Ten Things You Should Know About Nighttime Fly Fishing For Big Trout

“Ten Things You Should Know About Nighttime Fly Fishing For Big Trout” first appeared in the August/September 2016 issue of Mid Atlantic Fly Fishing Guide. It’s part how-to, part humor, and I think you’ll like it. Even though they are no more, many thanks to MAFFG for allowing me to share it on currentseams.

The time between dusk and dawn has always inspired musicians. George Benson stated his affinity for it. Ray Charles declared its righteousness. Beyond poetic musings, nighttime also happens to be an excellent time to go trout fishing. So if, like Bob Seger, the night moves you, here are ten things to consider before you head out into the darkness.

Nighttime is prime time. Anglers who are serious about catching trophy trout know that nighttime is when the big boys and girls come out to play. Archetypical nocturnal creatures, lunker browns go on the prowl once the last light fades. They’ll venture into shallows where you’d never find them at high noon. Their targets include late-falling spinners, rodents going for an unexpected dip, and smaller fish foolish enough to swim in harm’s way. Bonus point: 95% of all other anglers are home in bed.

Someone’s been eating well. This chubby hen clobbered a mouse fly as it swung across the current. Every year, my biggest trout come subsurface – or at night.

Big wild brown hen 8-2015

Know the rules and regulations. Not all states or fishing areas allow night fishing. Be sure to check the regs before you head out.

Safety first! Never, ever fish previously unexplored water at night. I cannot emphasize this point enough. Many locations are a challenging wade in daylight. They’re going to be exponentially harder at night. Avoid them, and stick to areas with moderate-to-easy bottom structure and currents that you know well. Wear a personal floatation device. Tell someone where you’re going to be and when you plan to return. Wear safety glasses. Carry a wading staff, and use it. A smart phone with a compass app is always a good idea. If you’re fishing a tailwater, know the water release schedules and weather reports. And above all, use common sense.

Scout the area you’re going to fish in daylight. Make note of submerged logs, overhanging branches, tall grasses – anything that will eat your fly on your back cast, forward cast, or retrieve. Getting your fly out of a tree in daylight is difficult. At night, it’s nearly impossible. Wade the path you’ll likely be taking and make note of any rocks or structure that could possibly trip you up – as well as ledges that drop off into deep holes.

Nighttime is also the right time for articulated streamers, waking deer hair-head patterns such as Galloup’s Zoo Cougar, or impressionistic creations like this Deep Threat. While black is the most popular color at night, I have had success on olive, white, yellow, and many other colors and combinations.

Deep Threat

Learn how to cast at night. One of the most intimidating aspects of getting into the night fly game is that you generally can’t see what your line is doing. But I believe that casting should be mostly done by feel. So, practice your casting on dry land with your eyes shut or while wearing a blindfold. Feel how – and when – the rod loads. Before long, you’ll develop what athletic trainers call muscle memory. And when you hit the water, you won’t give your casting a second thought.

Night fishing can be unnerving. There’s a reason some people are terrified by dark rooms. Robbed of sight, our other senses – especially touch and hearing – go on high alert. Every noise is amplified. Our audio-fueled imaginations can’t help but generate worst-case scenarios. I still laugh at the time I thought I heard a noise in the woods behind me and turned around to see the glow of another angler’s headlamp. “Wow,” I said. “I didn’t even see you standing there.” It was then that I realized I was talking to a very large firefly hovering in the darkness. After a time, though, you get used to – and even relish – being alone in the dark. You hear nature’s night symphony in magnificent high fidelity. And on cloudless nights on the dark of the moon, the shooting stars are an ethereal treat. One night on a wooded river in eastern Connecticut, I had the strange sensation that I was not alone. I turned upstream. There, just 30 feet away from me, a doe and her three fawns were drinking from the cool, clear waters under the light of the waxing moon.

Beavers are not your friends. If you fish at night as often as I do, you will come to fear and loathe beavers. These highly territorial creatures inform you in no uncertain terms that you are not welcome. Their intimidation game begins with a mighty smack of tail on water. Next comes a warning swim around – or straight at you. Sometimes they submerge mid-swim, initiating a test of wills where you die a thousand deaths while trying to guess their present course. Healthy beavers are merely bullies; generally, if you don’t confront them, they won’t attack. But rabid ones are known to, and if you’ve ever seen what a beaver’s teeth can do to a tree trunk, you know an encounter with a rabid beaver must be avoided at all costs. Give all beavers a wide berth.

Get a headlamp with a red light. Bright white lights with hundreds of candlepower have little place in night fishing. The time it takes for the human eye to adjust from white light to complete darkness is much longer than the period going from red to dark. Then there’s the spook factor. If you were a fish feeding at night, wouldn’t sudden, bright beams of light be cause for alarm? Stay under cover of the night with a red beam.

Find a good mouse pattern and learn how to fish it. Originally popular on bass ponds and western rivers, the mouse fly has now become a staple of night fishing for trout from coast to coast. You don’t need an ultra-realistic pattern with ears and eyes and cute little whiskers – those accoutrements are solely for the benefit of humans. All you need is a pattern that rides on the surface and provides an attractive silhouette to predators. My current favorite mouse fly is Joe Cermele’s Master Splinter. It’s simple to tie (you can find the recipe through an internet search), it floats like a cork, and best of all, trout love it. Trout will take mice on the dead drift, the swing, the dangle, and the strip. Try all of them until you find some customers.

The pitted, scarred foam back of a Master Splinter mouse fly offers mute testimony to the savage nature of large browns.

Chewed Mouse

Know how big trout like to feed. The alpha fish of the pool, large brown trout will often stun their prey before administering the coup de grace. So when you feel that first whack, don’t set the hook. Because it’s counterintuitive, it’s a difficult concept to master. But it’s critical if you want that precious hookup. I’ve had big browns bump the fly a half-dozen times before finally striking with intent to eat. Don’t say no to a trout that has already said yes to your fly. The time to set the hook is when you feel the full weight of the fish on the end of your line. If you’re getting multiple taps and no hookups, it’s probably a more modestly sized trout. Big fish simply don’t miss.

A low-water drop shot nymph rig with sighter

I recently mentioned that in these low, clear water conditions I had temporarily ditched my beloved indicator nymphing for a straight line drop-shot approach. I had many questions about the method, but also about the rig, which is presented below. The template is the same as the one I use in higher water; I’ve simply swapped out some materials to create a leader system that makes strike detection easier and uses thinner diameter nylon.

So, what’s changed?

— The top of the butt section is now Hi-Vis Gold Stren. You can of course use whatever color you like, or even a different material (like Dacron). The yellow jumps out to my eyes, though, and we can all agree that it’s important to be able to see your sighter.

— The bottom of the butt section is P-Line Floroclear (it’s fluorocarbon coated material). I’ve been using P-Line for years in my steelhead leaders. It’s strong as hell and has a thin diameter. Good stuff. I use it on my indicator drop-shot rigs, too.

— I sometimes use 5x instead of 4 lb.  Maxima Ultragreen for the top dropper. It’s strictly a diameter choice I leave up to the angler.

— The drop shot tag goes down a size to 6x. This is to a) insure the weakest link breaks on a shot snag, and b) I typically use smaller patterns for the point fly in the winter, and the 6x is easier to squeeze through the eye of a 16 or 18 hook.

— I’m using round BB shot, no wings. Hopefully that means less bottom hangups.

For your leader constructing pleasure.

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Here’s a pdf: lowwaterdropshotnymphrig

“Building a Better Trout Stream” in the Jan/Feb 2017 issue of American Angler

“Building a Better Trout Stream,” written by yours truly, is a neat little conservation piece. It’s about Hatchery Creek, a man-made — yet sustainable — trout stream built in south central Kentucky. Cool stuff, and you can read all about it in the current issue of American Angler.

You can create a perfect little trout stream out of dry land. Find out how on page 8.

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~

Yes, Virginia, there are more projects in the article pipeline. Details on those as they near printing stage in 2017.

I also have a busy appearance schedule this winter, including The Fly Fishing Show in Marlborough, MA. Updates to come in January 2017.

The (un)importance of casting

Q: How can you tell you’re on a saltwater fly fishing-based forum?

A: When someone asks about a trout rod, and 90% of the answers focus on rods vis casting and distance rather than presentation.

If you are a long-time reader of currentseams, you will no doubt recall seeing one of my favorite Ray Bergman quotes. For those of you who missed it, its thesis is that it is far more important to be a good angler (leads to presentation acumen) than it is to be a good caster.

I will be the first to tell you that one reason I bought my 10′ 5-weight Hardy Marksman2 was that I could bomb out a 75-foot cast with it. But I’ll also tell you that that distance accounts for 1% of the casts I make on the Farmington every year.

Both casting and presentation are important. But one will deliver the keys to the kingdom much sooner.

This fish was hooked less than a couple rod-lengths away.

Brown release

Four things striper anglers could learn from wet fly anglers.

Wednesday night I fished for stripers in the kind of water that I love: current, structure, and bass feeding on station. The bait was silversides, and the stripers had them cornered. All the predators had to do was wait for the meal to come to them. I did very well; the spinning guy to my right with the plug did poorly (wrong presentation, wrong size lure) and the guy to my left with the intermediate line and the stripped sinking fly did poorly (wrong presentation, fishing in the wrong part of the water column) as well.

After they left, I started thinking about how I approached the situation. I realized that all I had been doing was fishing wet flies. If more striper anglers applied wet fly principles to their fishing, they would surely catch more bass. Here’s where anglers using wet fly tactics have an unfair advantage:

Wet fly anglers know that they can master the current with a floating line. The simple act of mending slows the swing of the fly to a speed that is far more agreeable to fish — especially those unwilling to chase. By casting to the outer edges of the bait ball, and mending, I was able to make my flies swim along its periphery, moving at the same pace as the naturals.

Wet fly anglers know the value of sparse, impressionistic, unweighted patterns. The Partridge and Orange. The Starling and Herl. The Pale Watery Wingless. None of them look exactly like what they’re supposed to imitate. None of them are bulky. But they can be fished anywhere in the water column, particularly just below the surface where the fish are feeding. The flies I was fishing looked and did likewise.

Wet fly anglers know that droppers are the fastest way to find out what the fish want. I was fishing a team of three. Top dropper was an Orange Ruthless. Middle dropper was The Tick (small isopod/crab larva/shrimp). Point was a September Night or a Morning Glory. The bass eagerly took the top dropper and point flies. And I was covered in case they switched to something small.

Wet fly anglers know that sometimes the best retrieve is no retrieve. I’m lazy. So are predators. I didn’t catch any fish on the stripped fly. It was all on the swing, mended swing, or dangle. Explosive hits generated by fish feeding in confidence. Why would a fish chase bait when it is being delivered to them by the current?

Where’s the beef? Nowhere on this sparse, impressionistic single-feather flatwing, the Morning Glory. (You can find the recipe by doing an internet search for “Morning Glory striper fly”.)

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Steelheading: A Tragedy in Several Acts

“Steelheading: A tragedy in several acts” first appeared in the Fall 2015 issue of The Drake. The photo here is different from what accompanied the piece in the magazine, and this is my original text, rated R for some adult language. What if The Bard wasn’t writing about Danish princes, Roman emperors, and star-crossed Italian lovers? Let the curtain rise on…

Steelheading: A Tragedy in Several Acts

If there is another angling endeavor that matches the rapturous highs and soul crushing lows of steelheading, I’ve yet to experience it. One day, you are the Most Exalted Ruler of the Kingdom of Chrome. The next, a lowly knave scraping in fishless dirt. That you willfully participate in this theater suggests that you are either a masochist, an addict, or at the very least, innately damaged. William Shakespeare understood. Even if he never wrote a scene about losing a fifteen-pounder fresh from the lake.

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”  Hamlet

It’s a river. Some days it is blown out. Some days it is perilously low. There are steelhead in the river. Some days they eat. Others, they do not. I’ve blanked on perfect days and hooked immodest numbers of fish in water the color of mocha java. The river doesn’t hate you. Nor do the steelhead or the weather. You have no control over any of it. Try to stay positive.

~

“Sit you down, father; rest you.” King Lear

I took my nine year-old steelheading for the first time. In the days leading up to the trip, I hectored him: It’s not like when we go to Day Pond to catch bluegills. It took daddy forty hours of fishing to land his first steelhead. You will hook them, son, and you will lose them. A half-hour into the trip, Cam ties into a twelve-pound chromer and proceeds to land it. On four-pound test. He has zero experience with any fish that size, let alone an alcohol-fueled dragster of a fresh steelhead. On the outside, I’m cheering wildly. On the inside, I’m trying to calculate how many extra hours of yard work that little punk will be doing come spring.

~

“But, soft! what light though yonder window breaks?”  Romeo And Juliet

For a dedicated steelheader, rising with the sun is sheer fantasy. If you’re fishing popular water, you’re up and out long before daybreak. You’re not the only one doing this. For proof, check the alarm clock in your room at the cabin next time you’re there. Bet it’s set for five a.m. – or earlier.

~

“Hell is empty and all the devils are here.”  The Tempest

How agreeable it would be if everyone you met on the river were Roderick Haig-Brown incarnate. Many anglers are indeed pleasant and welcoming. Others, not so much. See if any of these characters sound familiar: The bozo who wades in so tight you could take his eye out with your rod tip. The jamoke who dashes into your spot as you battle a fish downstream, then glares at you for wanting your place back. The douche bag who keeps his line in the water while your fish roars past, oblivious to your screaming reel. The lout who drops drift boat anchor on the exact coordinates you’ve been casting to. Damn them, every last one.

~

“Now is the winter of our discontent.”  King Richard III

If you’ve ever stood in a river in sub-freezing temperatures and swirling lake effect snow for three consecutive days without so much as a single fucking touch, well, you know from whence I speak.

~

“Parting is such sweet sorrow.” Romeo and Juliet

There must be some mischievous spirit tasked with devising cruel and unusual ways of making you lose steelhead. How else to explain a 3x strong hook that snaps at the bend; a leader that tangles on a drift boat’s anchor rope; line that wraps around a reel handle mid-fight; a good Samaritan’s clumsy technique with a landing net? All resulting in lost fish. All in the space of two hours. I’m trying hard not to be bitter. Really, I am.

~

“Things rank and gross in nature.”  Hamlet

You don’t ever get used to the pernicious stench of decaying salmon flesh. Or the realization that the squishy thing spewing unholy pinkish-gray plumes from under your boot is a rotting carcass.

~

“Men at some time are masters of their fates.” Julius Caesar

You’ve been at this spot since before sunrise. You were rewarded with the prime lie, but there was no first-light bite, and now it’s close to nine a.m. Do you wait for steelhead to arrive? Or do you roll the dice and head elsewhere? Assuming the bite is on, how do you know if there will even be room to fish? Whatever you decide, know this: there is a strong probability that you will be wrong.

~

“The deep of night has crept upon our talk, And nature must obey necessity.” Julius Caesar

I relish the bonhomie of the evening scotch-and-bull session as much as anyone. But I’m wiped out, guys, and I want to be fresh for tomorrow’s ass kicking. Good night.

~

The nicest thing I can say about this particular day is that I got a decent photo.

Christmas 12:13

 

“Block Island Stripers from the Shore” in the Oct/Nov/Dec 2016 issue of Mid Atlantic Fly Fishing Guide

It’s the Destination Issue of MAFFG, and we’re all heading to Block Island! A nifty little primer on the island, its structure, flies, gear, and more. While this past year was (ahem) a bit of an off-year for stripers on the fly from the shore, the Block remains one of my favorite places to fish — and write about.

While I truly love answering your questions, let me head you off at the pass: no, I don’t know where you can find a copy of MAFFG. You can try contacting them through their Facebook page. And of course, let them know you enjoy my writing.

Hot off the presses.

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