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!