Night Fishing, With Flies

It’s an interesting game if you play it right. Fishing for trout after the commencement of dark can be exhilarating, spooky, challenging, and unusually productive if you plan for your activity and have familiarity with the water that you set your sights upon.

Brown trout are a favorite target for the fly fisher who ventures out when nearly everyone else is off the summer stream. The largest brown trout tend to hide by daylight and do the great majority of their dining afterhours, that is, they come out for hunting with the fall of darkness when they feel secure and, from the viewpoint of the angler hoping to broaden some horizons, they can be voracious.

Predictably, the night world of your favorite stream or river can put you in a whole new place. The best time to fish at night is when the air feels warm and muggy and when the sky is overcast and tranquil– when it’s dark as the inside of your fishing hat, to paraphrase an old-timer dedicated to chasing the largest of trout. The sounds you’ll hear will be amplified above the norm. The riffle’s splash will sound like it’s coming from within; the headlight of a passing car may seem accusatory; the crack of underbrush along the bank might change a cute little mammal into a potential murderer; the sudden slap of a beaver tail on a pool can shake you silly, but beyond all that the deep night on a trout or bass stream can enfold you safely in the cradle of wild nature.

Safety is an issue that you’ll want to deal with well before you venture out and tangle with those mammoth trout. Know your target water thoroughly. Fish it, wade it in the daylight till you know its holes and logs and slicks and boulders like the contents of your fishing vest, so that when you do the midnight creep you’ll feel the relative ease and comfort of an hour without sight. Fish with a partner if at all possible. You might prefer the solitary angling style by daylight, but at night it’s good to know there’s someone else out there at the long end of your shout, if it comes to that, and of course, the comaraderie and assistance of a fishing partner with whom you’ll commiserate or share your tales of glory make the game rewarding.

Disclaimer: I am not an expert night-fisher. Far from it. Though I do enjoy fishing streams and rivers as the summer moments darken, I am usually off the water an hour after sunset, and can only dream about what the casting could produce if I stayed longer. But occasionally I’ll make my start at the onset of darkness, and usually I don’t regret it. I like to use a rod that’s strong but limber, plus a reel that’s got some backing on the line. The rod can be a “junker” like my 7.5-foot fiberglass reserved for night-fishing duties, a 7-weight that’s trustworthy and willing to give up the ghost if I should slip and tumble and break something (hopefully not an ankle, arm or leg).

Yeah, crap comes readily to the night-fisher, especially to those like myself who are really just beginners. “Murphy’s Law applies,” said my fishing partner, Tim, as he helped me try to shorten a leader in the dark, to make it stouter, and then to tie on a huge black wet fly for the quest. Not only do you need a flashlight for this kind of work (at least I do), you need to keep the light away from the stream in order not to frighten the trout. Fumbling with flies and flashlight at our second parking area, I felt like I could’ve used three or four hands to deal with the mess, and one thing I learned was I’ll be getting headlamps for my hat the next time out.

Tim’s an excellent night-fisher and I was glad for an opportunity to fish with him on New York’s Oatka Creek, a premium trout stream feeding the Genesee not far from Rochester. Oatka is partly freestone water (above its confluence with Spring Brook) and partly limestone (below the confluence) and it’s rich with nutrients and heavy browns. Unfortunately I was not familiar with the stream, having fished it only on a couple of winter occasions, but Tim knows it well and he set me on the water just before dark to get the lay-out in my head.

At the first pool we sampled, trout were sipping spinners on the surface and I broke the ice by taking one with a creme-colored #20 dry fly as Tim observed the action from a bridge nearby. But soon it was dark, a time for wet flies, for the big wets to be swung down and across the current flow, and this is where the men got separated from the boys. Tim’s a whole lot younger than myself and he outfished me 3-to-every-1. His night flies, cast in tandem, are tied dark and bushy and in sizes from #6 to ought and larger. I’m not used to that, but in night-fishing it makes sense. I lost a few flies in the rip-rap, fumbled and cursed at the incessant chirping of the katydids, released a few fish (average in size) and vowed to return again as soon as I got smarter in my ways.

It was after midnight and I realized again that you don’t always have to see the nature of your surroundings to have fun.  Immersed in the immediacy of it all, especially when you grasp the lazier rhythms of the night, you sense a rush of pleasure that’s inseparable from the air and water.

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About rivertoprambles

Welcome to Rivertop Rambles. This is my blog about the headwaters country-far afield or close to home. I've been a fly-fisher, birder, and naturalist for most of my adult life. I've also written poetry and natural history books for thirty years. In Rambles I will mostly reflect on the backcountry of my Allegheny foothills in the northern tier of Pennsylvania and the southern tier of New York State. Sometimes I'll write about the wilderness in distant states, or of the wild places in the human soul. Other times I'll just reflect on the domestic life outdoors. In any case, I hope you enjoy. Let's ramble!
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2 Responses to Night Fishing, With Flies

  1. Bob Stanton says:

    Hey Walt, I’ve contemplated night fishing (and I mean REAL night fishing, not the refuse-to-leave the-river-until-you-can’t-see-your-hand-in-front-of-your-face type of stuff that I often end up doing) but have as yet to try it. Here’s an idea with a nod to local fly fishing history: Fish the upper Allegheny at night with big wets, a la Jim Bashline – or for that matter, using something like George Harvey’s “Night Fly”? Also, I’ve noticed on more than one post, Southern Tier Brewing products have been prominently displayed. Have you had a chance to visit their brewery? It’s only about 20 minutes north of me, and I know that they have events scheduled frequently.

    • Bob, You’re reading my mind exactly. I also want to do more of the REAL night-fishing and especially want to learn more of the Bashline-Allegheny potential. Maybe we could wade into that sometime. I’m doing a little research on the subject now. I was down in Coudersport the other day and took a look at the river, trying to think a little deeper. As for Southern Tier Brewery, it’s my beer of choice these days, and I just lookedat their business site for the first time. Looks cool, and I’ll keep inmind the possibility of doing a tour someday!

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