"Fishing Under The Lights"

by Baystealth

(editors note:  This article was originally printed on the website under fishing advice.   It  was felt that it would be appropriate to reprint it here because this time of the year is generally a good time to apply the techniques outlined herein.)

I started fishing the piers when I was a kid. I learned to fish with lures, but not out of snob appeal. Buying live bait was too expensive. Catching bait myself took a lot of time that I felt like I should have spent fishing. And, because the trout were not
consistently under one light all night, I often wandered from light to light. If I had to carry a bait bucket around, I would have been tied to the same light all night. Bait was just way too much trouble.

In the summers, when the trout are feeding under the lights, they are usually eating small shrimp or minnows that are moving slowly through the lights. And they just won’t hit anything large, or anything that you are pulling quickly through the water. Some nights it was just maddening to see literally hundreds of trout popping the surface, and not being able to catch any of them. 

After a lot of experimenting, I found one method that was a consistent producer, year in and year out.

First, you need to buy a couple of packs of #2 long-shank wire hooks. That is “number 2” not 2-O. Most of the #2’s you find will be gold colored (I don’t think that matters.)

Then you need to buy some jig worms. The ones that worked best, by far, were about the diameter of a standard yellow pencil, and about three inches long. The ones I used to buy were made as replacements for the tandem worm jigs called
“Worm Puzzlers”. They were made by Ray’s Tackle in Victoria, Texas, and you could buy them in packs of about a half dozen. I experimented with every kind of shrimp-shaped, fish-shaped, curly-tailed, scented, you-name-it plastic. Nothing ever worked as well as the plain skinny round jig worms from Ray’s. (I will explain some of the reasons why later.) Plain white was by far the best color. On some rare nights another color might do as well. But white was consistent, and most of the time got more bites than any other color. Plain yellow was second.

Fish with a light line. 6-lb is probably best, 8-lb is okay, and 10-lb is acceptable. Anything heavier will cost you a lot of bites. It also makes it a lot easier to cast a very light lure. Tie the #2 hook directly onto the line, without any weight or swivel. Then thread the worm onto the hook as straight as you possibly can. You want to get the hook to run through the middle of the worm as near as possible. And you want it to be perfectly straight. If there are any bends or bumps, the bait will spin, and the trout will refuse to bite it. It’s really important to learn exactly how far down the worm to bring the hook out, so that it is not bent at all.

The idea is to get the worm to lay perfectly horizontal in the water, and to move along very slowly, just a few inches under the surface. If you allow the worm to rise to the surface, you will get very few hits. If the bait is bobbing up and down, you will get very few hits. The balance between hook and worm is very important. If you use a fatter worm, it will fill up too much of the gap between the point of the hook and the shank, and you will not be able to set the hook. If you go to a bigger hook, to get a bigger gap, the jig will be too heavy, and you will have to pull it too fast to keep it from bobbing up and down as you retrieve it.  Also, fatter or different shaped worms will put up water resistance in strange places, and cause the bait to move through the water differently. Stick to the plain worms described above. (Some nights, when the trout were feeding on very small minnows, I would bite the front end off of the worm to shorten it. I would be left fishing with something that looked like a cigarette butt.)

Throw the worm out and let it sink for a few seconds before you click your reel handle. Then retrieve it very slowly, with TINY twitches of the rod tip. If you give big long twitches, you will pull the worm to the surface. Because the lure is so light, there will always be some slack in your line. That makes hooksets harder. But if you reel out all the slack, you will be pulling the bait too fast and high, and you won’t catch fish. After you catch a few trout on a worm, it will be full of teeth holes. This will make it buoyant, and it will float. Throw it away.

The really important thing is to get the right “drift” through the water. To get it to happen, you have to balance several things.  First, the weight of the hook and worm – which I already described. Then you have to balance the speed of your retrieve with the speed of the wind and the current. If the wind is blowing hard, it will catch your line (making it “balloon”) and cause the light lure to “ski” across the surface. It is important to hold your rod tip low. If you can - fish with your rod tip pointed down, almost touching the water. The height of the pier sometimes makes this impossible. Even in windless conditions, if you hold your rod tip high, you will be pulling the worm towards the surface – and you will just have to let it sink again.

Most of the bigger trout are caught at the edge of the light, or in eddies created by current running past the pilings of the pier.   Where you position yourself in the light, and which direction you cast makes all the difference. As a general rule, you cannot
pull the worm against the wind or the current without making it ski. You can cast straight ahead and let the worm move to the side, at the same time you bring it towards you. If there is a current, you want the bait to be moving at about the same speed as the current, just like the tiny baitfish are doing.

Experiment. After a while you will get the “weightless” feeling when the bait is drifting at the right speed, and you will get a lot more hits. On a pier that sits near the water surface, it was not uncommon for me to only cast 15 or 20 feet of line out – making the same “drift” through the same area of water. The most important thing is to move the bait slowly, with tiny twitches, and to keep it pulling “flat”.

The beauty of this is that you get to see the trout rise and hit your lure each time. It is also fun to pull in more trout than the people fishing with live bait.