Doing It In the Dark – Nocturnal Seaway Fishing
Fishing the Seaway between Sunset and Sunrise can yield some excellent fishing for those who put in the effort, but just like fishing the seaway during the day, its all about where, when and how. This article will go into detail about the locations, timing, techniques and species that can be encountered fishing the seaway during the hours of darkness.
Firstly, your safety is paramount. While the area west of the pipeline is safe in all conditions, the area east of the pipeline out to the ends of the walls should only be fished at night by those with a long history of fishing the seaway during the day. In this area, tides, swell direction and wind strength all play a part in whether it is safe to fish. Unless you know how each of these factors affect the area's around the ends of the walls, then they should be avoided.
You should also be aware of other boats moving around, some boats are not adequately lit and night and it is easy to run into another boat if you are not paying attention.
All boats moving around after sunset are required to have a red/green forward facing set of lights PLUS an all round white light that cannot be blocked by anything. Water police do check these. If you are anchored then you are required to have an all-round white light. Your night vision is super important at night, if you have LED red/green lights then you should place some white tape over them to dull the output. You can also do this to your allround white if it is too bright. In cabin/gunnel LED lights are not recommended as these will destroy your night vision.
A decent headlight is recommended as this will enable you to see what is going on right in front of you, whether that be tying a knot, changing lures or netting a fish. I have tried most brands and few are capable of handing the constant exposure to salt water. The Black Diamond Storm is the only headlight I recommend at this time.
East of the Pipeline.
The North Wall
The North Wall at night can yield alot of fish if the conditions are right. Species likely to be caught at night off the North Wall include Bigeye Trevally, Mulloway, Hairtail and Tarpon. Edge fishing along the wall yields Bigeye, Hairtail and Tarpon, while letting your lure sink down closer to the bottom will pick up Mulloway. The most important area's for night fishing the North Wall are; the North Wall Flats Dropoff, The Eddy, Hairtail Reach and the Line. See the North Wall map for these.
The North Wall Flats Dropoff usually holds Bigeye Trevally in season(October through March) at night. These fish can usually be caught with poppers, with plastics or by trolling minnows like the Rapala XR10 or Flash 25 but any minnow that dives to 2-3 metres would work. Occasionally Tailor will show up along here as well.
The Eddy holds fish on a run-in tide, Bigeye's, Tarpon, Mulloway and Hairtail are all possible. Plastics on 1/2oz jigheads work the best, as you need to get it deep. As for the plastic anything around the 5-8cm mark is fine. Ecogear Grass Minnows, Squidgy Slick rigs in 65 or 80mm, ZMan Curl Tails or Pearl Sliders are all proven performers. You can cast at the wall, give it a few winds then giving the lure a bit of time to sink down deep in the water column. A slow steady retrieve works best with a few pauses, keep it slow all the way to the boat as the sometimes the fish will grab it within a couple of metres. Getting snagged is common as the entire bottom is covered in rocks.
Hairtail Reach (see map 3)only fishes well on a run-in tide, the way the tide runs in causes an eddy along this stretch of the wall and species that don't like strong tidal flows will sit in here at night. As the name suggests Hairtail like the area alot, as do Tarpon, Bigeyes and Mulloway. The best method of fishing this area is with plastics on 3/8 oz jigheads, you can go to 1/2oz if you are fishing away from the wall. Cast it at the wall and slowly wind it back to the boat with a few pauses. Poppers can also work along here if bigeyes are active. You can also troll minnows like the XRD10 & Bolt Omega along here. Eagle Ray's are also an accidental catch along here, you'll know it if you hook one of those.
The Line only exists on a run-out tide but can hold Bigeye's, Tailor, Mulloway, Tarpon and Hairtail. 3/8oz and 1/2oz jighead rigged plastics work the best at night but shallow running minnows like the Rapala XR10 and Flash 25 can also get a few fish. Cast alongside the wall and let it sink down, working it slowly back to the boat as you drift out with the tide. You can also sink it to the bottom over the dropoff and drift it along bumping it near the bottom.
The Deep Hole
Due to the high tidal flow the Deep Hole only fishes well during the first and last hour of the run in tide or on the run-out tide. Bigeyes and Mulloway will sit in the deep hole at night. Mulloway will be on the bottom but schools of Bigeyes will sit midwater on the edge of the deep hole. These Bigeyes can be trolled with diving minnows like the XRD10 and Bolt Omega, or Plastics on 1/2oz jigheads, or by dropping a heavy metal like a 30gram twistie down into the school and jigging it back up. Mulloway require plastics, livebaits or dead baits fished near the bottom.
The South Wall
The South Wall is an erratic place to fish, sometimes it can yield some excellent catches, most times it's a ghost town. Tarpon, Mulloway, Bigeye's and Hairtail can all be caught along the South Wall. At night I find it fishes the best on a run-out tide and the area from the tip of the wall to 100m in is the most consistent. Casting plastics on 1/2oz jigheads parallel to the wall letting them sink then slowly retrieving them with plenty of pauses seems to work the best as the water along the south wall is quite deep up to 14 metres in some places.. On run-in tides keep an ear out for bigeye trevally feeding along the wall particularly along the stretch from the pipeline to the tree line as sometime large schools can get along there and some excellent fishing with poppers can result.
West of the Pipeline
You can anchor up on the pipeline if you are fishing dead or livebaits but if you prefer a more active way of fishing the Pipeline you can drift over it with the tide. Plastics like the Gulp 7" Jerk Shad will pick up Mulloway near the top and bottom of the tides as the tide is slowing much the same as they will during the day. Bigeye Trevally can be found around the Pipeline feeding on the surface, sometimes on a run-in tide but more often about an hour after the tide turns to run-out. You can also troll around the Pipeline with deep diving lures like the XRD10 or Bolt Omega. If they are busting up on the surface you can use poppers like the Rapala Skitter Pop 9 or Flash Pop 8, accuracy matters so try and get that popper into the bustups as soon as possible. Shallow running minnows like the Flash 15, 25 or Rapala XR10 will also work cast near the bustups. Over to either side of the pipeline in the shallower slower moving areas, Hairtail and Tarpon are possible on 3/8th oz rigged plastics. If you anchor in these areas you can also pick up some Hairtail on dead baits.
The Canyon and North Wavebreak Rock Wall
Mulloway can be picked up in the Canyon on Plastics, livebaits or dead baits when the tide begins to slow. Other than that it's a hard spot to get a fish during the night. Around the end of the North Wall of Wavebreak, you can catch Bigeyes, Tarpon, Hairtail on plastics fished on 3/8th or 1/2oz jigheads, sometimes the bigeyes can be caught on poppers. The fish here seem to like the runout tide better, they will sit in the eddy just at the end of the wall or the channel leading directly south of it and grab the bait as it gets flushed out past the end of the wall. Other fish that can be caught in this area at night include Barracuda, Sharks, Mangrove Jacks and GT's.
Tarpon are covered in detail in the So You Want To Catch A Seaway Tarpon Article so refer to that for more information.
Mulloway have similar behaviour at night that they do during the day, they like slower tidal movements and area's out of the main tidal flow. The hour as the tide is slowing near the top of the tide and hour as the tide is speeding up are both excellent times for Mulloway. You will also find mulloway feeding in much shallower area's during the night as the cover of darkness makes them more confident to move into area's less than 5 metres deep. If you can find area's with lots of bait out of the main tidal flow(Hairtail Reach, the ends of both walls for example) these will usually have jewies simming around under the bait and soft plastics slowly worked underneath the bait will usually pick up a couple. Just remember that you shouldn't jig or flick your soft plastic at night, a slow steady retrieve with plenty of pauses will get you plenty of strikes as the fish will track the lure for a while before hitting it. By jigging or flicking it you can move it out of the fishes view as visibility at night is restricted to a metre or so.
In the Main channel area's (Deep hole, Pipeline, Canyon)wait for the tide to slow and you can fish with vibs or big soft plastics like the 7" Gulp Jerk Shad on 1 oz heads. If you are bait fishing, you can drift with livebaits over these area's or anchor up with deadbaits of Herring, Tailor or Mullet and wait for the fish to come to you.
Mulloway in the seaway can range from 45cm soapies up to 1.8m monsters.
Bigeye Trevally are specialised nocturnal Hunters and those big eyes give them a big advantage over and baitfish in the area. That said Bigeye's are very fussy about when they actually feed. The pipeline Bigeyes love a tide that has just turned to run-out. They will often spread out during a run-out tide sometimes feeding in the Triangle, sometimes on the 3/4 line, sometimes in the middle, sometimes on the southern side of the pipeline right down to the seaway tower. If Bigeyes are feeding quite often you will hear them before you see them. If I expect Bigeyes to be feeding, I will turn off the motor and listen for 5-10 minutes, once you hear them and you have a direction you can figure out the track they are feeding on and get over there wait for them to come up and cast into a bustup. Casting accuracy matters for these feeding fish, getting a lure within a couple of metres almost guarantees a fish.
Bigeyes can also be found along the north wall from Hairtail Reach up to the tip and along the North Wall Flats dropoff. Poppers can work if they are actively feeding on surface but they are usually caught on small plastics like the Squidy Slick Rig 70mm, Ecogear Grass Minnow M fished on 3/8oz heads. When Bigeyes sit along the North Wall Flats Dropoff you can troll them up using Rapala XRD10 & XR10, Flash 25 or any other small minnow that dives 1.5-3m. You can also pick them up on poppers here when they are active. Run-in tides are best for North Wall Bigeye Trevally.
The North Wall of Wavebreak Corner will also hold schools of Bigeyes during the night at times but these tend to be much smaller fish on average around 25-30cm, these fish respond well to small soft plastics, or small poppers. These fish prefer to feed on a run-out tide as well.
Bigeyes in the seaway can range from 20cm babies to 70+ cm fully grown adults but the average size is around 45cm.
Hairtail are a bit of an enigma, sometimes they will show in the seaway in big numbers and can be picked up on soft plastics and trolled minnows. They like slower moving tidal area's like Hairtail Reach(Run-in tide only), The ends of the walls on a run-out tide, the North Wall Eddy on a run-in tide and the end of the North Wall of Wavebreak on a run-out tide. Officially a winter species, sometimes they will show up in the middle of summer. They can also be taken on live-baits and dead baits of Pilchard, Herring and Tailor. They are an unpredictable fish but are a welcome addition to the seaway's nocturnal feeders.
Hairtail range in size from 50cm up to 1.5 metres.
Other fish that can be caught at night in the seaway include GT's, Snapper, Mangrove Jacks, Flathead, Cod, other reef species, Barracuda, Tailor, Shovelnose Sharks, Bull Sharks and Bream. Other than the Bream which can be caught on lightly weighted baits and the Bull Sharks(Large dead baits of fish or Eel), these fish are a random event and cannot be targeted successfully.
Livebaiting in the seaway at night is almost exactly the same as it it is during the day, fish the top and bottom of the tides when they begin to slow. The amount of species likely to be caught decreases and it can pick up a few of the random species like Cod and Mangrove Jacks. Mulloway are the number one species caught on livebaits at night. For more information on livebaiting read Livebaiting the Seaway - the Ultimate Edition
Might kick off my first post with a bit of a profile on Hairtail.
These grow to around 2400mm and around 6kgs and although they're not the greatest fighter they are beautiful yet mean, they release well if handled carefully, eat well if your so inclined (scrub the scales off with a scrubbing brush then fillet) and offer a bit of variety to your catch.
They'll usually move in with the winter bait schools (Sprats and Hardyheads) in late April and hang around till the water warms up again around Oct-Nov.
This species is quite often encountered by bait fishermen in the Broadwater but relatively rarely landed as they will make short work of any mono that even goes near their mouth.
The best methods of capture are either lure or bait, for bait fishing the ideal rig is a single Occy hook of around 2/0 on a short length of 27lb single stand wire (100-150mm) and either a s/s ring or #8 black swivel for attaching the main line. Anchoring and burleying is important in bringing the fish to you and will quite often result in fish flashing through your burley trail right at the stern, a good stern light is also a great help in bringing the bait fish to your boat wich in turn will bring in the Hairtail. For baits I prefer a small cube or strip of flesh or a whole Hardyhead which is floated unweighted down the burley trail or if there's no current cast out and allowed to slowly sink.
Lure fishing for Hairtail is very simply a matter of slow trolling (around 2 knots water speed) a suitable lure through their regular haunts, highly reflective lures give the best results at night (when they're most active), I prefer the Rapala Xraps but there are plenty of others out there, look for shallow running lures around 100mm, smaller lures are ok as well but should be run on wire unless your rich, deeper running lures are better when there's still a bit of sun on the water, troll your lures about 30-40 meters back. Fly fishing will take them as well and works best when anchored and burleying, small white deceivers on a short length of wire fished on 6-7 weight sink tip and 3-4kg tippet is ample. You can also site cast in these situations so it pays to have a bit of an arsenal rigged ready to go, just keep in mind that Hairtail are a surface feeder though they rarely break the surface so poppers and sliders (stickbaits) are less effective.
Hunting them down is not that difficult once you learn their habits, they will travel with the currents and follow the bait schools up and down the Broadwater but prefer to feed in areas where they can sit out of the current and wait in ambush. A sounder is a must in locating the bait, from there you look for areas that may form an eddie such as canal entrances, corners, bends, drop offs and holes (you may as well troll while ya looking) a good starting point is the Seaworld basin.
Landing Hairtail is an art form all on its own, they have reverse gear and are long so netting is very difficult, they are light and thin for their size so gaffing is hard and definitely out if your planning on releasing the fish, so this is where it gets interesting, I go for the grab behind the head, just like snake handling, it's not that hard but you need to be committed and don't forget they swim backwards, good luck with that one ; ).
Lastly it should be noted that all the above techniques will take good Tailor at this time of year (and often the bigger ones), I've also taken Jacks, Mulloway, Bream, Cod etc with these techniques and they're not complicated or fancy, great rigs for the novice who'd like a shot at some decent fish.