Published August 27th, 2021 at 6:00 AM
It’s dark now, and the private lake in the Kansas City suburbs is coming back to life after another blistering-hot summer day.
Crickets chirp, and a bullfrog emits a loud “ribbit.” Bats sweep down to feed on mosquitoes, and owls hoot from trees overlooking the water.
One by one, the lights in houses on the hillsides are turned off. Any sign of human activity has long since faded.
Except for Doug Piper. A longtime bass fisherman, he turns nocturnal in the heat of summer.
He sits in a bass boat, casting into a wall of inky darkness. There are bass out there, roaming the calm water in search of a late meal. He just knows it. That’s why he is stealthily working the shallows, ready to set the hook on a whopper largemouth.
“Look at this,” he says, surveying the darkened lake. “We’re the only boat out here.
“But that’s not unusual. There aren’t a lot of people who will fish for bass at night.
“But that’s about the only time I’ll go at this time of the year. I catch more bass from about midnight to four in the morning than any other time of the day.”
Piper launches a short cast and hears his black spinnerbait plop down somewhere in the shallows. He turns the handle of his reel only three times before he feels his line tighten. When he sets the hook, he is greeted by the heavy pull of a big bass.
The fish splashes to the surface, breaking the calm, and Piper knows he has a keeper. The fight is short-lived, and a big-shouldered bass is soon flopping around in the bottom of the boat.
“That fish was right on the bank,” Piper says. “You wouldn’t have found him there during the day.
“When it’s hot and sunny, I think these big fish just hunker down during the day, especially in lakes that get a lot of boat traffic. Then, when It gets dark and the lake calms down, they’ll move up and cruise the shallows.
“I’ve caught them as shallow as one foot of water at night.”
Piper has been at this long enough to develop a productive routine for summer nighttime bass fishing.
The 69-year-old fisherman from Independence has been doing this for almost 40 years. He generally launches his boat about 10 p.m. at lakes such as Jacomo, Stockton, Pomme de Terre and Table Rock. He will stay out until about 4 a.m., sneaking through the darkened shallows.
He prefers fishing in the dark of the moon. Usually, his only light source will be the black lights he attaches to the side of his boat that illuminate the fluorescent line he uses.
He will only fish in clear-water lakes at night. That definitely increases his odds, he says.
He starts fishing at night for bass when the water temperature climbs into the upper 70s. That usually occurs during June. He will continue his nocturnal ways through September.
Piper often uses 10- to 12-inch-long plastic worms, baits about the size of fish some fishermen catch. He wants a big, ribbon-tail worm that gives off lots of vibration.
He also casts black spinnerbaits and jigs that he makes. “I haven’t bought a spinnerbait in probably 40 years,” he proudly exclaims.
He uses a slow retrieve, giving the bass plenty of time to find the lures he presents.
“I don’t know if they see the lures or if they hear them with their lateral line. Maybe it’s both,” he says. “I don’t think they’ll travel a long way to get a lure, like they might during the day. But if it’s close, they’ll find it.”
Another key? A stealthy approach.
“When the fish are in the shallows at night, they’ll spook at the slightest noise,” Piper says. “I keep my trolling motor on low and just kind of sneak up on the fish.”
Piper pauses for a minute and soaks in his nighttime surroundings. It’s actually cool after a day when the temperature soared to almost 100 degrees.
The bass are apparently comfortable, too. Piper catches fish regularly on his casts to the shallows.
By 2 a.m., he has caught and released more than a dozen largemouths. There are no monsters, but he estimates that several were in the 3-pound range.
That’s not uncommon. Piper often sets a goal when he sets out at night—to catch 10 keepers (bass 15 inches and longer). If he does that, he has had a good night.
He also aims to catch several bass weighing 4 to 5 pounds. He has landed fish pushing 7 pounds, true trophies, at night.
“A fish that big can get hard to net at night,” he says. “You have to turn on your headlamp to see what he’s doing.”
Bass aren’t the only species Piper stalks at night.
He likes to relate stories about the big king salmon he has landed while fly fishing in the early morning hours on Michigan rivers.
“I tie my own flies,” he says. “A guy up there showed me how to tie one made of glow-in-the-dark material, and they really work.
“I’ll scout during the day and look for sections of river that are safe to wade, then I’ll go out at night and swing flies in the current.
“We usually hang a lantern or two from tree limbs so we have a little light, and then we’ll go at it. We’ve caught kings weighing in the upper 20s (pounds) at night, and that’s a blast.”
Piper also has caught trout and channel catfish at night. Other fishermen will put out floating lights to set up a food chain at their boat, attracting first the bait fish, then game fish such as crappie or white bass. And fishermen catch giant blue cats along shallow sandbars on the Missouri River.
But more often than not, Piper is focused on bass when he is searching for creatures that go bump in the night.
“There’s nothing like catching a big ol’ bass in the dark,” he says. “You can’t see that fish until you get her right up to the boat, but you know she’s big by the way she’s fighting.
“Now that’s fun.”
Flatland contributor Brent Frazee is a Kansas City based outdoors writer.