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.”
Sure, some guys say you’ll catch the river beast only in high water. And most general trout fishing books contain a section that puts a positive spin on high water, detailing tactics that are sure to fool trout even with a river in flood stage.
I used to go out in such conditions because I believed that stuff. I thought once I brushed up on my muddy water techniques I would land the biggest trout in the river.
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 . . .
Here we are, at the end of fifty tips. Just two weeks shy of a year ago today, I started this series with a plan. Determined to publish every Sunday, I wrote these tips to be a little different, trying for something unique, and with a new take on some stuff many of us may not have considered for a while.
. . . What brings us back is the trout. Fishing without catching only goes so far. It only lasts so long. We dream not just of the woods and the water, but the trout too. And catching those fish brings in another art, another appreciation for the challenge and a new way to be creative. It also fulfills our human need to learn something. And without a trout on the end of your line once in a while, you’re just hiking through the water with a ten-foot stick . . .
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 . . .
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 . . .
Ever feel like your dominant hand has all the fun? It holds an ice cream cone, throws a football and sets the hook on your biggest trout. Your off hand is so neglected that at times you might forget what it’s used for. Fishing with a spinning rod keeps your other hand busy — constantly doing the reel work. But we aren’t reeling in line much while fly fishing, right? And at the close distances we often fish for trout, it’s easy to forget to keep the line hand involved.
So this is another one of those “Duh” tips. It’s the kind of thing that seems obvious. And yet, by considering all of the tasks for the line hand, we become better anglers. It’s always the little things that make a difference in life. It’s the basics, refined to perfection (or something close to it) that make us better — that bring more fish to hand.