Fishing at night can be one of the best ways to catch LARGE trout- particularly Brown trout. Like some of the biggest deer you’ll find in the woods, some of the biggest Browns you’ll find in a river will be very nocturnal when it comes to roaming the riffles and pools. The good news for us anglers crazy- or perhaps lucky-enough to be on the water is, when they leave the safety of their daytime haunts, the big ones usually have just one thing on their mind- Food.
No matter how much pre-planning you put into a nighttime river session, the fact is, it’s just not for everyone. It can be cold, creepy, lonely, and sometimes leave you empty handed. However, for those of us who embrace the dark, the following list should serve as a good checklist on making the most of your time.
Know Before You Go- I started with this for a reason. Above all else, spend as much time as you can scouting the river during daylight before fishing it at night. Walk the banks, plan your fishing “path” for the evening. Big trout will move extremely shallow to feed at night. Know where the shallow gravel bars, shelves and drop offs are ahead of time. I can assure you that the river will look totally different at night. Showing up with a well thought out game plan, and knowing which holes you’re going to fish, will save you a lot of time and frustration. Aside from the efficiency of your fishing, it will also keep you a whole lot safer if you know of particular stumps, fallen logs, beaver dams, holes in the ground to avoid.
Keep Your Feet Dry- As mentioned, big fish will oftentimes get very shallow at night. There’s no need to wade out into the river if the fish might only be a few feet off the bank. Additionally, it will keep your approach much quieter and more concealed. Just because big fish move shallow at night doesn’t mean they won’t retreat for cover at the first sign of danger.
Use Big Flies- Streamers and Mice are easily the top two most popular ways to fish at night. A) you don’t have to worry about getting a drag free drift and B) big fish like big flies. Don’t think you have to stop here though from a fly selection. I’ve had some phenomenal nighttime fishing during the Summer by fishing a Salmonfly dry (if appropriate) or big foam hopper. Casting downstream at a 45 degree angle, keeping the rod tip high and skittering your dry fly across the surface can result in some incredible eats. It should go without being said, that bigger flies require a bigger rod and stouter tippet. Just because trout in a certain river may need 5x during the day to coax doesn’t mean 1x and a streamer won’t be adequate at night. Use darker colors on your nighttime flies as well. They will silhouette much better against the dark backdrop.
Bring A Good Light (and a backup)- A headlamp is certainly a must for any nighttime angler. Get a good one too if you find you enjoy night fishing. Like they say- buy it right, or buy it twice. Many people prefer one with a red or green light as well under the impression that it won’t spook the fish as bad. Bring extra batteries, but also carry a spare flashlight in your pack. After all, staying safe is priority number one and stumbling along the pitch black river because your light burned out is a recipe for disaster.
Dress Warm And Mind Your Pockets- This may seem like common sense, however there can be a big temperature difference between 9pm and midnight. I always prefer to start out a little too warm, and I can’t think of a time where by midnight I’ve still been that way. If you’re carrying a backpack, keep the extra layer stashed until you need it. Fishing it night is fun. Fishing at night when you’re freezing is not fun. Trust me on this one. Additionally, make it a habit to constantly check your pockets. Seeing as how it will be dark, you’re likely to not notice the pocket you accidently left unzipped and searching a riverbank for those lost car keys is not how I’d want to end the night.
Pay attention to the moon- There’s a lot of debate out there and full moons vs. new moons and what gets fish to feed, etc. In my opinion, I’ll always take the brightest moon I can get. I personally believe it allows the fish to see and hunt better…and I know it allows me to see and hunt better. Constantly having to turn your headlight on and off to tie knots, mess with your pack, etc can really mess with your eyes. You’d be surprised how on a full moon, after your eyes adjust to the dark, just how well you can see.
Observe Before You Cast- Similar to how I preach this for my daytime fishing. If you’ve scoped out a river during daylight and found some spots you want to fish at night, always take a few minutes to quietly observe these locations in the dark. You’ll often be able to make out the sound of a feeding fish, the push of water, or other observations that can key you into exactly where a big fish might be up feeding. Things are typically very calm at night and so should be your approach.
Fishing at night can be rewarding on a variety of levels. Whether be the solitude, the big fish you may land, the fact you get to fish big flies, or just the satisfaction of feeling like you’re getting away with something……whatever it may be, nighttime fishing can be one of the best ways to catch some of the biggest and baddest fish swimming in a river. I know that’s what keeps me coming back when I should be in bed! Have fun and be safe out there!