The summer doldrums have officially set in and the numbers of fisherman have dwindled; leaving the banks littered with fewer fisherman and plenty of exposed boulders and log jams. The fish are weary and easily spooked as the low water levels and higher water temperatures force trout to be less active in the heat of the day. We’ve all been there and few have mastered the art of long leader, small diameter tippet, dry fly fishing. Hooking these educated fish in low water can try the patience of even the most experienced of fly fishermen. For the last month I have been trying some alternative summer tactics. Though the tackle may be a great deal heavier and somewhat unconventional the results have been undeniable.
Twilight and nightime hours when the water is at its coolest temperatures of the day and many natural predators have gone to roost provides predatory fish with the perfect set of circumstances to take advantage of large food items ie, mice, frogs, or injured baitfish that are finding their way onto the river at night. Larger fish actually seek these things out; cruising shallow tail outs, pocket water and even riffles with water barely covering their back.
With these thoughts in mind I was off, on a mission. I started experimenting with a few old bass patterns mixed with some newer, quicker, and easier tying materials. Like a true mad scientist I twisted and turned, cut and glued until Whalaaaaa! I called upon a few of my choice specimens to accompany me on my midnight spooks.
Warning! If all the teenage horror movies that you watched as a teenager didn’t provoke absolute fear of the darkness and what’s in it, fishing in complete darkness just may. How about a few bats zinging dangerously close to your head or a beaver/muskrat/racoon approaching you in darkness and erupting a few feet away when startled by you! Wow, I hate that. Explosive strikes from trout at a close proximity can be teeth chattering. These circumstances are just unsuitable, and undesirable to most; however once tamed the anxiety transforms to the quiet focus of your primal senses. The fear of not being able to see slowly diminishes and once relaxed you are amazed at how much you can actually see! The unknown becomes know and those fishermen who master this beast can be in for some exhilarating and rewarding experiences involving trout of monstrous proportions.
The easiest way to tame the beast, so to speak, is to just call a fishing buddy or two and have them join in on the fun. Teaming up is definitely the most productive and safest way to enjoy this method of fishing. Two or more fishermen can cover water swiftly and provide comfort, sanity and safety to your expedition.
Many other precautions should be taken as well. The first and most vital piece of equipment would be a couple of good, reliable lights. I say couple because if one fails you may be left trudging around in complete darkness. Nothing would be more horrifying than trying to hike back to your vehicle through briars, and dense underbrush with a flyrod in your hand. On the other hand breaking a fly off early on in your trip without any light to re tie could bring an early end to your evening. Carrying two good reliable lights with batteries that you maintain regularly is a must.
Scouting is another indispensable tool. If deep cuts and drop offs exist you want to know ahead of time. Big rocks and other tangles such as logs, brush and other debris make scouting the area you want to fish absolutely necessary.
Carrying a cell phone on these trips or any trips for that matter is a must for me (makes my spouse happy too). Being able to dial 911 in case of an emergency can obviously save your life, The built in GPS tracking signal can aide local law enforcement in the event that you somehow become lost or injured. When it comes to safety don’t take any chances, cover all angles, and always double check!
Put a variety of patterns in your box that both sink and float which will provide lots of options on the water. Good floating patterns should include cork poppers to mimic frogs and wounded baitfish. Mice are a must on the list of most effective; floating flies as well. These floating patterns should be tied with durable materials, large trout have no remorse and will quickly eradicate inferior patterns. Even the sturdiest of patterns will require maintenance. Like a patchwork quilt many of my patterns left tailless from ferocious strikes have new tails scabbed to the hook shank. Though most materials are hardly a match for the large knifelike teeth of predatory trout, the destruction can be kept to a minimum by reinforcing your patterns with some good heavy thread and strong cement. For sinking flies you will want go to large streamers that replicate the baitfish that are present in the water you fish. The term baitfish is used loosely here as many of these large night feeding fish are certainly cannibalistic making all smaller fish suitable prey.
Terminal gear for this kind of fishing is greatly changed to facilitate the casting of these rather big flies. With this in mind 5-7 weight rods are ideal and will greatly aid in casting. A good stout 6-7 ft leader is also in order. I like to use a butt section of 50lb test to help me turn these monster flies over on the water. I taper this butt section down using 30lb and then 20lb mono to facilitate the 1x tippet. This may sound brash I know, but believe me the fish are preoccupied with what’s on the end of your leader and don’t seem to mind or care about your leader at all. I find heavier leaders necessary to minimize break offs and allow the angler to quickly subdue large fish. Minimizing stress and exhaustion levels the fish endure before release is crucial when low water and higher water temperatures already have trout stressed. For best results rotate your locations to ensure your on fresh fish and not one’s you’ve spooked or put down.
Nightime flyfishing can be a rewarding experience if the approach is thoughtful and organized. It would be irresponsible for me to suggest this method without outlining safety concerns, proper gear and talking about the health and welfare of the fish caught in the light of the moon. Thanks for appearances by my friends Brian, Mike and Steve I would have been very limited in water without them. Good luck and tight lines to all!
I started fishing with a Spanish/French nymphing setup a month ago to increase productivity of my idle time while I was waiting for hatches of insects. It has done just that and in a major way. French/Spanish nymphing allows the nymph fisherman to fish further away from himself with more precise casting than the traditional Czech nymphing method of rolling or lobbing your flies upstream of you and letting them drift downstream. The strike indicator or float is replaced with a 18” piece of coiled monofilament. The coils in the mono make it look like a spring which is exactly what it is and how it’ll be utilized. When you add weight to the spring it opens up and when your take weight away it closes. This means that while my flies are sinking to the bottom my spring is still closed, once the slack has fallen from the leader the weight pulls on the spring making it open up again. You can tell where the bottom of the stream is by watching and taking slack out of the coiled “Sighter”. You can do this simply by adjusting your rod tip up or down. The trick is to find the bottom and just keep the sighter slightly opening and closing almost in a rhythm which ensures your flies are on the bottom, magic things will happen there. Say you need to fish a little deeper, no more adjusting a strike indicator; just lower your rod tip mid-drift and your back in the strike zone. This method definitely shines when fishing swift pocket water as well as medium velocity transitions into tailouts. French/Spanish nymphing offers a much quicker solution to the problem of weighting your line. Here the problem is addressed simply by just weighting the flies themselves.
In a normal Czech nymphing scenario you must add and take away shot or some kind of weighted putty making your flies heavy enough to swiftly reach the bottom. Anyone used to fishing this knows the scenario; too much weight and too much slack in the leader is a dead ringer for a bottom snag each time. The flies can be weighted nicely with a beadhead, some lead wire or a combination of both for super heavy flies that will get down fast and give you more time in the strike zone. No more fumbling around with a tin of shot or blowing into your hands on a cold wintry day trying to make your sink putty more pliable. Hey don’t throw out your putty yet! I have found if you get in a jam and your team of flies is not sinking fast enough for the water conditions, a couple pieces of the putty rolled on your leader ahead of the flies and you’re right back on the bottom. Precise casting of this rigging is far superior, even when I have added weight via putty. This rig still cast much better than the classic Czech Nymphing. The slinky effect of the coiled sighter catapults your flies forward in a more precise manner opposed to simply hurling your flies in front of you (which I still love to do and find to be most effective in shallow water situations).
If the mind boggling strike detection and ease of casting (which equates to greater control and precise drifts) aren’t enough to convince the wary, then the added ability to fish much heavier tippets and still catch fish should set you over the top! The use of 5x tippet gives you the ability to confidently land trophies from the uncharted depths in no time at all! All you ambitious fishermen out there should give this one a try. I can’t forget to thank Aaron Jasper for shining a light on this technique, and providing some of his wisdom on this subject, which I have found to be quite helpful and effective. I hope this has been helpful and to all those interested in giving his a shot I have a video on how to make the leaders in the making. JW
I have been hearing from lots of people out there that they really don’t understand how to use the USGS tool, so I wanted to write a quick piece with some tips on using all that data that USGS compiles and how it can give you, the fisherman a definite advantage. The USGS site is a scientific site so we need to remember this is raw data, so it really doesn’t tell us if the fish are biting or not. Take one look at the website and I admit it can be a bit intimidating. It is mighty helpful however in determining optimum flows especially when you spread that data out and look at it from a 30, 60,or 90 day spread. If you watch this spread you can make a better determination of the water conditions. For example if the USGS data tells me that the water is running a little high I would assume it may be cloudy as well, maybe I want to plan to fish nymphs or dry flys along the edges. This tool has now allowed me to arrange any gear needed to do that. Maybe you notice low water trends then you may want to plan on taking your tippet size down as to not spook fish.
Fish are definitely influenced by the water flows and hold in completely different places during water fluctuations. One good example of this that comes to mind is a day in late Mar. 2010 during the high water episode we had on the Farmington River. We had flows on the river of 2000cfs and I spooked a big trout on my walk in, that was 15ft up in the woods in a shallow pool, at the sight of my he immediately exploded through the brush and back into the main river channel. Any information beforehand is information worth having.
When you use these USGS water trends in conjunction with a weather report, now you have even more information and you haven’t even got your feet wet yet. I always like using these tools and knowing what I am getting before I arrive, especially when you may have to travel long distances before fishing. Learn to use this tool and you too will be able to better select your tactics and be PREPARED for the water conditions. Above is a small tutorial I created with a couple of tips on how to better utilize the USGS water flow site. For those of you asking I hope this helps and will hopefully help you to catch more fish. Take care and hope to see you on the water soon!