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
Tarpon. The name is almost mystical, spoken about in hushed tones by those in the know. Highly sought after by sportfisherman yet rarely caught these leaping silver demons visit the seaway every year from March through to August, sometimes in big numbers. The average size of Seaway Tarpon is big, around 60cm with occasional fish nudging the 70cm mark. Yet the amount of people that specialise in catching them in the Seaway can be counted on one hand. There is a couple of reason's for that.
Firstly, Tarpon are hard to catch in the Seaway consistently. It requires hours of casting, casting and more casting.... did I mention you'll have to do alot of casting? Sure sometimes you'll turn up and the fish will be on the bite from the first cast, but most of the time the fish move around and you'll have to locate where they are holding on the day...and that means lots of casting. Secondly, consistently catching Tarpon means fishing at night around the walls and some people are not comfortable with that which is fair enough, it should not be attempted anyway except for those with a long history of fishing the seaway during the day. Knowledge of how the Seaway's currents and wind directions affect your boats drift is essential for safety. Good night vision is also essential. Between 9pm and 5am you are on your own and there is noone to help if you get into difficulty. You should always be wearing a lifejacket fishing at night around the seaway walls.
At the moment Tarpon are easier to catch than ever in the Seaway, you can even do it during the day. All you have to do is turn up halfway during a runout tide any time of day and fish the bottom of the Northern Y(see Map 1) with plastics. Just cast out, let it sink and slow roll it back. Simple.. Well hooking them is simple, landing them can be quite difficult(understatement of the year there).
This article is not about this abberration of behaviour, this is not likely to last very long and I want to concentrate on proven longer term methods. That means fishing at night around the edges of the seaway walls. Now , the one thing I'm not going to do is put down exact locations on where to look. That would be pointless anyway as they move around from day to day and where they were yesterday is not where they will be today. Sometimes they will be tightly packed in one small area, others they will be spread out over the entire wall. Some nights they'll be right in close to the rocks in a metre or so of water, others they'll be sitting near the bottom in 20 metres of water. Just concentrate on casting your plastics at the edges of the seaway walls, as close as possible while keeping an eye on your sounder and soon enough you'll be hooking Tarpon.
Tarpon prefer to feed at night or in low light conditions, those massive eye's have a superior edge over anything else in the water and makes it easy to hunt the baitfish they are after. They will feed during the day but prefer dirty or discoloured water. Tarpon will feed whether the moon is up or down, if it is calm or it is blowing 30kts, if it's raining or not, at any stage of the tide or in any swell size. Of course just because they can feed during all of those doesn't mean they will. The one thing that can be said about Tarpon is that they are lazy, you won't find them in places of strong current, chances are they will be close by though, in an eddy close to the current that brings them the food. They wan't maximum return for smallest effort. On the smaller tides they will be closer to the ends of the walls, on larger tides further back down the walls where there is still places for them to sit and grab food without expending too much energy.
If you've been paying attention then you will know that my favourite plastic is the CCM(Chika Chika Muroran) Ecogear Grass Minnow M on a 3/8oz head. This little plastic has accounted for hundreds of Tarpon(and lots of GT's,Tailor, Bigeyes) and is my go to lure when they are fussy. Other plastics that get an honourable mention are the 70 & 85mm Dropbear Slick Rigs and Zman 2.5" Pearl curl tails. Most plastics will work if they are in the mood and I've even caught quite a few on shallow running minnows like the Lucky Strike King Hunter and others up to 14cm in length. Make sure your jigheads are up to the task as well, heavy duty jigheads are a must. I prefer TT 3/8 or 1/2oz 3/0H in the the plain or headlockz varieties.
Any light spinning outfit can handle Tarpon, as long as it has a decent drag. They don't fight dirty, thier runs are short and most of the time is spent in the air not in the water. Most fights are over in minutes. What you do need however is a decent leader, 30lb minimum. Tarpon are quite capable of wearing through 20lb leader in a single fight but 30 seems to be able to handle a couple of fish without changing. Keep an eye on that leader though, if you are hooking alot it will need cutting and retieing every few fish. If you don't you'll end up losing lures. For this reason I usually start with a longer leader than usual, around 1.5 metres. A standard jighead rigged plastic works fine but if you find yourself looking for a rig that has a slightly higher retention rate after the first jump, look at the Texas rig. Thats just a running sinker straight down to a straight hook, I use a gamakatsu SST 15 in size 1/0. The running sinker gives the tarpon much less leverage to throw the hook on its jumps. It's not perfect but then no rig is when it comes to these fish.
When casting the edges for Tarpon with plastics, there are two techniques you need to learn, The Slow Roll and Deadsticking. Don't jig it, don't flick it or do anything fancy it will only make them lose interest. The Slow Roll is simply casting out and slow winding back. Deadsticking is just letting it sit there and drift in the current, mainly used when the Tarpon are close to the bottom or out a bit from the wall in deeper water. If there are Tarpon in the area, you soon know because of....
The Tarpon Tap
This isn't a fancy new dance step, if you want to chase Tarpon then you have to learn to recognise the Tarpon Tap. This is what Tarpon do when they aren't feeding aggressively(which is most of the time). They come up behind your lure and nudge it, hit it, grab it with just the front of thier mouth. This registers on the line as a tap, sometimes they will do this multiple times on a single retrieve, sometimes they will grab it after a few taps, sometimes they will tap it all the way to the boat before grabbing it, others they will lose interest. The best indication you are in the right area for Tarpon is the tap so learn to recognise it and if you get just one tap on a drift make sure you cover that area again on a second drift. Sometimes Tarpon need to be teased into biting so doing multiple drifts is important.
Hookup & Fight
So you have your lure in the water, slow rolling and you are getting tapped, what happens next. Well the hookup is next and you only strike when you feel the weight of the fish, once you strike you can expect the Tarpon to come shooting out of the water immediately, most tarpon are lost on the first jump. After the first jump they will usually swim straight at you to create slack line and then jump close to the boat quite often throwing the lure right back at you(Tip: Wear Safety Glasses if you value your eyesight). A Tarpon jump is a thing of wonder, they will launch themselves around a metre out of the water and proceed to shake thier heads up to 10 times in a single jump, if they do this multiple times during a fight and the fish is hooked deeply thats the equivalent of around 50 rubs on your leader with a coarse sandpaper. No wonder they are experts at wearing through light leaders. There is no best method in staying hooked up to a Tarpon, sometimes they will stay attached, sometimes they won't but when they are near the boat I reccomend keeping the rod tip as high as possible, this will increase the line pressure and reduce the amount of slack line given to the fish when he jumps. If you are really keen you can use one of his jumps to propel him into the boat.
Landing a tarpon is difficult, you can lift them into the boat on the trace if you are feeling brave, the best method is a landing net but they still have plenty of juice left when you are trying to net them and this is when many rods are broken. Tarpon do not stop fighting when they get into the boat, if anything thats when they take it into high gear. I use the term 'wrestling' when a tarpon gets into the boat, the larger fish in particular will just not stop moving. Getting them to sit still enough for a photo is difficult and getting them to sit still for a mat shot is damn near impossible. For this reason I reccomend taking a photo of only one fish per session and immediately releasing the rest. Don't think using a pair of lip grippers will help you either because it won't. They will quite happily struggle so much you will end up tearing thier mouth apart with the grippers, not good for a fish you intend on releasing. Holding them upside down will calm the fish enough to get the hook out.
Lastly but most importantly, Tarpon should be released or considered a catch and release only fish. They are full of bones, apparently taste terrible and they smell even worse so let them go for another day.
So in summary, Tarpon are a hard fish to find, to hook, to stay attached to, to land, to photograph, to measure. In short the ultimate target for any sportsfisherman. They are highly addictive, very frustrating and my favourite of all the seaway species. If you decide to take up the challenge of the seaway Tarpon and you find yourself cursing me in the middle of the night after you have lost your 10th straight tarpon without getting a fish in the boat... Don't say I didn't warn you.
Short video showing jumping Tarpon from Friday's Trip. Combine a bony hard mouth covered in sandpaper with those jumping abilites and you get one tough to land fish.
Suspended weed seems to have gone, small amount of weed on the bottom. Lots of baitfish schools just offshore.
On the water at 2.30 am, this was a trip specifically to target tarpon. Over the last few months I've put together a list of conditions that tarpon seem to prefer and this trip was to test one of these factors. The tide was not ideal with it being the bottom half of the runout and weather conditions were.. challenging... with a strong northerly wind and occasional patches of rain. However THE most important factor was evident(and at this point I'm not going to tell you what it is.. sorry maybe later), so I went ahead anyway.
Motored straight to spot 1, but there was nothing there, moved onto spot 2.. nothing there either, not looking good so far. Both of those locations had yielded Tarpon in the past but they were not there this time. I moved on to another location that I had thought might hold them and thankfully this time I was on the money. First cast with a plastic and I was on to a leaping silver demon, a couple of jumps and some decent runs and I had him next to the boat, one more jump and he threw the hook. I moved around a bit over the next hour and found the tarpon were sitting in an area roughly 100 metres long by about 10 metres wide, the fish weren't bunched up like they usually are but were quite widespread. Because of this a few casts were required for each fish, but I still managed to land 7 Tarpon from 53cm up to 58cm and jumped off at least that many again. One fish in particular just would not stop jumping, he must have jumped at least 15 times but I still managed to land him, even in the boat he just would not stop moving.
At around 4.30am the fish switched off and I moved around the front of the walls looking for other fish, unfortunately it was the bottom of the tide and the water was very dirty. It wasn't until the tide started to run in that I pulled a few more fish, with 3 tailor and 2 small bigeye trevally falling to twisties. Tried plastics on the bottom for a while but managed to drop the only 2 fish that I hooked. I investigated some bird activity offshore and found some large schools of baitfish but nothing feeding on them, won't be long before they enter the seaway in big numbers, might even happen during this next big southerly wind pattern.
Negligible run in the tide, no swell and clear water. No fish around the north wall after first light.
Just for a change today I thought I'd do something a little bit different. My target today was tarpon in the seaway, I've caught a few in there before but I've been doing some thinking and thought I could do it a bit better if I targeted them properly, so I picked a tide, a time and a place and went forth.
It didn't take long to find them and they were very hungry, over the next 2 hours I landed 4 from 55-63cm, lost 2 at the boat, 2 wore through the trace and had about 10 jump off. Hooking them is easy keeping them connected is not, especially when they get airborne! They loved the vibs, but keeping them connected once you hooked up was an exercise in frustration, plastics got less hits but stayed connected better. There were two types of tarpon, runners and jumpers. The runners put up a much better fight, very similar to a decent size GT, the jumpers pretty much came straight to the surface and did metre high jumps til they threw the hook, very entertaining.
The Zipbaits vibs in the 58-13g size were the best lure, but the small hooks had trouble holding. Next best was the ZipbaitsVib 80-25 then the Ecogear Grass minnows M in midnight glow.
I also managed a squire on a 1/4 oz gulp smelt and got about 10 small tailor on twisties on the way back to the ramp.
Even though I didn't land that many, it was a great mornings fishing.