from before 8 pm until around 3 am, the best hours are usually just after dusk (one to two hours) and just before dawn. Consequently, this is the best time for “day fishing” too.

The reason why fishing just after the sun sets and just before dawn is better relates to general fish behavior. Most fish feed at this time of the day. Hungry fish in a feeding mood are likelier to snap up bait than lethargic fish during the day’s heat.

Additionally, fish feel more comfortable moving around at night. The poor light better hides prey species from birds and other predators, while predatory fish maximize their superior senses while hunting at night.

Once lake fish have fed, they enter a period of less activity, so you’ll find they are less interested in your bait (toward midnight).

Aside from improved camouflage, the slight drop in temperature is a significant boon for many fish. After the sun sets, the water begins to cool, allowing the oxygen-rich bottom water to mix with the cooling upper regions of the water column. Fish capitalize on the increase in oxygen levels.

The Benefits Of Fishing Between 8 pm And 3 am

  • Fish are hungry at this time, so they’re more likely to attack your bait.
  • Sight hunters (like bass) benefit from small amounts of light while hunting. At dusk and dawn, there is still some light (compared to midnight), so these fish will be more active.
  • The low light conditions leading up to 8 pm allow anglers some time to pick a spot while it’s still visible. Additionally, the ambient temperature is warm directly after sunset, so it is still relatively comfortable for anglers.
  • There are generally fewer other anglers active at this time. Fewer people mean less competition, less water disturbance, and fewer fish being spooked.

The Drawbacks Of Fishing Between 8 pm And 3 am

  • While fish have great low-light vision, humans don’t, so locating fish and structures at night is challenging.
  • The low-light conditions may also result in your rod snapping. We don’t see well in the dark, so we can’t manage our rods. This lack of rod awareness may result in over-exerting a rod or getting snagged and pulling too hard.
  • Conditions at night on a lake may be dangerous/hazardous. Most anglers stick closer to the bank for safety, potentially limiting their success.

Variables Which Influence The Best Time For Night Fishing On A Lake

While under perfect conditions, night fishing is ideal from after sunset until predawn; however, fishing is usually never done in a perfect scenario as there are always other limiting factors.

Environmental conditions significantly influence the best time to fish at night and include the following:

Season And Weather Conditions

The weather impacts what time is best to fish significantly.

For example, nights are warm during summer, insects abound, and certain fish (like bass) abound. The more humid, the better.

High daytime temperatures force fish deeper into the water column to seek refuge. Once the sun sets, the water cools, and fish become more active. These factors create ideal conditions though most of the night.

When fishing in the Spring or Fall, late afternoon until a couple of hours after sunset is ideal, thanks to the cooler ambient temperatures.

Are you in the wet or dry season? Anglers often find that low air (barometric) pressure before a storm hits causes fish (who sense the change in pressure thanks to their swim bladders) to voraciously feed to stock up before the storm hits, and they hunker down.

If you know a storm is coming, you’ll fish earlier or later than the “ideal.”

The Wind Plays A Role In Selecting Times

Although the wind is a small factor for fish, it helps anglers predict what might happen. I.e., wind from a certain direction at a specific time of the year usually brings in cold weather, which causes fish to become less active. While wind from another direction precedes a storm (as discussed above).

Additionally, a bit of wind helps when lake fishing from a boat as it breaks the surface, hiding the fishing line and the boat’s silhouette. If the forecast suggests wind at a specific time, you’ll need to plan your night fishing around the predictions to maximize your chances of success.

Linked to the localized weather and seasons are the climatic conditions in the area. Subtropical and tropical regions generally have better night fishing (for longer) as the water remains at a relatively constant temperature (no drastic shifts between day and night in the temperature).

 small lake illuminated by moonlight

The Moon’s Phase And Lights At Night

Light is equally essential in fish feeding behavior and timing. Certain fish species (like bass) become more active during full/new moons, thanks to the increased light for hunting.

So depending on when the full or new moon rises, you need to adjust your fishing time accordingly. During other moon phases, the amount of light produced is negligible, and other environmental factors are of greater consequence.

Aside from moonlight, artificial lights affect fish behavior. While bait fish are often drawn to light (in search of insects), larger predatory fish tend to hang around on the fringe. One more reason to wait for an hour or two after sunset.

The Physical Characteristics Of The Lake

How deep the lake is, how fast the currents are, the amount of vegetation, and other underwater structures influence when fish become more active.

Larger, deeper lakes are better at “holding” a specific temperature for longer, making night fishing easier over a longer time.

Smaller lakes and those with much water flowing in are more prone to temperature fluctuations, so your window is often smaller.

When fishing in murky water, you’ll benefit from moonlight, while fishing in clear water is better with less light (no moon).

small boat fishing at night

The Target Species

It’s important to note that while many fish species are active during these hours, certain fish are more frequently caught during these twilight escapades.

These species include:

  • Bass (especially striped)
  • Bluefish
  • Catfish
  • Panfish
  • Walleye

Fortunately, this list covers a relatively large contingent of popular lake fish; however, it’s worth noting which species you’re more likely to encounter while night fishing, as it’ll allow you to plan accordingly.

For example, small and largemouth bass prefer some light, while striped bass prefer less light (even the light from a full moon might be too much for striped bass).

If you plan on fishing all night, you might switch focus from one species to the next as time progresses.

By targeting particular fish on this list, you can plan for their seasonal movements and bait presentation preferences, which may change at different times of the night.

Is There A Bad Time For Night Fishing At A Lake?

The reality is, if you’re not catching fish during the sunset/sunrise “rush,” there are most likely other issues at play.

Environmental conditions tremendously impact your night fishing success, no matter the time.


Fishing between 8 pm and 3 am is the ideal range for night fishing, with a peak in fish-feeding activity one to two hours after sunset and an hour before sunrise. However, several environmental factors influence your timing, so planning with a weather app is wise.

Tommy Bull
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