Night Fishing Trout Michigan Style
A major part of Michigan brown trout fishing lore concerns a great night hatch, a hatch that brings out grandpa's fish from the twisted log jam by the cabin. You know, the fish he had wars with over the years, waders full of water, a lost hat and a six beer hike up the hill dragging a perfectly broken 6wt rod. It's telling stories like these while the snow is blowing sideways, drinking scotch and smoking cigars in the garage, that symbolize hex fishing in the Midwest.
Long after the big Hex rush is over and all the car doors slam shut at the access points the good old boys fire up their pick-ups, uncap the Jim Beam and get ready for the true night experience. For years the die hard fly fisherman waited until the dead of night to pull some of the true giants out of the real-estate. I am one of them.
Learning the Signs
A sure sign that the night bite will be productive is when the chubs and small brook trout are active in your favorite brown trout water. Let's face it the chubs are in the river all year round, they just don't show up all of the sudden in July. They are not a factor when the larger browns are ready to eat them.
The presence of fire flies are another sign to get out to the river and fish at night. A third tell-tale sign is water temperature when the water reaches its warmest day time surface temps of the year it is time to get on the night bite.
Most of the mid-July daytime fishing is based on hail mary hope to get a good one while using a hopper. Don't get me wrong many anglers have caught many good fish using this approach.
The Night Bite
To maximize success, fish when the fish are most active, and browns are active at night. Peak night time activity tends to be time related with the hex hatch even though it may be weeks past. The 10pm to 1.45am bite is almost always good. Providing that the moon is less than half full. When the moon is full the bite may occur earlier, for the simple fact that when the moon reaches the treetops the river will be lit up like Tiger Stadium. If the only time you get to fish is during a full moon, then tell the wife you will be home early, plan to get out right at dark. Fish efficiently, not too fast and don't be afraid to pull the plug early if the bite is slow. If it's a low light night, it could be a late night!
For some reason when I mention night fishing to people, they relate the fishing to the fast paced game of tossing steamers. In fact the night bite is the opposite. Fish often move off cover when they feed at night. The deep heavy pools that can hold fish during the peak streamer bite don't seem to have the same potency when fishing the night bite.
Look to the inside bends of rivers that have some cover or the top end of riffles. Not the broken water. Soft flowing water fishes twice as good as the busted up stuff. Pick sections of river that are moderately paced with lots of cover. Re-program your strategy to be successful.
At night concentrate on areas that are opposite of those that one would fish with streamers. For example: shallow water, inside bends, sandy stretches, extreme top ends of pools are all prime night locations for trout. Use a slow retrieve, moderate strips in the 3-4 inch pulls and don't be afraid to add a period of dead drift into this presentation.
What not to do
In order to be successful at night fishing let us first talk a little about some of the major no no's. Be careful not to let too much slack line get in the way of a positive hook up. Do not strike on the explosion of the fish. Strip setting the hook is the only way to go.
If you swing the rod in an effort to hook the fish, while pulling mice, you will wind up like one of those guys who think that the fish was short striking the fly. Browns will make many attempts at their prey, and I believe strongly that it is more of an attempt to get an angle on, and stun large top water food sources.
Stand your ground. I have had fish make 10 or more attempts at the fly before catching them with less than 3 feet of line out. By using a strip set, the fly remains in the water, not in the tree behind you. The brown trout can then have another shot at your fly. The most important part of the program is keeping the fly waking slowly with intermittent pauses.
Contrary to popular belief it is rare for it to be pitch black at night. Check the level of wake and your overall presentation in an area of ambient light. Cast the fly cross current. The first few strips of line will be greater than the following strips in order to pick up the slack line. Than proceed to make slow 4 inch strips with pauses to make the fly appear as though it is loosing ground or being forced by the current. You can catch fish on the swing if your only option is wading but not many mice swim up river and I truly feel a cross current presentation works better.
Big Brown Trout - Use the right gear
Real men fish rope! Without heavy line and heavy rods you can't navigate the fish away from the real-estate. If you get wrapped up in the excitement of what happened and try to fight the fish there is a good chance you will loose, pull that sucker in!
How heavy of line? It's midnight and the browns don't care. You won't catch me ever running less than 1x leader. I would even go as far to say pound test, ten, twelve and fifteen, get my drift? Length short, I'll say it again short, less than five feet.
Fly lines have come light years haven't they? Bass lines, wind cutters, and my new favorite the glow lines. I know what your thinking, and no they don't spook fish. I would not recommend a sinking like of any type at night, you just loose too much gear. But us fly shop owners could always use the support, so go ahead if you must. Skip the five weight daytime rod. Use a six or a seven weight rod when tossing flies like deer hair frogs, mice and poppers at night. They work awesome.
Big waking flies - What to use
If you tie flies use lots of foam, hair and Softex. The best fly that one can tie for night browns is a Softex Mouse. I have caught countless fish on this little monster of rock and roll. Old reliable patterns work as good as ever such as big Atlantic salmon bombers, and a trusty Houghton Lake Special. These flies still burn up the waterway. Sculpins and leech patterns can be effective as well but be prepared to loose some gear if they are weighted.
Lesser known night activities include stoneflies and dobson flies and moths. Make sure to have stoneflies in your arsenal. Big ones size 4 and greater. Many stoneflies can hatch at night around these parts. When those big choppers start falling out of the midnight sky it can be as good if not better than the hex. It is just a shorter window of opportunity and I can grantee that you won't have to worry about someone being in your spot.
When fishing at night it is important to follow some basic safety precautions to avoid getting in trouble. Carry an extra light. Tell somebody where you are fishing. Know your river and your take out spot. Use good wading sense, better safe than wet! Night fishing can be one of the more rewarding fishing experiences of the year. The size of the fish and the thrill of taking large trout on bass style flies is awesome!
By Russ Maddin - Troutsman
Get a Michigan Fishing Guide
The great group of guides at the Jon's Guide Service can introduce you to the joys and excitement of tossing big stuff at night for big browns on some great water on the Manistee River and Pere Marquette River (lower peninsula of Michigan). Located in Traverse City, and having remote locations in Baldwin, MI, and Newaygo MI. professional guide services. At a event at Flymart Flyshop, Jon Kestner shared passion for night fishing and some innovative patterns. If your in the area give him a shout.
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South Boardman, MI 49680
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