A friend and I had been fishing just over an hour since sundown. Amazingly, as I counted the number of fish we'd caught and released in my head I realized it was over a dozen.
On many summer trips I'll put in a long eight-hour day on the water under a broiling hot sun to catch that many bass.
But a loud strike on my topwater plug soon distracted me from my reverie. I quickly worked the belligerent fish in and twisted the treble hooks free. That fish was a husky 4-pounder. My partner soon topped that fish, though with a bass a pound heavier.
That outing years ago was one of the most exciting bass fishing expeditions I'd ever enjoyed. It was also my first night fishing experience ever.
Action on subsequent night fishing trips hasn't always matched that frenetic introductory session. But going after bass after dark has provided some of my best bass fishing experiences of the season every year since then, for over four decades.
It's easy to see why. Bass, especially during warm spring and summer months, simply bite better after the sun goes down. On top of that, some of the biggest fish become more aggressive in the dark. There's no need to worry about pleasure boaters disturbing your favorite spot at night or cutthroat competition for prime honey holes.
Other positives include the fact that you don't have to worry about getting sunburn, UV damage or cataracts from the outing. It's also peaceful and quiet at night and cooler without a harsh summer sun bearing down. Winds are often less troublesome for boat handling as well.
The main reason to night fish for Virginia's bass, though, is simply the uniqueness of the experience. There's nothing quite like it. Vision recedes as your predominant sense, while sound and touch come to the forefront.
You'll feel your grub crawling over each rock or brush pile like never before when you fish at night. Vibrations from a wobbling spoon or shimmying crankbait seem to pulse right through your hands into your body. The tap-tap of a striking bass grabbing a worm and hook set seem more intense than they ever do under a bright sun.
Fishing at night is also an auditory delight. You might hear the sweet song of a whippoorwill, a hooting owl, crickets chirping or frogs bellowing. The rhythmic gurgling of a wobbling Jitterbug is a song in itself, interrupted with another sweet sound when an outsized bass grabs the gurgling surface plug with a whoosh.
To get the most out of night bass fishing, though, special preparations are required. You need to pick the right bodies of water, most effective lures, proper tackle and best retrieves.
Safety also needs special attention. Move carefully and use a flashlight when shore fishing to avoid objects that could trip or injure you.
Always wear a personal floatation device when fishing from a boat. Go slowly when motoring between spots and keep running lights on. Pick waters with few obstructions such as timber or floating debris. Use a spotlight to check ahead for dangers as you navigate.
The best idea is to launch close to the area you plant to fish, so you won't have to do much high-speed traveling. Also, select waters you're familiar with when planning a night trip. You need to know where basic structures are such as points, humps, islands, river channels and bridges. Certainly you'll want your map and sonar, but past daytime experience about the area is also vital.
Almost all Virginia lakes and slow-moving safe rivers offer good night fishing prospects. Small lakes and ponds that you can fish from shore are also a good bet.
When fishing from a boat, keep excess gear back in the truck or stowed away off the floor. It's easy to trip in the dark -- and dangerous. Rig up two or three outfits that you're familiar with and store all but one of them out of the way.
Special lights are available for night fishing that give off a soft glow unlikely to spook bass. I also wear a small clip-on flashlight or headlamp for tying on lures. Glowing bobbers are even available if you want to fish with live minnows.
Next Week: the moon's influence and special tactics for nighttime bass.
-- Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.