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 . . .
My friends join me for an honest discussion about the trout we pursue. All of us fish for every kind of trout on the list: wild trout, stocked trout, holdovers, fingerlings and club trout. And all of these trout hold value — but not equally. There are major differences in the types of trout we catch, and stocked fish are often nothing like their wild counterparts . . .
My night fishing friends, Josh and Trevor join me for a fun and detailed discussion about mouse emergers. This style is about taking the benefits of a top water pattern at night and making it a little harder for the trout to resist. Then, sometimes, we fish similar patterns that remain in the first 3-12 inches of the water column. My friends and I also trade night fishing stories about the scariest and most unusual things that happen while fly fishing after dark.
Lifting the rod slightly, I shake the rod tip left and right. Easy, rhythmically, I wiggle the tip and feel the line wave as I see it dance and glow in the dark. The fly shimmies and sends a pattern of waves through the surface and beyond, calling to any trout within who-knows-how-far.
I returned to a tactic that I’d employed on many dark nights where I couldn’t effectively reference the bank. I reached up to my headlamp and flicked on the light for an instant — a half second and no more — before returning back to the black. Then, just like the quick shots of lightning earlier, the lamp showed me the way. The image of the riverbank burned into my brain. Something inside of me calculated the adjustments and converted the images into accuracy with my tools of fly rod, line, leader and fly. It was a little bit of magic . . .
It took me seasons of trial and error to understand this truth: On some rivers — especially those with larger trout — much of the water after dark is a dead zone. Nothing happens, no matter what flies or tactics you throw at them. Drift or swing big flies or small ones. Hit the banks with a mouse or swing the flats with Harvey Pushers. It doesn’t matter. On most rivers that I night fish, there are long stretches of water that simply won’t produce.
But in these same waters, there are sweet spots to be found — places where the action is almost predictable (by night-fishing standards), where two, three or four fish may hit in the same spot. And then just twenty yards downstream . . . nothing . . .
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 . . .