In The Dark of Night

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Photo by Louis Cahill

Photo by Louis Cahill

By Johnny Spillane

Some of the most fun I have ever had fishing has been after the sun goes down. The biggest fish in the river come out after dark and there are some really fun ways to fish for them.

If you are anywhere there is a prolific caddis hatch, which is almost everywhere, swinging and skating caddis can be deadly. My favorite caddis pattern for fishing at night is the Goddard Caddis. It floats really well and skates across the surface with ease.

Typically when fishing at night I use much heavier tippet then I would use during the day because fish tend to slam flies harder and a lot of times you wont know there is a fish until you feel the tug. If the moon is bright enough, often you can still see the take as you would during the day, but if not, your going to have to rely on your sense of feel. Try using 2x first, and if that proves to be too heavy, switch to 3x but very rarely do you need to go any finer than that, even in areas that are heavily fished.

I like to fish the runs the same way I would fish a streamer. Starting at the top I’d make a cast towards the far bank, throw in a quick down stream mend and then let the fly skate across the surface. After each cast, take a step downstream so that you are covering all the water.

Another really fun option is to fish at night from a boat or raft and beat the banks with bright streamers or mouse patterns. Before we talk any further, make sure you are VERY comfortable rowing the stretch of water that you intend to fish. Everything comes at you much quicker at night and safety is the first concern when you are in the boat at night on a river.

Having said that, fishing from the boat at night can really produce. My favorite streamer for night fishing is a big white or black zonker on a short sink tip. I like to fish slow deep water looking for the big guys that you don’t see during the day. Make sure to vary your retrieves, I have found that how you work the fly is more important than the pattern itself.

Try slow long strips, short sporadic strips, the fish will eventually tell you what you should be doing. As far as tippet goes, you can generally get away with pretty heavy stuff unless there is a very bright moon. I start with 1x and then if needed I’ll go finer, but typically 1x is the ticket.

As far as other gear for night fishing a good headlamp is a must. One with a red light is best. The red lamp allows your eyes to adjust back to darkness much faster when you turn it off.

If you’re into nymphing at night, there are numerous glow-in-the-dark indicators that might come in handy. I have never found that I needed to nymph at night, but to each there own. Its also nice to have some sort of eye protection, most companies make glasses for very low light that work well enough. Hell, maybe just stop messing around and fish with some night vision goggles!

All in all, night fishing is a ton of fun, relatively easy and one of the best opportunities to catch the biggest fish in the river. The above-mentioned techniques are what have worked best for me, but there are countless other ways to get it done in the dark.

Also read

Fly Fishing Lights At Night

Tight lines,

Johnny Spillane

Gink & Gasoline
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3 thoughts on “In The Dark of Night

  1. True story:
    It’s an early July night and a NYS DEC team is shining a bright floodlight from their boat down into a notable pool on the West Branch of the Delaware. One by one they are using a long handled net to scoop up wild brown trout up to 26″ in length. According to the crew, no electroshocking needed as the trout become very docile at night making their stream census easy pickings.

    Trout caught at night often behave as if they are unaware that they are hooked. And you can often get close enough to step on them.

  2. Night fishing can become quite addictive and cause you to become some what of an recluse . Never tried it on a river in a boat but many times on lakes. I learned a long time ago to pick a stretch of the river before dark and wade it with eyes closed to get a feel for what it would be like after dark. It is not that the fish hit harder after dark so much as everything is magnified when you are relying on senses other than your eyesight. Stumbling and falling into the river can be flat out terrifying when it is pitch black out. I have got a lot of memories flooding my old head at the moment. Hex hatch on the Boardman River in northern Michigan was always an after dark adventure.

  3. Swinging mice at night on the White River in the early spring. No major hatches yet, all the dumb sculpins are long since eaten. Flip that little mousey out ans swing it ALL the way to the bank and hold on. Whole. LEE. Shit…

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