The air is crisp, the moon looms above, and the ice is making noises you have never heard in your life. I am describing some of the things your senses pick up on when fishing after dark.
A lot of the ice fishing that is done in Iowa, occurs long after the sun has gone down. Often, that hour before the sun goes down is the best fishing time for the entire day. Anglers are lured out to the cold with their equipment to take advantage of the hungry fish during this "magical hour" when all anglers seem to do great. This is not a hypothesis, but a theory that can be proven over and over on our area lakes. Fish do bite the best just before the sun disappears each night. However, fishing long into the dark night can prove to be great too. Before you take your next adventure after sunlight hours there are many things that you need to be ready for.
Fishing into the evening hours have been some of my worst ice fishing trips, and some of my best ice fishing trips. You just never fully know what to expect after the sun goes down. Well, I guess you can say that about any fishing trip really. Ice fishing at night, in my mind is totally different than fishing during the daylight hours. The first reason for this is that the fish are in a different mood when the sun goes down. Without the sun shining down onto and through the ice, the fish become roamers. No longer do they have to stay hidden in the weeds, or brushpiles away from predators, now that darkness is over head, they have the whole lake to explore. In the evening hours, that is exactly what the fish do, they explore, or roam throughout the lake.
The fact that fish are on the move more at night makes me fish in the dark differently. During the day I am constantly on the move, going to 10 or more areas each day to catch fish, however at night, I have found it just as productive to stay in one or maybe two areas and wait the fish out. My hypothesis of fish roaming during the darkness tells me that the fish may be under my shack now, but gone later, but in the back of my mind I know they will be back.
Another thing fishing at night does is helps you catch more crappies. Bluegills become very hesitant to bite after dark. When you are getting short bites or see fish on your Vexilars, or other electronics, and they won't bite, they are probably just curious bluegills. I say curious, because the likelihood of them biting are slim. If this is all you are seeing at night, it may be time for a big move.
Moving at night can be difficult if you have a lot of gear. The less gear you have, the better, because you can fish more and not spend so much time loading and unloading your fishing gear when you do move. Here are some things that I have done to maximize my time and comfort on the ice during the evening hours.
Lighting: I have installed LED lighting around the poles of my shack. They are permanently mounted and I never take them off. When I fish at night, I simply plug them into a small 12-volt battery and I have lights for the whole night. When I move my shack, I simply fold up the tent part and move, I don't even bother to turn the lights off. This alone saves you time and the hassle of a lantern.
Rods: When fishing at night I like to use a live minnow and bobber rig, as well as a jigging rod. Minnows are a crappies favorite meal, and although I catch more fish on my jigging pole, it sure is fun to see that bobber disappear under the ice. On my jigging pole I will always have a "glow" jig on. Some jigs are painted with glow paint, while others are not. You should know which of your jigs are glow painted and which ones are not. Just hold your jig box up to lamp at home and sort them out. Using glowing baits at night is very key to drawing fish in from a distance. When fishing, you can "charge" your glow paint with a flashlight, your phone, or a camera flash. They do make specialized LED/UV lights you can buy for this "charging" of glow paint. Remember to "charge" the jigs frequently as the paint does not hold the glow for much more than 5 minutes.
Heat: I am a fairly cold-blooded person and rarely use my ice shack during the day. However, at night when moving around isn't a great option I get cold. It is important to have a heat source for your ice fishing shack so you can stay comfortable. Remember, when using LP gas that you get some fresh air into your shack by venting, or leaving your door open a little bit. If you do use heat, especially on those frigid nights, I have realized the importance of a fan. I place a battery operated fan at the top of my shack that circulates the air, not letting condensation form on the roof and dripping down on you all night. The $20 you spend on that fan might be the best money you spend this year on ice fishing equipment.
As stated, fishing at night can be an experience you may never forget. It is fun to be in the outdoors at night, and looking out over a moon-lit lake with fish flopping on the ice, it doesn't get much better than that for me. Enjoy the ice while we can, and stay safe.