I finally have an honest understanding about what draws me into night fishing. Yes, it’s the fear. And of the serious night anglers I’ve known, it’s the same for all of us. Fear is the crackling spark plug . . .
. . . But Smith had also drawn out of me one thing that I’d never fully put into words before explaining it to him. Namely, that contact is felt as much as it’s seen. While tight line nymphing, I’d told Smith, an advanced angler can feel contact with the nymph on the rod tip. Essentially, you could very well fish with your eyes closed. And because Smith was skeptical, I’d suggested some after-dark tight line nymphing as a way to prove to my friend that he could feel that contact just as well as anyone . . .
You have no business night fishing an area that you can’t visualize.
Close your eyes. Now imagine the spot you plan to night fish. Think about the first cast. Where are the rocks, tree limbs and logs? How much of the gravel bar is exposed at this water level? How swift does the current break around the undercut bank? If you guessed at any of these things, if you were uncertain at any pass, then you will struggle at night.
Questions and uncertainties are amplified after dark. So I go into my night fishing hours with a plan — much more than any day trip. The program might change if the light, water or feeding conditions suggest a new strategy. But having an outline holds me together on a dark river . . .
It’s important to have a mental picture, to feel where you are among the surroundings, so the casts are accurate and the drifts are effective. Otherwise, you’re just flailing around in the dark, hoping for some good luck . . .
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 . . .
On the luckiest nights, large and medium sized trout move to the shallows, searching for an easy meal. Trout visit thin water because they feel protected by the cover of darkness, and because they find baitfish of all types unguarded and ready to be devoured. But this is also when trout are most vulnerable to the skilled night fisher.
I have a bank-first approach on most nights, hoping I may hit it right and find actively feeding fish near the edges. On some rivers I wade to the middle and fish back to the boundary. And where the water is too deep to wade the center, I may stay tight to the bank and choose to either work down and swing flies or work upstream against the bank and drift them. Regardless of the method of presentation used, bank water is my first target . . .
Night fishing with a fly rod isn’t for beginners. Rather, it’s for the well-seasoned angler who doesn’t mind feeling like he’s green again. Enough is different about the night game that your whole system seems turned upside down. Trout hold in peculiar places and behave in strange ways. Flies that you’d never consider in the daylight become your new confidence patterns after dark. And your tippet isn’t really tippet anymore — it’s a chunk of thick, stiff monofilament, designed for setting the hook hard and holding on.
For all the varied methods of casting a line and showing something interesting to a trout, presenting a fly always comes down to this: Are you drifting or swinging?
Daylight or night bite, we’re delivering our flies either with the current or against it — drifting or swinging. And while their are hundreds of variations on each approach, it helps to recognize the root of every tactic that we employ with a fly rod. When I talk shop with my night fishing friends, when I sit down to share a beer and swap a few tales about how last night’s fishing shook out, my first question is usually, “Were you drifting or swinging.”
The moon and stars are either in the sky and lighting your way, or they are not. Heavy clouds may roll in and block out those natural lights, or you may have clear skies all night long. There’s nothing you can do to control any of it. But the modern night fisher can choose from an arsenal of artificial lights — headlamps, flashlights and glowing things — to find his way through the darkness . . .
Ironically, light is what defines night fishing. In the absence of natural daylight, it’s the moon and stars that provide the angler with sight. Of course, city lights, headlamps, flashlights, and glow-in-the-dark stuff are also factors in the night fishing experience. So in many natural and artificial forms, light draws the lines around night fishing.
Trout respond to changing light conditions in the daytime, and every good fisherman recognizes it. We look for shadows on sunny days. We fish at dusk, and we fish at dawn. All anglers are eager to search for trout on cloudy days. But when the daylight fades trout habits may shift dramatically — and that’s where this mystery begins . . .
The allure of night fishing arises from a mystery. We pursue unknowable things into the darkness and sort through the unpredictable behaviors of trout to catch them after the sun goes down. There are no experts in the night game, and that itself is what secures the puzzle — a simple lack of information. There is no treasure map after dark.
In large part, we fish because of what might happen. While night fishing, we begin to realize that anything can happen . . .