Night Fishing for Trout — Upside Down and Backward

by | Jul 4, 2021 | 2 comments

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

Solving after-dark trout fishing mysteries begins by asking the same fundamental questions as we ask in the daylight: Where are the trout, and how are they feeding?

Answers are elusive. Conclusions are sparse. And the shroud of blackness masks clues that are easily seen under the sun. It takes time and stubborn persistence to fight through the slow nights, to wade through black water, trusting only your memory of the riverbed for what the next step will bring. Eventually, the elements of approach and casting become easier. Seasons of night fishing experience teach the suppression of fear. And a new level of comfort (acceptance, really) allows the nighttime angler to finally focus on the important questions . . .

Where are the trout, and how are they feeding?

READ: Troutbitten | Back in Black — The Night Shift

When I began night fishing, decades ago, I found precious little information about the night game. These days, I find a few new articles each year, authored by anglers who may or may not have put in the time. Ultimately, they seem to repeat the same information; they’re focused mostly on mousing, with big flies, big blow ups and big fish. When the trout help out, and it all comes together, it’s a wonderful thing. But most nights on the water are nothing like this. Instead, my years of night fishing introduced me to a new kind of struggle. And because I was stubborn enough to continue, I was forced to search for novel answers to old questions.

Where are the trout, and how are they feeding?

The answers, or course, depend on a hundred variables, of which no one can accurately predict, as conditions and trout moods change night after night. However, I’ve spent enough hours casting into the deep darkness, and I’ve put enough trout in the basket to know one thing for certain . . . everything at night is upside down and backwards.

Here’s what I mean . . .


Early on, my first night fishing experiments had me fishing the same daytime methods after dark. Why not? Why shouldn’t they work, I thought? But time and failure forced me to adjust. I changed. I tested. And I found new ways — tactics — that just worked better. So too, I still come back to cycle through some of my daylight methods that I now bring back with a few tweaks.

But I have success more often and in more places by doing the opposite.

“I fish downstream instead of up. I cast to skinny water instead of the deep stuff. And I keep my fly above the trout rather than taking it down to them. I cast further, fish slower, find different targets and expect fewer fish. Oh . . . and I wait for the trout to pull before I set the hook.” — Night Fishing for Trout — Location, Location, Location

Let’s dig into that . . .

Photo by Josh Darling

Down Not Up

I spend most of my days wading upstream and most of my nights wading down. Instead of walking into the current and casting up, I walk with the currents and change the casting angles.

It’s easier to wade downstream than up, and I cover more water in the dark by using the current to help move me along. Likewise, under the cover of dark shadows, my presence to the trout is broken up. And I’m unknown to the trout at angles and distances much closer than when the sun is high.

But the main reason I wade downstream is because of the presentations that I choose . . .

Top Not Bottom

Around here, catching wild trout requires going under the surface on a regular basis. And when flies go under, the best place for them is usually near the bottom. During average daylight conditions, trout eat a nymph or a streamer better if it’s lower in the water. Running a nymph in the top or middle third of the column rarely produces like the lower third does. Likewise, with streamers, getting them down to the trout’s level often makes all the difference.

But at night, all of that is flipped upside down.

Nighttime trout feed above them. It could be a surface pattern, a streamer running shallow, or a nymph drifting mid-column. But no matter the fly choice, trout eat it better when it’s higher. Why? I believe they need to see the silhouette against the sky. And I believe they’re looking up for food in the darkness.

Whatever the fly choice, I choose a rig and a tactic that keeps my presentation above the trout. And this is perhaps my most important discovery while fishing at night.

Trevor with a good one. Photo by Josh Darling

Swinging Not Drifting

One of my early night fishing influences was Jim Bashline’s book, Night Fishing -- The Final Frontier, and he emphasized the method of swinging large wet flies. This approach still produces well for me, and it serves as a baseline for my night fishing approach.

These days, I fish other fly styles as well — top water patterns, streamers, buggers, wets and nymphs. But for all of them, I prefer a presentation that’s under tension. Instead of dead drifting, I swing the flies or I cross currents — a lot or a little.

Early nighttime trout anglers were forced into a tension approach because a line under tension was the only way to know the position of the flies and sense a strike. These days, we have glow in the dark fly lines and glowing strike indicators. I also make a glow in the dark sighter for tight line tactics. So we can dead drift effectively at night, but I still do better with a presentation under tension. Why? I believe that a fly moving through the water, even slightly, creates a wake or pushes water enough that a trout detects the fly with its lateral line. And especially on the darkest nights, I think trout rely on that movement to locate food.

READ: Troutbitten | Night Fishing for Trout — Drifting and Swinging Flies

Shallow Not Deep

Another daylight routine flipped upside down after dark is the water we target.

With just a bit of experience, anglers everywhere can easily locate prime water in the daytime. These are places with good flow, depth and cover, because all of it provides food and safety. But the best water at night is often the opposite. And instead of fishing deeper water, I mostly fish shallow. Instead of standing near the edge and fishing the middle. I often wade to the middle and fish back to the edges.

On the best nights — the ones we’re all hoping for — the biggest trout move out of their daytime feeding lanes and into softer bank water to terrorize the baitfish. Crayfish, sculpins, dace and small trout do not reside in the middle of the river. Instead, they spend their lives in the shallow water that most of us walk through. And under the cover of darkness, the best trout in the river move into these zones, cruising for an easy meal.

So, find the best of these zones, and nighttime action will be repeatable at an unusual rate.

READ: Troutbitten | Night Fishing for Trout — You’re Gonna Need a Bigger Rope

Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow

After decades of night fishing, the attraction has never worn off. For me, much of the allure is in the way everything is different, and so much is the opposite. Night fishing lends me the chance to fish methods that I don’t practice much in the daylight. And by fishing different waters at night, I have a more complete picture of the rivers I call home.

Add in the mystery, the solitude and the peace found only under a black sky, and the draw of night fishing is forever.

Fish hard, friends.

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


** Donate ** If you enjoy this article, please consider a donation. Your support is what keeps this Troutbitten project funded. Scroll below to find the Donate Button. And thank you.


Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky


Share This Article . . .

Since 2014 and 700+ articles deep
Troutbitten is a free resource for all anglers.
Your support is greatly appreciated.

– Explore These Post Tags –

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

What Moves a Trout to the Fly?

What Moves a Trout to the Fly?

I recently wrote a short piece about what trout eat, where I argued that a handful of flies will get the job done on a daily basis no matter where you fish. In essence, I think how you fish your handful of flies is usually more important than what those flies are.

But that handful needs some diversity. It needs some attention getters. It needs flies that will move trout to go and eat them . . .

Depth, Angle, Drop: Three Elements of a Nymphing Rig

Depth, Angle, Drop: Three Elements of a Nymphing Rig

Good nymphing is both an art and a science. When an angler first dives into the nymphing game, the technical challenges (the science) may dominate. All the options for rigs and modifications may be confusing for a while. It might take years, but eventually we get comfortable enough that all the adjustments become second nature. At that point, I think art can take over once again.

Each of the three elements influences the others. They are interactive and woven together . . .

Holding a Trout — Their Heart in Your Hands

Holding a Trout — Their Heart in Your Hands

Fish pictures are the grand compromise of catch and release. An Instagram feed with a full gallery of trout is replacing the stringer of dead fish for bragging rights. And that’s a good thing. They look better alive anyway.

Would a trout be better off if we didn’t take its picture? Sure it would. Moreover, wouldn’t a trout be better off if we didn’t set a hook in its mouth and drag it through the water? Yup. So I think we have to be a little careful how self-righteous we get. Point is, we all draw the line somewhere, and I firmly believe that a quick picture, taken responsibly (I’ll get to that), won’t hurt a trout.

Most of the fishermen I know who’ve spent a great deal of time with their boots in the water have caught on to catch and release. The bare facts stare you in the face pretty quickly if you start keeping your limit on every trip. You soon realize that a good fisherman can thin out a stretch of water in short order, and a group of good fishermen can probably take down an entire watershed.

So we take pictures instead . . .

Trail This — Don’t Trail That

Trail This — Don’t Trail That

Last week, my friend sent the picture of a plump, wild brown trout, including the caption, “He took the Green Weenie off the trailer, just like you said!” And I immediately cringed. I never run the Weenie off a trailer — unless it’s very small, beaded and tied with...

What do you think?

Be part of the Troutbitten community of ideas.
Be helpful. And be nice.


  1. Great information! I’ve been reluctant to try night fishing but I’m now rethinking that notion.

  2. Excellent information as usual Dom. I’m reading this while waiting for a storm to blow over and a buddy to show up for a night fishing session. The allure has never worn off for me either!


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recent Articles

Recent Posts

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.

Pin It on Pinterest