Night Fishing for Trout — You’re gonna need a bigger rope

by | Aug 19, 2018 | 10 comments

** This Troutbitten article is part of the Night Fishing for Trout series. You can find the full list of articles here. **

The older I get, the more I understand what it takes to learn something. I see myself going through the same process of discovery over and again. As a Little League coach, I see it in the young kids. And as a fishing guide, I see it in other anglers. Deep learning starts with a desire, followed by a period of uncertainty with many questions. Good answers may be found anywhere, but real learning happens only through experience. You have to do it to learn it. Time is the teacher.

I’m astonished by how long it can take to understand the simplest things in life. There are lessons and tasks I’ve been teaching my boys for ten years that they still don’t get. Maybe learning isn’t that simple after all. Maybe the best lessons are learned by uncovering the solutions for yourself.

That’s probably the case with the tippet we use for night fishing. And here I’ll tell you to use the heavy stuff, but you may need to go through your own trials to believe it. That’s what’s called learning the hard way, I suppose.

Question Everything

When I dug into night fishing, every resource I encountered said to fish thick tippet. So I did at first. I tied on ten pound Maxima Chameleon like Joe Humphreys told me to. I used the thick stuff because that’s what Jim Bashline said. But when my catch rates didn’t meet my high bar of expectations, I had to blame it on something, so I added thick tippet to my list of reasons why I wasn’t catching the trout of my dreams.

Most of my resources were old school dudes. And those guys didn’t have the choice of fluorocarbon or super strong nylons, I figured. So maybe modern tech would be better.

Do trout shy away from thick tippet after dark? Are they leader shy? Is the action and motion of my flies limited when tied to stiff hunks of mono? And is the thick leader inhibiting the descent of my fly to the bottom of the river? These are the questions I set out to answer for myself.

After years and seasons of experimenting with this stuff, my answers are, No. Nope. And it doesn’t matter. I’m back to the thick Chameleon, just like Hump said to use.

Gotta be Strong

Here’s something you don’t know until it’s too late — big fish will burn you at night.

You may be a well-seasoned angler with hundreds of Whiskeys under your belt. You may have a handful of wild Namers that you earned the hard way. But when you hook up with the river beast at night, everything changes.

“I can take you to each river and point to the spots where I lost one of these legendary fish. The errors were mine. It’s a fisherman’s memory. We all have it.”

Big trout seem twice as strong at night. Some of them are. Many large trout surge hard when they feel the steel. Fish that don’t jump during the day will thrash at the water’s surface. They’ll run hard and fast in every direction. They go a little nuts. Sometimes they remind me of fresh steelhead.

Now add in the fact that we’re often pulling these trout from shallow water. They’re already a little on edge. They’re jumpy. And now, with their backs exposed, there’s suddenly a hook in their jaw.

The response of a trophy trout hooked in the daylight may seem predictable after a while — we expect him to head for deep water, or toward the undercut. But big trout after dark are never predictable. And they give you everything they have — right now.

I lost many good trout early on because I wasn’t ready for all this. I wasn’t prepared for the eruption happening just ten feet in front of me. I let them run when I should have held on and tightened the drag. And I kept my feet stuck in the sand instead of chasing them. I can take you to each river and point to the spots where I lost one of these legendary fish. The errors were mine. It’s a fisherman’s memory. We all have it.

And I lost trophy fish at night because I was playing around with light tackle. Once hooked in the dark, trout are unpredictable. They pull hard, and we have to be ready to pull harder.

Strong terminal tackle gives us the best chance at this. Ten or twelve pound mono is my go to line. I can put a lot of pressure on a trout with a six weight fly rod and ten pound line, enough that I can control the direction of the trout more often than not.

Gotta be Tough

The line also needs to hold up to the abrasion of rocks and tree parts. Much of good night fishing happens near the banks, and trout make a dash for the nearest shelter. They wrap around limbs and turn the line around large rocks. A tough line takes the abuse, while a line designed for delicate presentations frays and splits, leaving your rod straight and your hands shaking.

Gotta be Thick

I fish Harvey Pushers at night a lot. They are a George Harvey creation, designed for displacing water at night with their opposing breast feathers cupped forward, flexing and pushing water with every pulse of the rod. Deadly stuff.

But Mr. Harvey himself warned that these flies twist a thin leader, recommending thick, stiff mono from ten to twelve pound test. The flies do twist a thinner leader, but like me, you may have to prove that to yourself before you believe it.

Just Like Harvey and Humphreys said, thicker line solves the problem.

This girl ate a Harvey Pusher in deep, slow water.

That’s Nice

Tough, thick line helps us get the flies back. Ten pounds is stronger than most minor tree branches that you cast into while trying to land your fly within inches of the bank. And you can pull hard enough on an underwater snag that most hang-ups come free. While snags and break offs are an annoying daylight reality, in the dark they are debilitating. It takes too long to wade bank side and recover flies. It takes too long to retie knots in the dark, and standing there wasting time is demoralizing.

What do you have to lose?

Are we giving up anything by using heavier line? What about those earlier questions?

Q: Do the trout seem leader shy at night?
A: Not at all.

Q: Is the action of my flies limited when tied to stiff mono?
A: Yeah, probably a little bit. But it doesn’t seem to matter. Night feeding trout aren’t looking for a perfect presentation. They’re just hungry.

Q: Does a thick leader slow the descent of my flies to the bottom?
A: Sure it does. Thicker line sinks slower than thin line. But that might be a good thing too. Most of the time, I want my flies above the trout, because they’re looking UP for the next meal.

I use strong, thick tippet for all my surface flies, for streamers and for wets. Very rarely, when fishing wet flies in the #8-10 size range, I may use 8 lb Chameleon, but it’s still relatively thick and stiff line that can take a lot of damage before it fails.

I do change things up when nymphing. I nymph with flies in hook sizes #6-12, and I don’t fish at night with smaller patterns. I usually pair the nymphs with 2x fluorocarbon. With such a strong line, I can pull hard against any night-trout that has super strength.

What Then?

While night fishing for trout, you have a fair chance of catching the biggest trout of your life. So never, never be under gunned. Never. Always go strong.

Tough, strong and pretty stiff — that sounds like fluorocarbon, right? And certainly you could use fluoro for everything. I don’t, because I like to swap out my wets and streamers for surface flies, and because fluorocarbon sinks. Does it sink enough to pull down a mouse pattern? Nah. But the leader does sink. And when you pick up the line for the next cast, the sunken leader may drag the head of the fly under, creating more surface disturbance than necessary.

I guess I started using Maxima Chameleon for my night fishing tippet since I already had it for building the butt sections of my daytime leaders, and because it was often recommended by my early night fishing resources.

After experimenting with other stuff, I came back to Chameleon. It’s strong, tough and just the right stiffness. It’s also readily available and pretty cheap for a quality line.

Give other things a try too. You’ll find what you like. Just use something strong!

Fish hard, friends.


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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.

More from this Category

Podcast: An Introduction to Night Fishing for Trout — S3-Ep14

Podcast: An Introduction to Night Fishing for Trout — S3-Ep14

Ambition is the fundamental characteristic of every good night fisher. We wade into the darkness for the experience. And we quickly realize that the night game is an unwritten book, with just a few clues and an infinite room for learning new things. Each exhilarating hit and every trout in the net is a unique reward, because night fishing requires that you assemble the puzzle yourself.

In this episode, I’m joined by my friends, Trevor Smith and Josh Darling, for an overview on night fishing for trout . . .

What do you think?

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  1. I can relate to just about everything you said. I find browns that would be bull-doggish and stubborn on the bottom by day to be acrobats at night. I started my nighttime mousing with 8 lb mono as tippet, wondering if that would be too heavy. Breakoffs were actually an issue. Now I use a 16 pound tippet, the heaviest in the bass series put out by Rio. And I do not think it would be a problem to double that.

  2. Dom, I have been following this series of posts and have gained a few pointers. Thank you for sharing your expertise. However, there is one point you seem to have neglected…keep yourself armed. This is not meant as a joke. Here in Western Mass and Southern Vermont, a lot of predators prowl the streams and rivers at night. One of our major ones are Black Bears, followed by Coyotes, Bobcats and Cougars. I suggest folks carry at the very least a .357 Magnum revolver…I feel they tend to be more reliable than an automatic (personal preference). Usually touching off a round into the air makes enough noise to scare them off, but if not, the .357 Magnum has enough stopping power to put down even a Black Bear. Heck, when you are in that kind of country, carry them in the inside pocket of your waders during the day as these critters can show up any time. Better safe than sorry is my motto. 🙂

  3. Dom,
    Can you expand on the harvey pusher in a future post? the tippet/fly orientation in the top picture has me puzzled – is it a braided leader?
    had full moon last night, seemed to throw the fishing off. a lot of half hearted swipes at streamers and mice. did land a fattie 19″ brookie on a mouse, so worth the trip. my search for the elusive whiskeys goes on…

    • Dude, WHERE do you find brookies that large?

      I don’t think you can see the leader in the cover pic. That’s the edge of my Fishpond net.

      And yes, I’m definitely going to do a feature on the Harvey Pusher. Lots more articles to go in this series. Lots more . . .

      Thanks, Chad.

  4. I just wrestle any and all wild animals that get in my way . . .

    Seriously though, good advice.

    I don’t think it’s my place to tell people whether or not to carry a firearm, but it’s certainly smart to have a plan.

    I think, generally, people are too afraid of what’s out there. That’s why night fishing will never be very popular. It comes down to fear. Admit it or not, most anglers are afraid to be out there. It’s human nature. It’s uncomfortable for a long time, for many trips, until you gain some familiarity with the whole thing. There are a lot of unknowns to create fear inside us. And those things constantly push on us, telling us, even once we’re out there, “Hey let’s just pack it in and go home.”

    • Very true, Dom. In my particular case I live in, and fish, an area with remote mountain streams and rivers. We often fish at nigh, both on the streams and lake banks. It is not uncommon for bears to be in the area, along with bobcats, coyotes and the occasional cougar so we tend to carry some protection just in case. Living here I was raised in the woods so have no problem being spooked by the night, but I still like to exercise enough caution to be able to deal with whatever situation should arise. 🙂

  5. I am not a night fishing junkie, but I have a simple rule I always follow regardless of the season – Always fish into the dark! Always. I usually spend the first hour fishing spinners under the cover of darkness. It is hard to believe how close you can get to good sized trout sipping flies from the surface. I have caught trout that I could literally have stepped on. However, your observations regarding the fight of browns at night does not jive with my experience at all. I find that trout fight sluggishly almost as if they do not even know they are hooked. Could it be the more gentle approach with spinners as opposed mice, streamers or pushers? Good food for thought and a groundbreaking series in its scope. Thanks.

  6. I’m not into night fishing streams. The largest danger is slipping and falling. And also drowning. As to encountering dangerous animals, the most dangerous animal you are likely to encounter is another human with bad intentions. My advice is to fish with a friend and know the water well

    • Honestly, I disagree with this. There’s no more danger at night than in the day, the way we fish. Know your water. That’s the first rule. It’s not even fun to fish if you don’t. Lastly, if you wait for a night fishing friend to go out with you, you’ll never fish. It’s also more enjoyable to sink into the solitude. Just my thoughts. Cheers.


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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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