• Published:December 4, 2017
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A big moon allows tunas to feed through the night, and can make daytime fishing tough.

During this time frame, look for weather-windows to stay out on the ocean all night long.

Night fishing for tuna can be incredibly productive when the moon is big and bright, and on those days when 90-percent of the boats are returning to the dock at dusk with an empty fish box, those returning after an overnighter may well have enjoyed the darkness with decks awash in blood. Ready to shove off for a 24-hour tuna-fest? Here's what you need to know...

Even though the light of the full moon allows the fish to feed with abandon, adding to the glow with artificial lights is imperative. And not just any lights. White, blue, and pink lights will all help attract bait to your boat, but green is by far the most effective color. We spent two seasons comparing the effect of different lights, by testing all of the aforementioned colors. Each side of the boat was illuminated with a different color for four-hour periods before swapping it out. Without fail, green attracted twice as much attention from squid, flying fish, and countless unidentifiable oceanic critters. Pink was next-best, followed by white and blue.

Many boats use lights fixed to the hull, shining out from the transom. While this is helpful, it isn’t enough. They beam their illumination in one direction only, and that direction is usually directly aft so the light doesn’t penetrate down very far. If you have a set in the transom, bring a light you can drop down into the water, like a Hydroglow, to drop down 10 or 15 feet until the blinding glare is gone but the light is still visible. This creates the largest halo around the boat and will broadcast a circular pool of light that goes out in all directions.

Deck lighting is an entirely different matter. It won’t help you draw the fish in, but it will certainly help you land them and work safely on deck. That said, even red or blue LEDs do take a toll on your night-vision. Most anglers find it best to use deck illumination only when rigging or getting set up for a drift, and then turn off the lights while fishing.
"Without fail, green light attracted twice as much attention from squid, flying fish, and countless unidentifiable oceanic critters. Pink was next-best, followed by white and blue."
What about adding lights to your fishing lines, in the form of glow-sticks or clip-on strobes? While these are a must-have on deeper baits set for swordfish, they really don’t seem to have a huge effect on baits dedicated to tuna and when you’re utilizing wind-on leaders, lights in the rigging just get in the way.

Where you choose to set up, of course, just as important as anything else. Check the FishTrack" target="_blank">FishTrack satellite imagery and water temps before shoving off the dock to find a good-looking area. Arrive well before dark, so you can locate the strongest portions of the breaks and look for life before settling on a specific location. And as you drift through the night, don’t hesitate to pull in all the gear and re-position if and when the bite slows. At night, it’s particularly easy to forget to eyeball the chart plotter, lose track of exactly where you are, and drift right out of the strike zone.


Most night anglers will chunk nonstop, and drift their baits out with the sinking chunks. After the baits have drifted well beyond the boat’s lights, the drags are engaged and the baits allowed to remain static for a few minutes, before being cranked in and re-drifted. Often, the strikes come as the bait nears the edge of the light-line. At other times the fish come surprisingly close to the boat and when it’s red-hot, you’ll see tuna zipping through the light to snap up chunks just moments after you’ve tossed them over the side. On rare occasions, you’ll be able to spot the larger tuna in the crowd and pitch your bait right in front of one for an awe-inspiring, adrenaline-pumping sight-fishing experience.

Chunks or whole small fish are often all it takes to get bit, but live squid will improve your night action dramatically. And quite regularly, you’ll be able to catch these crazy critters on-site. Squid commonly appear in the lights, other times they’ll hover under the boat, at whatever depth your artificial illumination begins to fade. In this case they’re usually visible on the fishfinder, in the form of a steady blob or line that more or less maintains depth.

Savvy tuna anglers will always keep a spinning rod or two rigged with squid jigs handy. Jigged more or less as though you were fishing a jigging spoon for game fish, the squid will latch on and you can fill your livewell. A live squid hooked through the mantle is an utterly devastating tuna bait. There’s not a fish in the ocean that will be able to pass it up, especially when the bite is tough.

Most of the time the best way to fish a live squid is to set it out with no weight, right at the edge of the light where your artificial halo of green begins to fade to blackness. This is the area where the tuna commonly hunt, and a live squid struggling around in that zone doesn’t have a prayer of going unmolested. The down-side to using live squid is that they’re easily stripped from the hook. For this reason, once set at the edge of the light-line they should be left in place and fished with the reel set to free spool with the clicker on. If the rod tip dips and the reel emits a few clicks but doesn’t start screaming, assume the bait’s been stolen, crank back the hook, and get a fresh bait out there. If you have squid around the boat and they suddenly go shooting off into the darkness, it’s an indication that predators have shown up.


While you might think tuna won’t be leader-shy at night, the opposite is often true. If they won’t hit baits fished on heavy leaders during the day they usually won’t touch them in the darkness, either. In the Mid-Atlantic canyons, that’s meant down-sizing leaders to 30-pound fluorocarbon. At times 40- or 50-pound won’t get a single bite. For the same reason, just as much care should be dedicated to hiding the hook in the chunk baits as at any other time. With live squid, it doesn’t seem to matter as much, perhaps because the fish simply can’t resist that wiggling meal.

You can, however, use the same rods, reels, and lines as you do in broad daylight. One thing to bear in mind, however, is that using braid line requires an added level of caution. If any of this stuff gets tip-wrapped – much less wrapped around a finger – and a fish strikes, disaster will result. And in the darkness, it can be tough to spot a snagged or wrapped braid line, especially with the darker-colored braids.

One final note: when fishing at night, you may need to pull your light or lights out of the water to prevent tangling the line around its cord when you are hooked up. If you do so, be sure to turn the light off before lifting it out of the water and into the boat. Otherwise, when the light breaks the water’s surface it will temporarily blind everyone aboard.