Fishing the Night Shift
Trout fishing at night can be a very productive time to go fishing. A lot of big fish have been caught after dark using many different fishing techniques. For a trout, there is no safer time to venture into the shallower margins in search of food. All of the aerial predators such as cormorants and sea eagles are roosting at this time. Along with the birds, most of the anglers are also tucked up in bed at this time. There are, however, those very keen anglers who have experienced the rewards of fishing after dark. For many, it's a time to squeeze in a few more hours of trout fishing through the week and the chance to target the bigger fish that are so illusive during the day.
Choosing a location
If at all possible, it is a good idea to fish an area that you have fished during the day. Having a mental picture of the area you're about to fish will help you choose the best location. When the sky has little or no cloud cover and the moon is out, it is surprising just how much you can see once your eyes have become accustomed to the low light. Standing or fallen trees, large exposed rocks and even the weed that has grown to the surface can be seen in the moonlight. On a moon lit night it is possible to fish the more challenging areas amongst the trees that are normally too difficult to fish while casting lures, flies or baits during the darkest of nights. In the light of the moon, the last of the light after sun set or the first light at dawn, it's possible to see rising or tailing fish. If you have the option, choose a shore that will see you fishing towards this available light, giving you the best chance of success.
Many of our lakes have dam walls that are constructed with large rocks. During the night, fish can often be found lying hard in amongst these walls. This can obviously produce some great fishing, and a cast made close in along the wall is always worthwhile.
Trout use creek beds and weedy channels like roads to access the shallows, making these prime locations to fish at night. Shallow bays that drop off into deeper water are another good place to try. Shores where tailing trout are common are another worthwhile option. Trout can come into these shores to feed at dusk and will not leave until the sun is up.
Many of the large fish in rivers will often hold up in big deep pools, which are often overgrown or have steep banks, limiting access and fishing pressure to these areas. As the light starts to fade, the larger fish will leave the safety of these inaccessible areas to search for food. Often lured out of their lie by the movement, sound or smell of potential food.
In the seventies and eighties Fish Cakes were made famous as a night time lure on the massive fish of Lake Pedder. Today, there are many more surface lures available to tempt trout at night. Fizzers, walking surface lures, poppers, even simple home made surface lures cut from broom handles will catch trout at night. Sub-surface shallow running bibbed and bib-less lures and of course unweighted soft plastics are worth a try if the surface lures aren't preforming. A very slow retrieve is the normal tactic, as is a slow start and stop retrieve. Try different retrieves until you find the one that works.
Natural and Artificial Baits
Bait fishing with set rods at night is very popular and is often done using a running sinker rig or just a hook and unweighted bait. The only difference between bait fishing at night and day is in the way a bite is detected. All types of bite sensing devices have been made over the years, from bells that are clipped to the rod tip to all sorts of battery operated lights and bells that are switched on as the line is pulled after the fish has taken the bait, activating the switch.
Casting and slowly retrieving wattle grubs at night is a very affective fishing technique that is used by many anglers. An unweighted wattle or wood grub is fed onto a grub hook and the line is half hitched over the grubs head to stop the grub sliding down the hook. The grub is then used almost like a lure as it is continually cast and slowly retrieved.
Close-faced spincast reels such as Daiwa's "Gold Cast" are ideally suited to this form of fishing. The second you feel a hit from a fish you can instantly lower the rod tip and press the lever at the back of the reel to put the reel into free spool. This quick action prevents the fish feeling any unnatural weight that could cause a fish to drop the bait. The usual procedure is to allow the fish to take line, stop and swallow the bait and then set the hook after the fish starts taking line again. The timing of the strike is usually refined during the night depending on the behaviour of the fish after taking the bait. The obvious problem with this is gathering or buying the live grubs before you go fishing. A good alternative is to use the soft plastic varieties that are available at most tackle stores. These can be scented or unscented, depending on the brand you buy. The soft grubs can be rigged and fished in the same way as you would the natural bait. Some of the harder plastic grubs come with a set of trebles at the rear. When using these there is no need to let the fish run before setting the hook. These artificial grubs are very effective when trout are continually dropping the natural bait after the initial take. Another advantage of using the artificial is that most fish are hooked in the mouth and not the stomach as they are with bait. You will also spend less time cutting grubs and more time fishing.
Fly fishing is hard enough during the day, without the added complication of not being able to see what your line is doing during the cast, but it does have its rewards. From the moment you start to make a cast in the blackness of night your sense of feel and hearing take over. Instead of watching the false cast, you are now totally reliant on the casting techniques you have learnt and the sound and feel of the line as it passes overhead. As soon as the cast is made your anticipation and concentration intensifies as you prepare yourself for a soft or savage pull on the line as a trout takes your fly. Unlike bait fishing there is no need to let the fish run before setting the hook. Once hooked, it's a matter of playing out the fish by stripping in line or by getting the loose line back onto the reel as quick as possible to fight the fish from the reel. Using the light of the moon to locate rising fish a dry fly can be presented with some degree of accuracy. When using very small dry flies that are impossible to see, it is very difficult to know when a trout has taken your fly. If you're unsure, it's better to use a strip strike without lifting your rod to set the hook, thereby leaving your fly on the water ready for the next rise, that could be on your fly. Another way is to tie on a big bushy dry fly that can be easily seen with a small fly tied to the bend of the hook using a short length of tippet. It's then just a matter of striking when the larger fly starts to move or has been drawn under.
The difference between having a good or bad experience while fishing at night will depend on your chosen location and how well you can cast and manage line. Having a good sense of humour after you inevitably hook up on the back cast or end up with a tangled mess will also help. Before I go fishing I like to stretch out the length of my fly line between two fence posts or trees and allow it to hang off the ground under its own weight. I then clean and apply fly line dressing and allow it to hang there for at least half an hour. This gets all the twists and kinks out of your line and reduces friction through your rod eyes, giving you the best chance of trouble free casting. If you can cast well during the day, with a little practice and patience, you won't have too much trouble casting at night. Making long casts at night are normally not required, given that the fish are usually close to shore. Until you can cast with confidence at night it pays to protect your eyes with a set of clear safety glasses. Why risk your sight for the sake of a cheap set of glasses. Some form of head cover, be it a hat or hood will also add some protection. Finally choose a location where the wind will assist your casting and blow the line away from your body.
The types of retrieves and the way you manage your fly line can make a big difference to your night fishing experience. A variety of slow retrieves are usually the norm at night. One common method to manage the retrieved line is to gather it in loops, holding the loops with your line hand. These loops are prone to becoming tangled if they are gathered in at the same length, therefore, a useful way to reduce the amount of tangled loops is to make the first loop larger than your last. The length of your strips can remain the same, just let the first three or four strips drop before holding onto the next, creating a large loop. Then reduce the number of loops you drop as you continue to retrieve line. Each loop will be slightly smaller than the first, resulting in fewer tangles.
The figure eight retrieve is another good way to control line in the dark, giving very few tangles. By using the fingers on your line hand you can gather small loops into the palm of your hand, creating an erratic twitching retrieve. Because these small loops are contained in the palm of your hand they are less likely to be tangled by the wind or your casting action.
Stripping baskets are usually worn around the waist. These are a great way to control line and prevent tangles at night. The line from any retrieve is simply dropped into the basket ready to be recast. Stripping baskets are best used while fishing from a boat or from a fixed position. Walking any distance with a stripping basket full of line usually ends up with a tangled mess from the line being shaken up in the basket.
When wading, your floating line can be stripped into the water at your feet. This only becomes a problem if your line starts to sink and becomes looped around your feet or a snag on the bottom.
Tangled leaders and weed covered flies can be detected by the different sound they make during casting. Regularly checking your leader and fly from time to time with a torch will pick up any irregularities with the fly or leader that have gone unnoticed.
Searching the water with a fly at night is done in exactly the same way as you would during the day. Fan out your casts to cover new water and if the light allows, locate and cast to any likely spots that may have a trout waiting in ambush. Dead trees, large rocks, and exposed weed beds are all worth a well placed cast.
Flies that are fished at the surface such as mouse flies, cork or foam flies, deer hair muddlers and Chernobyl Ants can be very exciting to use as you will often hear the sound of a fish taking these at the surface. As the fly is retrieved across the surface, it creates a disturbance in the surface film that is hard for a trout to ignore. Surface flies are a good option in situations where the weed has grown, making it impossible to fish sub-surface flies.
When trout are not responding to surface flies, sub-surface flies will usually do the job. Fur flies, woolly worms, woolly buggers, mudeyes and matuka style flies all work well.
Headlamps are the way to go when it comes to fishing at night. They allow you to tie knots with ease and are great to use while walking any distance over rough ground. Many headlamps are now available using LED lights, giving up to 120 hours of battery life on a three light headlamp. A spare set of batteries or a back up torch is also advisable. There's nothing worse than trying to tie on anther fly, lure or hook with no light or trying to make your way back to the car over some of the terrain around our lakes and rivers.
The type of clothing you wear to keep warm and dry will dictate where and in what conditions you can comfortably fish. Most nights are going to be cold, so investing in quality thermal undergarments that allow free movement, is just as important as buying a rod and reel. Thermal gear is available in different thicknesses and can be worn as layers to suit the time of year. Your usual trousers, jumpers and coats can then be worn over the top of these layers. Waders are another layer that will keep you dry and warm. The neoprene waders are very good when standing in icy water for long periods. The ever-popular breathable waders worn with thick thermal leggings can keep you warm in icy water, but over shorter periods. Wearing good quality socks will keep your feet warm allowing you more time on the water in comfort. Neck gators and balaclavas are good to keep the cold wind off your neck and head. Your hands tend to cop the cold the most when they are wet from rain or handling fish. There are many gloves available, but not too many give you much in the way of warmth and the sense of feel, when it comes to handling fishing tackle. Fingerless gloves offer a good sense of feel until you loose the feeling in your fingertips through the cold. The best gloves I have used are the full-fingered thermal gloves. These are very thin, allowing free movement and feeling and will keep your hands warm for some time even when wet. Because they take up very little room, a second pair can be carried, just in case the first pair becomes too wet.
To fish comfortably at night, you do need to be prepared for the cold. Once you have the right gear, fishing the night shift can be as enjoyable as any other day on the water. Fishing at night will open up a whole new timeslot, giving you yet another option when it comes to deciding when and where to go trout fishing.