Of Mice and Fishermen

by | Jun 26, 2017 | 1 comment

Night fishing isn’t for everyone. And for that I’m thankful, because the prime attraction for me is solitude. I like the exquisite loneliness of the dark. Mix in the edgy spark of fear every so often, and an unusual feeling hangs on the black curtains limiting your perimeter. Night fishing delivers a constant and calm rush, sustained as you move through the darkness.

Anyone poking around for information about fly fishing at night quickly runs into a stalemate. Some say not much is written or shared about night fishing because anglers who fish at night are a secret bunch. I say bullshit. Info is limited because so few anglers do it. Simple as that. And it won’t change. Night fishermen will always be the lunatic fringe. That’s fine with us.

I dig around a lot, and I listen to anyone willing to tell me stories about finning trout in black water. Inevitably, what comes up are tales about mousing, because these days, fly fishing after dark and mousing are like peanut butter and jelly — the perfect match, it seems.

A good read through Troutbitten about my own night fishing adventures reveals my preference for large wet flies and a particular pattern I call the Bad Mother. It’s not a mouse. And it’s not a streamer. It’s a little of both, I guess, and I couldn’t care less what the trout take it for. I just like how they eat it more frequently than anything else. The Bad Mother rides in or just under the surface, and I get far more hookups on the black marabou and deer hair pattern than I ever have on a mouse. The head struggles to stay afloat while the back end of the fly hangs down into the water (with a stinger hook), and that seems to make all the difference. Eventually, I accepted this as reality, and my standard night rig became the Bad Mother with a wet fly dropper.

The Bad Mother

Just as I was gaining confidence in my rejection of any legit mouse pattern for night fishing, I read an article from Chris Cutler, a night fisher from Idaho, where he writes, “Mouse fishing is a sham and a farce.” Chris argues that trout are not mistaking our mouse flies for actual mice. Sure thing, I thought! So I plucked a few more of the husky patterns away from the ribbed foam of my night box and made space for more wets and Bad Mothers.

Like myself, Chris wade fishes for big browns at night. That’s an important point. Seems to me, the comfort of a watercraft removes you from the night experience somewhat. The sense of vulnerability to the shadowy unknowns in the darkness is softened. I think using a boat polishes up the night fishing experience into something more palatable — more accessible to the non-lunatics. Importantly though, a boat lends the advantage of covering a ton of water, easily hitting all the prime spots where lurking trout should feed.

I’d do night floats more if I could coordinate the right times with a couple friends of mine who aren’t afraid of the dark. But as I said, this is a lonely game. So I wade. And just like streamer fishing, night fishing can be less productive on foot.

Bad Mother Night Fly

Bad Mother, wet and washed in the red light of a headlamp.

I haven’t night fished much lately. With two boys on two Little League baseball teams, I’m caught between Coach Dom, Daytime Dad and that bald guy who plays guitar while you drink beer. Need more fishing hours, please.

However, it’s often when we’re out of the game that we’re most receptive to new or revisited ideas. Isn’t it?

I’ve gotten to know a couple guys who night fish similarly: the previously mentioned Chris Cutler, from Idaho, and Bryan Allison, from Montana. Their catches are far more spectacular than mine in terms of size, but I’m happy enough to catch some of the largest brown trout in my local rivers. (That’s what I tell myself.) Point is, their experiences may not apply to my own situation. Although we’re all walk-and-wade fishermen with the same goal of catching large browns, Chris and Bryan have far more trout available to them of the predator class — the kind of trout in the I-just-kill-and-eat-big-stuff phase of life.

The rivers that Chris and Bryan fish are unlike my own. I think the limestone waters I fish produce a different kind of night animal than do large freestone rivers.

I kept telling myself things like that. And I was pretty confident in my own night strategies. I know what works here.

But when Bryan Allison messaged me that he was sitting on a cliff watching the sunrise after catching the thirty-inch trout of a lifetime, I backed up. Bryan, of course, caught it on a mouse, because that’s what he does. He’s had so much success with mice that he doesn’t care to fish otherwise. Thirty inches? Why change?

Bryan, of Always Travel With Fishing Gear, with a legit thirty-inch brown at night.  Photo by Bryan Allison

Maybe I should fish a mouse more …

And recently, when I read Chris’s musings on mouse retrieve speed and direction, I realized I could try the subtle things that work for him a lot more than I have.

Chris, of Living Fly Legacy, with another night brown. Photo by Chris Cutler

Yup. I should put some mice back in the fly box. I don’t know that they’ll fish better than a Bad Mother, but I have to find out again.

That’s fly fishing, isn’t it? If you do this long enough, you come back around to doubt the same things that you thought you already had figured out.

As Chris Cutler writes, “How boring would our sport be, if there were not room to do things differently, to learn from our experiences, and to explore new ideas? I’m thankful the only thing keeping me from making more of my experiences is myself.”


Enjoy the day
Domenick Swentosky

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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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What do you think?

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1 Comment

  1. I love the idea of the bad mother wet/ streamer hybrid. Are you fishing a sink tip floating fly set up? I’m going to copy the bad mother and was curious is the fly just palmered marabou with an intruder style stinger or am I missing something key?

    There’s something about the troutbitten approach that really pumps up my confidence and when it comes to night fishing…I really need it.


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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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