Active SportsFishing

Tips for Night Paddling and Fishing on a Kayak

Kayaking and fishing at night is peaceful and offers a great opportunity to enjoy the starry skies (if you are in an area with little light pollution). It’s also a way to escape the summer heat and the crowds. But before you head out, here are some tips to stay safe and have the must fun.

Be Visible

If there is a possibility that you will be paddling at dusk or past sunset, prepare to be visible to other paddlers and boaters.

Know and understand the state laws regarding safety lights on kayaks and other paddle craft. There is some variation from state to state. Generally, the US Coast Guard requires a white navigation light for paddle craft operating in low visibility or between sunset and sunrise. Depending on where you are paddling may determine whether you are required to have the light on at all times.

The best safety practice is make sure you have at least these two kinds of lights available on your kayak:

Many experienced kayakers recommend mounting green night kayak lights on the right-hand side of your kayak and red lights on the left side. This is especially important if you are paddling in areas with boat traffic. Red and green lights tell boaters what direction you are moving.  Even red and green glow sticks work if you aren’t ready to invest in proper lighting.

It is a good idea to keep a bright flashlight on your kayak. If another boater is headed your way, instead of shining the light at them, hold the flashlight over your head to make your body and your kayak visible. This is especially true if you are paddling near a shoreline with lights. It can be difficult to distinguish boat lights on a kayak from lights along the shore.

Turn on your lights before it gets dark. Depending on the color of your kayak and clothing you might be very difficult to see, even at dusk.

Safety First

Wear your lifejacket and bring all the appropriate safety and first aid gear. Store it carefully to be able to access it easily in the dark. Be sure to include extra batteries for flashlights, headlamps, and other safety lights. You don’t want to be caught out on the water unable to see or be seen.

Add a dual-tone pea-less whistle to your emergency kit. It can be heard for miles, even over boat engines.

An emergency strobe light is another good investment if you plan to paddle after dark regularly. A few glow sticks are a good temporary substitute emergency signals and markers in a pinch.

Reflective gear is a smart choice but it only works when light hits it so it isn’t very helpful in an emergency situation on the water.

Practice self-rescue skills before doing any kind of night paddling. In the event of an emergency people likely won’t be able to see you and at night there is less traffic so fewer people might be able to hear you.

Night Vision and Navigation

Your retinas respond poorly in low light, making it difficult for your brain to measure distance, size, and position accurately. If you are paddling through waves in low-light conditions you are likely to misjudge their size and position.

The rods in the outer edges of your eyes adjust better to low-light conditions. It is easier to see clearly and judge waves if you look about 5 to 20 degrees off to the side. This will allow you to see more clearly and better judge size and position.

Ambient like can trick your eyes and brain to make things appear further away and artificial light actually hinders your night vision. Whenever possible, mount safety lights behind you and out of your line of sight. Some 360 degree lights even mount on the top of your headlamp strap, making you even more visible without interfering with your night vision.

Stay aware of your surroundings and plot your route ahead of time. Depending on where you are kayaking, going off-course is very easy to do and difficult to correct.

Minimal Fishing Gear

When night fishing, bring the minimum fishing gear and the maximum safety gear. Keep your gear set-up simple and make sure everything is secure until you need it. It’s very easy to lose gear in the dark, especially when you’re focused on landing that giant fish on the line!

Tips for Successful Night Fishing

Mounting your 360-degree light on a pole behind you means it won’t interfere with your cast.

Many experienced anglers agree that in the summer time, whether fishing in saltwater or freshwater, the best fishing is usually about an hour after dark in the summer months. The air and the water cool off after dark, drawing more fish out in search of food. Largemouth bass are good species to fish at night. They tend to be more active after dark than other freshwater fish.

When picking your first few night fishing spots, begin with areas you are very familiar with paddling and fishing. This keeps navigation easier and you will be able to draw on your fishing experience in that location. All of the structures that you fish around during the day are worth trying at night.

If you are fishing with your lights on, make long casts to get to the edge of the lit area. The light source will draw in baitfish and the larger fish will likely wait in the dark edges to ambush their prey.

Keep your tackle choices simple and familiar. Setting up a few rods with different lures or baits allows you to switch without having to tie on new lures in the dark.


Now that you know how to paddle safely at night and try your hand at kayak fishing after dark, we’re excited to hear your stories!

Do you have a favorite night paddling or fishing tip? Share in the comments.

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