BULL SHOALS, Ark. - The difference was as clear as night and day.
When the sun was still blazing on a 100-degree day, Jimmy McDaniel was working up a sweat casting to some of his favorite bass spo ts at Bull Shoals Lake. But to no avail.
When that orange ball sunk below the horizon though, things quickly changed.
Not long after the whippoorwills started singing and three deer emerged from the woods to come to the water’s edge for a drink, McDaniel spotted several shad skipping across the surface.
“Something is up there chasing,” McDaniel said as he launched a long cast with his topwater lure.
He zigzagged his Zara Spook across the surface for a second, then watched a bass come up and crush it.
The largemouth burst into the air and landed with a loud smack. Seconds later, McDaniel had the 21/2-pound bass in the boat.
Yes, nighttime had arrived.
“It’s already becoming a night bite here,” said McDaniel, 27, a guide for Bull Shoals Lake Boat Dock. “During the day, it’s been tough. We’ll catch bass on night crawlers deep, but it’s pretty tough on artificials.
“But I’ve had nights when as soon as that moon pops over the hills, the bass will start hitting.
“I’m not saying they will go crazy. But at least you’ll start picking up a fish every once in a while.”
That’s how it was Wednesday night. By the time the half moon started casting light on the surface, the bass seemingly came out of hiding.
Moments after McDaniel caught his first largemouth, he cast a Jewell jig with a plastic trailer to calm water off a main-lake point. As he bumped the bait along the bottom, he felt a tap and he set the hook. In the beam of a light he had positioned in the boat, he could see the keeper bass struggling to free itself. But it wasn’t long before the fish was in the boat.
“I like to fish these areas that have ledges that drop off to deep water,” McDaniel said. “In this extreme heat, the fish will move deeper and suspend. And sometimes, they’ll stay deep, even at night. I’ve caught bass in 30 to 35 feet of water at night.
“But I think they’ll also move up shallower to feed at different times at night. You just have to be at the right place at the right time.”
Every night is different at Bull Shoals, a 41,450-acre reservoir that straddles the Missouri-Arkansas state line. McDaniel has caught big fish in the full of the moon, when there is enough light for the bass to silhouette the bait when it comes past. But he also has landed bass in the dark of the moon, when he is convinced the fish rely more on the vibration of the bait than sight to feed.
He remembers several years ago when he was using a single-tail grub when it was pitch-black.
“I had cast out into about 20 feet of water and was bringing it back,” he said. “I almost had my grub to the boat and something big hit it.
“I fought it for a while and finally got it in. It was a 61/2-pound bass.”
Bass like that don’t come along every day . . . or night. But keeper largemouths and smallmouths (15 inches or longer) often do.
As the dog days of summer arrive, the water temperature at Bull Shoals rises into the mid-80s and the water becomes crystal clear. On sunny days, that spells trouble for fishermen.
The bass become nocturnal, and so do the fishermen. McDaniel sat in his boat off a point and watched as a steady stream of bass boats crossed the lake in the darkness.
“There are a lot more boats out here at night than during the day at this time of the year,” he said. “In July and August, most of the bass fishermen fish either at night or early morning.
“That’s when you’ll catch your better fish.”
McDaniel suspects part of that has to do with a slight drop in water temperature at night.
“After a day like this when the temperature gets up into low 100s, the water temperature will be up around 85 degrees,” he said. “At night, it might drop a couple degrees. That might not sound like much, but sometimes that’s all it takes to get the bass more active.”
One thing is certain: Bass fishermen have plenty of fish to chase at Bull Shoals. After several years of high water and good spawns, Bull Shoals is bursting with bass. Fishermen enjoyed an outstanding spring, catching many 2- to 3-pound bass.
McDaniel, who has been fishing Bull Shoals for most of his life, also guided customers to plenty of walleyes this spring. And he has put other fishermen on lots of big trout on the nearby White River, too.
But now that it’s the heat of summer, most of his attention is centered on the nighttime bass fishing.
“I’ve lived near Bull Shoals since I was 5 months old,” he said. “I learned to drive a boat before I did a car.
“I moved away twice, but I came back. I just can’t find any place where I’d rather live.”
FIVE WAYS TO ENJOY THE NIGHT SCENE
TURN ON THE LIGHTS: At clear reservoirs in Missouri and Kansas, fishermen often put out floating halogen lights to set up a food chain near their boats. Insects are attracted first, then baitfish, then gamefish. Crappies and white bass are the most commonly caught species, but rainbow trout and walleyes also will be drawn to the light.
IN SEARCH OF MR. WHISKERS: Nighttime is the right time to go fishing for catfish in the heat of summer. Many large flatheads and blues are caught deep into the night by bank fishermen using rod s and reel s on rivers such as the Missouri or on trotlines in large reservoirs and smaller rivers.
FROGGIN’: Many outdoors enthusiasts can’t wait for the hot summer nights when they can pursue bullfrogs. They follow the croaks of the frogs, then shine a light on them to freeze them. Many like to grab frogs by hand, others prefer to gig them. The result? A delicious frog legs dinner.
FLY FISHING FOR BROWN TROUT: Brown trout often get active after the sun goes down. Fishermen at Lake Taneycomo often head to the Trophy Area and wade for them in low water, targeting pools where the browns have been stranded. Flies such as streamers and woolly buggers will lure fish.
TOPWATER FISHING IN OZARK STREAMS: In the Ozarks, it’s a tradition for fishermen to wade streams and sneak up on smallmouth bass at night They will wade pools and cast topwater lures such as Jitterbugs to elicit explosive strikes.