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.

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 11/30/16: What’s all that wet stuff?

Not since the heady days of July have we seen this much water in the Farmington. 240 cfs! I fished in and out of the permanent TMA for 3 1/2 hours today. The water was somewhat stained — the closer to the Still, the greater the color — and 40 degrees. I saw midges and some really small BWOs, and even a few risers in some of the classic dry fly water. Streamers were the plan today, and things began well with several bumps and one mid-teens wild brown to hand. Then it got slow. Real slow. The last three places I fished were all blanks. I must confess to being a little surprised, given the warmth of the day, the height and color of the water, and the deep overcast. But such is life on the streamer edge.

For those who care about these things, I celebrated blowing off responsibility with an El Rey Del Mundo Flor de Llaneza. Like the fishing, it did not suck.

More rain is on the way, so whatever rain dances you’ve been doing, please carry on. I had most of the water to myself, but I would think that will change this weekend.

Excuse me, do I have something on my lip? The Deep Threat in olive/grey comes through again. The trout hit the fly three times over the course of two casts before delivering the kill shot.

DCIM100GOPROG0013600.

Farmington River Report 3/8/16: Enough to keep me interested

I fished multiple locations today above and within the permanent TMA. The purpose of my forays above were to see if I could locate some pods of recent wards of the state. Those efforts were a failure, unless you count one brown, a delicious cigar, 60-degree March sunshine, and not working to be the benchmarks of success. Wait. Hold on a minute here. I may need to recalibrate my thinking…

The fishing today was mostly streamers, save for about a half-hour of nymphing. Nothing on nymphs, but given the water I fished, I wasn’t surprised. The trout have not yet spread out into the faster sections. All my action today came in slower, deeper pools and runs. They liked the Hi-Liter and the Deep Threat in olive/grey. The lone fresh stockee I caught took the Hi-Liter as it was wallowing in the current below me; the other more seasoned residents came on very slow retrieves in fairly deep water, some of it over-head deep. The flow was 480cfs, 40 degree water temperature. Lots of active early grey stones, sz 14-16. Nothing rising to them.

It was mobbed for a Tuesday in early March. If you’re heading out over the next few days, gird your loins. It may look more like a weekend in late April. Perhaps the warmer weather will get the bite going. Every angler I spoke to today reported little to no action. Thanks to those who struck up conversions and introduced themselves. It’s always a pleasure meeting people who read my stuff or follow currentseams.

Is it me or are we missing an R?

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Farmington River Report: Let’s get out the tape measure

I figured this would be a good day for streamers. Yesterday’s rain would elevate the flows (just over 400cfs in the permanent TMA) and maybe give the water a little color. Then there was the wind, supposed to be gusting to 30mph. Throw in temperatures nearing 50, and  yup, we’re going to spend the day targeting big browns on the feed.

But since I’m an iconoclast, I started off by nymphing. I had a few experiments I wanted to conduct with egg flies. (You may remember I spoke with a centerpinner Monday who caught over a dozen on eggs.) I wasn’t sure if he was using real eggs, flies, or beads. Since I was going for the eggy mass visual, I tied up a couple horrible flies last night that were basically Nuclear Eggs with a trailing 8mm trout bead. To convince myself that the pattern qualified as a fly, I put a soft hackle on one. I stuck two fish, but since I landed neither, I couldn’t tell if they took the eggs or the nymph dropper. (Dammit. I really wanted to know.) I’m going to continue research with some smaller hooks and beads at a later date.

A pretty brown that swiped the Deep Threat, missed, then came back for more.

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I dedicated an hour to the nymphing cause, then re-rigged for streamers (full-sink integrated tip and a size 6 Deep Threat in grey/olive). Nothing, nothing, nothing. Then I moved downriver about 50 yards to fish a long, slow, deep stretch of water I was sure held fish.

Second cast, mend, slow strips, THUD. I love big browns. They just never miss. It feels like you’ve hooked a submerged log, but the log is shaking its head at you. I could tell it was a good fish. And it was. Just over 18″, and very disagreeable about being forced from the comfort of its lie.

Ever notice that no one ever catches  a 17″ trout on the Farmington? Somehow, the fish grow to 15″, then suddenly shoot up to that magic   universally-accepted-as-impressive number. However, I can confidently tell you this brown was duly and accurately tape measured at just over 18″.

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I fished four pools today and found players in two of them. All I ask from the river in winter is one trout. That makes today my Christmas bonus.

300 Followers Contest Swag

I’ve already posted the striper flies that Grand Prize winner Ray Hamilton chose. Here are the trout streamers won by our 2nd and 3rd place contestants:

(starting from the left row, bottom to top) Culton’s Hi-Liter, German’s White Nightmare, Culton’s Deep Threat (brown/orange), Culton’s Deep threat (grey/olive) Culton’s Mickey Finn Soft Hackle, Galloup’s Zoo Cougar. One of each for both of you.

300th Trout Streamers

I hope to have these out tomorrow. Tight lines, gents.

Farmington River report 3/26/15: holdover dreams, fresh stocked realities

Overcast, fog, rain showers, air temps nearing fifty — where do I sign up? The river was running clear and about 350 cfs, 40 degrees in the upper TMA.

So. The day began with my foolish decision to navigate a perilously steep slope down to the river. There was no snow. But, rats! I didn’t take into account the frozen tundra. I slid on my butt for about twenty feet, and my the only reason my ass didn’t end up in the river was because I managed to grab a sapling as I hurtled past. Thus chastised, I waded in, bloody fingertips (ice can cut you quite properly, thank you) and all.

You gotta love the naiveté of fresh stockees. They haven’t quite figured out that they’re supposed to hit that streamer at the head. As a result, I had about 400 hysterical tail nips, with some of the new residents following the fly almost to my rod tip. At least a half dozen of what was put in last week are already dead; I saw them on the bottom of one run, most missing heads and/or eviscerated my some unknown predator. Downsizing the fly from a 4 to a 6 resulted in more hookups. But you don’t need to see photos of recently stocked trout, do you?

If the rain comes, they run and hide their heads. I fished all by myself today. Farmy rain:fog

Since stockees were not why I came out, I headed to the TMA. I had visions of big browns. We’ll quote another British band here: you can’t always get what you want. So I had to be content with three sticks and several Deep Threats presented to appease the river bottom gods. But the smoke from that Rocky Patel The Edge corona gorda looked positively sublime as it mingled with the mists over the rain-speckled water.

And I left the river happy.