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?
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.
Let’s dig into that . . .
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.
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.
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.
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.
** 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.
T R O U T B I T T E N