Introduction Fly fishing for trout at night takes a special dedication. It requires sleep deprivation, sometimes in massive quantities, especially if there is a large trout at stake. I have fished at night for many years and thought that I knew what I was doing until I met my good friend Tony Scuderi. We fished a great deal during the day and I would come up on the better end when we finished up.
Naturally, I thought I would show him a thing or two; I was in for a big surprise. I’ll never forget it, we were fishing the Famous Corner Hole on the Housatonic River in Connecticut. We started art about ten. I took the first fish, a nineteen-inch brown and thought that this was going to be easy. After catching that fish, I thought this would be like the best of our trips, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Tony out fished me easily 5 to 1 and made me realize that I needed to learn a new facet of fly-fishing. One of his trout was a measured 24-inch brown trout taken on a Woolley Pusher fly. I was humbled to say the least.
Not too long ago I was indicator nymphing a riffled section of the New York’s West Branch of the Delaware. I was catching numerous wild rainbow and brown trout. After a while I hooked what was approximately an 8 inch rainbow. Out of that same riffle came what looked like a dog chasing down a bone. The only different was that the bone was a rainbow trout and the dog was a giant brown trout. The trout ripped the rainbow off of my line and took right off for the safely of it’s holding lie. For three weeks I fished that section of river for no less than three weeks. I knew there was a large fish there and I was determined to catch it. I was rigged up with three large wet flies on a leader tapered down to .013’ or 20 pound test. If this fish was going to be hooked, it was surely not going to be lost. After over three weeks of fishing this single riffle without a bite most anglers would have given up. I continued to fish this riffle hoping that luck would eventually find me. After taking at least a dozen trips there, it finally happened. The trout took my flies. The fight lasted about five minutes and was a tug of war between the fish and me. Once the fish was in the net, my fiend and I measured it. The trout was slightly over thirty and one half inches. If I only fished for this fish a handful of times and gave up, I might not have caught it. Night fishing is not for the beginning angler, however, it is a tactic that after one is proficient at the others could produce the trout of a lifetime.
What Big Trout do at Night
Large trout are predators, when they pass ethe 18 inch range they change their feeding behavior somewhat, especially in streams that have abundant minnow and crayfish populations. The largest trout in a stream most definitely have lies where they go during the day to seek safety from predators. There lies could be a log jam or just the belly of a large deep pool. Don’t get me wrong there are times when you can catch large trout during the day and it does happen, however, they tend to let their guard down during periods where there is no light. They feel safe to leave their comfort zone and move to find food.
Large trout definitely move around quite a bit at night. They go one the “prowl.” Their predatory instincts kick into gear and they go searching for foor. Have you ever noticed that when you walk into a stream you almost always see small bait fish and crawfish right along the margins of the stream? This is Mother Nature’s way of protecting them. They are there because it’s safe, or at least until it gets dark.
When large trout move around at night they go to two main areas. The first area is the shallow water right where you step into the stream and the tailout of a pool. Of course there are exceptions to this but this is where the food is, so being the predators that they are the go right there.
When choosing a pool to night fish it is best to really go over the pool during day light hours. Look for where there food is. Next, look for a place where a big trout might reside during the day. If there isn’t deep water or a log jam or some other structure where the fish can hold and feel safe from other predators like birds, otters and most importantly us.
Best Times to Night Fish
Without a doubt between the hours of 11 and 2 am are prime times to night fish. The trout need to adjust their vision from daylight to darkness. This also allows for the stream to calm down after the fishermen have left after fishing the evening hatch. This is when the fish feel comfortable and move out from their day lies and begin to search for an easy meal.
Full vs. New Moons
If I had to choose the best time to be out night fishing it would be the two weeks surrounding a new moon. The lack of light makes the fish even more comfortable to come out and feed heavily. Over the past 7 years I have kept logs, which show that the darker the night, the better the fishing.
This is not to say that you will not catch fish during a full moon, because you will. However, due to the amount of light that the moon puts out the fish do not feel as safe as they would as if it were as dark as a new moon. Also, the fish will not be as surface oriented during a full moon so nymphing, swinging or dead drifting streamers on an intermediate sinking line will produce results when more surface oriented techniques aren’t producing.
Colors of flies
For the majority of our night fishing we are fishing with darker flies, which create a silhouette against the night sky. Since the trout spend the majority of their time looking up for food having flies that create contrast against a dark sky tend to work better than lighter colored flies. Of course there is one exception to this rule, the dreaded full moon.
When fishing during the full moon we tend to use flies that are white. Experimentation is what has lead us to this conclusion. One would think that with lots of light a darker fly would create more contrast, but keep in mind that the more light there is the warier that fish becomes. One important thing to learn about the color white it that it retains its color at any depth, so the trout are still able to see it even if they are not feeding near the surface.
When not to go
If there were one time not to go night fishing it would be on a foggy night. Fly-fishing legend Joe Humphreys states in his video to not go during the fog, however, if it lifts the fishing can be quite good. Our findings have been the same
Streamers on the swing
Fishing streamers on the swing like the Woolley Pusher can make for some excellent results night fishing. The fly is sizable and it moves water as its name suggests. I list it as the first of the four tactics. It’s the simplest. The presentation is very easy and it is quite effective. Simply quarter your fly downstream and allow it to swing below your position. As the fly is swinging through the drift make sure to hold your rod at a 45-degree angle. Make sure to follow the flies down by rotating your hips as the flies drift downstream. The strikes from fish at night are often violent in nature and can break some surprisingly heavy leaders. At the end of the drift make three one-inch pulls and jig the rod tip slightly after the three small pulls. Do this until the fly reaches your position. You will be surprised at how many trout will follow the fly right to your position before taking it. It can even scare you, so be ready for it.
The leader for this style of fishing is very simple and only requires 5 knots including the knot to tie the fly on. You come off of the fly line with two feet of .021” monofilament. Next, tie in a 20” piece of .019” inch mono using a blood knot. The next piece is 20 Inches of .015” monofilament. Using a blood knot attach a 3 foot piece of .013” monofilament, this will be your tippet, you heard me right .013”, which works out to be somewhere between 15 and 20 pound test depending on the manufacturer.
Dead drifting streamers
What large trout can resist an easy meal? This is a technique that works especially well during poor conditions like a full moon. Use an intermediate sinking line when employing this technique. Since the areas where trout go to feed at night are often flat bottomed snagging the bottom isn’t much of a concern here. I witnessed Tony Land a 27 inch brown trout using this technique on the Farmington several years back. When fishing this technique keep your rod tip up at a 45 degree angle, it will act like a shock absorber. Be sure to bring the rod along and rotate your hips the same way you would when swinging streamers across the stream. If you are too tight to your flies you will break the fish off more often than not due to the sudden shock from the vicious take. Like swinging streamers near the surface be sure to slowly retrieve the flies back to your position with short pulls as well as a slight jigging motion with the rod tip.
The rigging is ultra simplistic here. Nail knot a piece of .021” monofilament to the end of your intermediate line. Once this is finished tie a small perfection loop to the end of that. Once you are finished attach a piece of .013” monofilament. Again this is going to be the tippet. The most common lengths of tippet are from 2 to 4 feet this depends on how deep you want your streamer to drift. A shorter length will keep your fly deeper, a longer length will allow for your fly to rid up slightly off of the bottom.
Nymphing at night when there are stoneflies hatching can be mind blowing. If you have an area where there is a large brown trout that is located in close proximity to fast water, you can bet that during the stonefly hatch that fish will move up into the riffle and feed heavily on stonefly nymphs. When nymphing at night you are fishing a tight line set up. Since there is no way that you can see the takes, you have to rely largely on feel. The only way to do this is to fish split shot placed between two large dark stonefly nymphs.
This might be the most difficult of all the night fishing techniques to fish, mainly due to the lack of light to see what’s going on. The presentation of the flies is as follows. Cast the flies upstream at a 45 degree angle; lead the flies through the drift until they get slightly below your position. Once they are below your position, pick them up and re cast them. Aggressively lead them through the drift as you want to avoid snagging the bottom. The presentation method is very similar to the Humphrey’s style of nymphing.
When you are nymphing at night you leader needs to start off with a three-foot piece of .021” monofilament. Next, attach a two foot long piece of .017” monofilament to that. Tie a large tippet ring to the end of the butt section. After tying the butt section attach a four foot long section of 2X tippet to the end of the butt section, use a simple clinch knot to attach it to the tippet ring. To the end of the tippet tie your first stonefly nymph. Next, tie another two foot long piece of 2X to the eye of the first fly. If split shot is needed to reach the bottom of the run, place the split shot half way up between the first and second fly.
The presentation when you swing flies is the same as when you are swinging streamers, make a 45 degree angle cast, follow the flies through the drift. Be sure to keep your rod tip up at a 45 degree angle. As with the streamers, when the flies reach the end of the drift be sure to make one inch pulls, the lightly jig the rod tip. This is my favorite way to night fish because the takes can be heart stopping.
When swinging flies fly selection is not an issue. You can swing almost any fly you want. Traditional wet flies work well, especially the Montreal and Governor. However, swinging large rubber legged stoneflies and hellgrammites also work well. There are also times when a combination where two wet flies with a streamer on the point does very well. When swinging flies at night it’s about changing flies till you get the tug from that big brown.
The leader’s butt section is very short, which it needs to be in order to get down to smaller diameter tippet to tie the flies to. Start off by clinch knotting a 20 inch piece of .019” monofilament. Next, tie in a fifteen-inch piece of .017” tippet to that tie in a 15 inch piece of .015” tippet. Up until the end of this section you are using all blood knots. To the end of the .015” tippet tie in three-foot piece of .013” monofilament using a surgeons knot. The first and smallest fly will be tie to the tag end of the knot