Many fish species feed more actively at night, but for anglers who fly fish for trout at night, brown trout are at the top of the hit list. If you’re up for a new adventure and aren’t too afraid of the dark, these tips will help you get started.
1. Know Where You’re Wading — Scout Ahead
Choose your night fishing grounds carefully. When starting out, fish water you’ve fished before in the daytime, and if you’re checking out a new locale, scope it out in the light of day beforehand. Figure out your access points, take note of any prominent obstacles like rapids or falls, and if possible, find places that offer plenty of casting room with minimal overhead vegetation.
Before you head out for the night, be sure to check stream flows through USGS—especially if fishing a tailwater below a hydroelectric dam—as water level fluctuations can create unsafe fishing conditions unexpectedly.
2. Get a Head Lamp with White and Red Light
One of the most essential night time fishing tools is a headlamp. Cheap headlamps you find at Home Depot will work, but you may have better luck with a mountaineering-style headlamp. I really like the Black Diamond Spot (Amazon link to check the price). It has 300 lumens and can be locked so it doesn’t accidentally turn on in your gear bag.
Why a red light?
Because red lights don’t give you flash blindness like white lights do, which is nice when fishing at night with a buddy. It’s the difference between the shock of bright white high beams from an oncoming vehicle and staring at red tail lights for hundreds of miles on a road trip.
3. When in Doubt, Fish Streamers (And Don’t be Afraid to Go Big)
The biggest trout in the stream are the most predatory and do the majority of their feeding under the cloak of darkness. They’re after meat, which in most waters means baitfish like minnows, sculpins, and smaller members of their own species. Other critters like crawfish and mice are also on the menu.
I’ll get into specific streamer fly patterns for trout at night, but this article from Hatch Magazine will help you get the ball rolling when choosing a streamer.
If you’re doing it right, fishing streamer flies at night will feel more like you’re casting spinning lures or topwater bass plugs than fly fishing. It’s all about making lots of casts and giving the fly lifelike action to trigger a strike.
4. Add a Stinger Hook
Large streamers appeal to large trout. Even though these fish have mouths large enough to gulp the most gargantuan streamers, big brown trout have a tendency to short-strike. Adding a second hook off the backend of your fly—commonly known as a “stinger hook”—can greatly increase your hookup rate when the lunkers are nipping instead of committing.
5. Make Short Casts
When you’re fishing streamers, most of your casts will be targeted at specific structures, current seams, or if you’re lucky, cruising fish. So whether you’re wading or fishing from a boat, keep your casts under 30 feet and focus on accuracy.
In the dark, the less line you have out, the less can go wrong.
6. Make More Casts
Your arms and shoulders might get sore. But finding fish at night is often a matter of covering as much water as possible. The more time your fly spends in the water, the better your odds.
7. Use a Heavier Fly Rod
You might fish the same exact stretch of water during the day with a 5-weight. But when you’re hucking the fly equivalent of a T-bone steak, the extra casting power offered by heavier rods is essential.
7-weight fly rods are a popular choice for night time fly anglers chasing rainbows and brown trout with moderate-sized flies. However, if you want to really get into fishing big flies at night, up-sizing to an 8-weight or even a 9-weight can make casting huge, water-logged flies a lot easier. Plus, if you hook into a true monster, you’ll be equipped for a speedy fight and quick release putting less stress on the fish.
8. Use Short, Heavy Leaders
Go with leaders and tippet in sizes 1X or 2X at night. Four to six feet of total length is plenty, but feel free to go longer. Brown trout are believed to see in the dark better than other trout species, but even so, trout across the board are far less leader shy at night than during the day.
With a heavier leader and tippet, your streamers will cast and fish better. Plus, with a higher pound test, losing that hard-earned 15-pounder won’t be such a worry.
9. Invest in Glow in the Dark Fly Line
Yes, it exists. And if you’re serious about fly fishing for trout at night, glow in the dark fly line could be worth the investment. These expensive lines might seem like a gimmick, but as long as you remember to charge them with a bright light source before you head out for the night, they make tracking your line much easier.
If you’re interested in a glow in the dark fly line, check out the SA Frequency Magnum (Link to check out prices at Amazon)
10. Glow in the Dark Indicator
If you don’t want to go all out with a glow in the dark line, a glow in the dark strike indicator will help you keep an eye on your rig in the water. Make your own with glow in the dark spray paint or buy glow in the dark Thingamabobbers (Link to Amazon – where I got mine).
11. Wear Safety Glasses
Speaking of visibility . . . It won’t matter how visible your line is if you take a hook to the eye. Polarized sunglasses—even with the brightest yellow lenses—aren’t a feasible option for eye protection at night. Thankfully, a cheap pair of safety glasses does the trick.
12. Fish Deep Pools, Slack Water & Transitions
At night, predatory brown trout either cruise the shallows searching for prey or they “feed up,” holding deep as they wait for prey to swim above. Even if you’re fishing higher in the water column or on the surface, look for deep holes and stretches of slack water. And if you can find water that goes from deep to shallow in a quick transition, that’s the sweet spot.
13. Adjust for Depth
When fishing these deep waters and transition zones, you’ll need to modify your rigs to get your flies to the right depth. Streamers can be tied with weight in the form of beads, barbell eyes, or wraps of weighted wire. Split shot and weighted putties are quick ways to get your flies a little deeper. Or, you can go with a sink tip line like Kelly Galloup’s Airflo Streamer Max which is designed specifically for the task of getting streamers down.
14. Work the Bank Hard
On larger tailwaters and lakes, big brown trout often hold close to the bank, whether hovering near a ledge or tucked under a log. If you’re in a boat moving slowly along the bank, send your fly to every likely target. If you’re on foot, plan your stalk carefully as you ease into position to deliver your bank-side offering.
15. Appeal to the Lateral Line
Trout use their lateral lines to detect and locate prey. When presenting and working your flies on the retrieve, try to make your flies appear as prey-like as possible by giving off lots of enticing tremors. If you want an extra edge, give your offering some buzz by tying in a rattle to your fly. Fly patterns that incorporate small colorado blades—like Senyo’s Gangsta Intruder —are potent options for the non-purist.
16. Cast Straight at Your Target
This applies both to streamer and dry fly fishing at night. When you see a rise, a swirl, a tail, or a thrash—any sign of a fish actively feeding—launch your bug straight at that spot.
17. Make it a Splash Landing
Commotion upon landing can be a great way to draw attention to your fly and trigger a strike. You might even stir up competition over the incoming food item. Landing your fly with a splat is especially effective when fishing mouse flies . . . more on those later.
18. Fish Slow and Twitchy
On the retrieve, mix up your stripping pattern with lots of fast movement followed by pauses of varying length. Many times, strikes will come as the fly slowly sinks on the pause.
19. Fish the Swing
When you aren’t targeting bank lines or areas with promising structure, swinging streamers down and across the current can be a great way to cover water to find trout at night. When wading, keep your casts around the same distance and take one step downstream after each swing of the fly to cover water in a methodical manner.
20. Make Safety Your First Priority
Don’t push your luck on the river at night. Do everything within your power to stay safe to enjoy many night fishing trips in the future—wear a pdf if in a boat, use a wading belt, install studs on your wading boots, and use a wading staff. And don’t forget to leave a detailed itinerary of your trip with family or friends.
21. Head to the Midwest for the Hex Hatch
Around early July every year on streams and lakes throughout the Midwest epic hatches of Hexagenia Limbata mayflies kick off around dusk and keep cranking until morning. These monstrous yellow-winged creatures of the sky are picky in terms of habitat, so tracking down a good spot to fish the night hatch can be tricky. But once you find the right combination of bottom substrate, current, and water temperature, you’ll know you’re in the right place by the thousands of duns drifting along the surface.
What’s great is that you can fish every stage of the hex hatch—fish hex nymphs during the day, switch to emergers as the sun starts to set, then switch to your hex mayfly dun dry flies as night sets in.
3 Proven Flies for Night Time Fly Fishing
When tying or shopping for flies to use when fly fishing for trout at night, you’ll want at least a few options for each of the following categories:
- Hex mayfly imitations: Only those lucky enough to get on the river during a nighttime hex hatch will need imitations of these gargantuan mayflies. Many patterns exist, but this Hexagenia Limbata Comparadun extended-body dry fly by Wisconsin Fly Fishing is a solid option.
- Mouse flies: A staple of the midsummer, midnight trout angler, mouse flies appeal to the largest trout with hearty appetites. Drop a mouse into every pocket and seam along the bank and get ready for explosive topwater takes. You don’t need a realistic-looking mouse fly, just something simple that represents the basic characteristics of a mouse: a furry body and a tail with legs and ears if you’re feeling fancy. The Moorish Mouse fits the bill nicely.
- Articulated streamers: So. Many. Streamer. Patterns. For the most part, they’ll all work for trout at night so long as they’re dressed with dark colors to create a distinct silhouette and lots of wiggly action. Streamers with multi-section articulated bodies and lots of flowy materials that pulsate in the water should occupy a large quadrant of your fly box. Kelly Galloup is well-known for concocting articulated streamer patterns that appeal to nighttime browns, none of which are more enticing than the Sex Dungeon. For more ideas on fishing big streamers, this article by Gink and Gasoline will help.
Within each of these fly categories, you’ll find many hundreds if not thousands of pattern variations. Experiment. Try flies with different materials and body profiles until you find a pattern that works where you fish. Add in some terrestrial flies like beetles and cricket imitations and a few topwater poppers to round out your box.
Bank on Night Time Fly Fishing
If you like fishing in solitude and have big trout on the brain, skip a night on the town and head to the river instead. When you do, make sure you have all the right safety gear, give your loved ones a head up, and use the tips I shared to bone up on the strategies and techniques you need to fly fish for trout at night.