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.

New event added: “Farmington River Favorites” Tying Demo at The Compleat Angler, 2/11/17.

My friends at The Compleat Angler in Darien, CT, have invited me back for their winter tying series. (I must be doing something right. Or at least not sucking at it.) I added the information to the appearances post I made the other day. You can read all about it here.

Tying up a storm at a previous Compleat Angler event.

Tying Black Crawler

Merry Christmas and Best Fishes

Merry Christmas! I hope you’re doing something fun today. I myself am about to go downstairs and join the family party. Good food, wine, cigars, and most of all, love, await me. I am truly a fortunate man.

The artwork comes from Maurice Mahler. It graced the cover of the final issue of the Mid Atlantic Fly Fishing Guide.

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Housy Mini-Report 12/8/16: Lots of water — action, not so much.

I missed my annual October/November Housy streamer trips this year, so I went yesterday. The HRO website declared that at 860cfs, it was a good time to fish big streamers on a full sink line. I concurred. Sadly, the trout did not. I fished five familiar, favorite pools and came up blank. Not a touch. Oh, I nicked the bottom many times, and sacrificed three streamers to the river gods, but ’twas not my day. Fast water, slower water, pocket water, shallow and deep — bright colors, muted naturals — fast retrieve, slow retrieve, no retrieve — nada. On the positive side, I had the entire river to myself, always a bonus. We’ll get ’em next time.

With both air and water temperatures in the 30s, this is sound advice.

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Farmington River Report 12/6/16: Wet fly action in…December?

Trout blasting wet flies on the swing with a water temp of 36 degrees? Yes, indeed.

I fished the permanent TMA today from 9am-1pm. I was rigged for nymphs, and I spent the first 30 minutes bouncing along the bottom, desperately trying to ignore the growing number of trout slashing at W/S caddis. After the second or third time of telling myself that I was acting like an angler throwing Clousers at a school of stripers feeding on the surface, I disengaged the shot and re-tied the point fly to match the dropper: size 18 soft-hackled pheasant tail. It was by no means a proper wet fly rig, but what the heck — I’m lazy. Second cast, whack! A lovely late fall  wild brown. Next cast, ker-pow! (Those old enough to have watched will recognize the channeling of my inner 60s Batman TV show memories.) And so it went until the hatch waned.

The first fish of the day is always memorable, made even more so when it sports such finery.

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I got out to warm up, and after ten minutes the slashing resumed in earnest. Only this time it was tiny BWOs they were after. The fish proved to be more difficult to catch during this hatch; they wanted the fly on the dangle (if they wanted it at all). By now the sun was up good and proper, and the trout were for the most part hugging the shade line of the eastern side of the river. I had to work hard for the two I landed, but when you’re swinging wets and it’s December and you’ve never had this much success with that method this late in the year, you’re squarely in a no-kvetch zone.

One of the BWO trout, a low teens wild thang.

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But wait, there’s more. We also had a five-minute-blizzard of a midge hatch. I switched to dries for this, and fooled two on a size infinity Griffith’s Gnat, but sadly didn’t stick either fish.

And at this point, I won’t even bother writing about how I blanked on streamers.

On the way out I spoke with fellow guide Mark Swenson. Mark was Euro nymphing and had done quite well (in fact he landed one while we were chatting). He was also fishing small stuff, size 18s.

But for over two hours, I had the river all to myself. Just me, the trout, the bugs, and a December sunshine that made me feel like summer could come any day now.

Big room news: “Wet Flies 101” at the Fly Fishing Show in Marlborough, MA

Once again, I will be presenting “Wet Flies 101” at the the Fly Fishing Show in Marlborough, MA. Only this time, on a bigger stage.

I’ve been elevated to Seminar status for Friday, 1pm, January 20th, as I present “Wet Flies 101” in the Catch Room. On Saturday the 21st, I’ll be making the same presentation at 10am in Room A of the Destination Theater.

And so, dear reader, I’d like to ask you a favor: if you’re planning on going to the show, please try to come to the Friday the 21st show in the big room. I’d to have as full a house as possible. If you can make it, good fishing karma and positive tight line energy shall be bestowed upon you. And of course, if you’re there, please come say hi.

For more information, visit the Fly Fishing Show’s Marlborough website.

Here’s your chance to visit Yorkshire without ever leaving New England.

Soft-hackles

I went to Pulaski and all I got was this lousy snow storm

The trip started poorly. Whiteout conditions in the Berkshires followed by heavy lake-effect snow near Syracuse turned a five hour drive into six and a half. They had been forecasting 3-8″ of snow showers and 20 mph winds — not exactly the model of fishing-friendly weather — but we had reservations and deposits and the will to see things through. By the time we (this was my annual late November trip with #2 son) woke up Monday morning, we realized this was going to be far worse than your standard-issue Salmon River Sunshine. Winds of 20-30mph with gusts up to 50. Snow that covered the rear bumper of the Jeep (the Syracuse area received up to 30″). No shovel or plow in our near future. We  stomped on the snow to flatten it, and we made it to the Byrne Dairy OK, but when our guide’s truck and trailer had to be towed out of a drift, the bummer decision was made: no fishing today.

And that’s how Cam and I spent most of last Monday afternoon watching the Science Channel in the Pulaski Super 8.

You often hear exaggerated  claims of precipitation falling sideways. But we can attest that it does really happen. This was one badass storm.

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We made a brilliant plan to fish the creeks on Tuesday. So brilliant that I was already counting our fish on the drive north. Water levels had been up for two days, and those two days were dark and perfect for legions of steelhead to have safely made their way upstream. I’ll cut to the chase and tell you we blanked. We fished long, hard, and thoroughly at multiple fishy spots, but as far as any of us could tell, the closest steelhead were still somewhere in Lake Ontario. The only angler we could find who had any fish to hand was AJ Berry, who took several domestic rainbows on egg sacks. (I mention AJ’s name because he was incredibly generous in sharing water with us.)

I realize that steelheading is not fair. But I would be lying to you if I said this trip didn’t sting more than a little.

The salve for that sting is that we went winter steelheading. We had an adventure. There is honor in attempting something difficult — and whether we succeeded or failed is really a matter of your point-of-view.

The day after the big one. If it looks nippy, it was. Iced guides were a constant hassle, and residual winds made casting an adventure. Highest marks to Cam, who didn’t complain once during two days of truly challenging circumstances. Asked to sum up the trip, Cam said: “It was cold. It snowed. We tried to fish. The fish didn’t help.”

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