FF Foundations - Visit the Dark Side
by Ken Collins - February 25, 2019
The Secret is out. Your favourite places to fish on our local rivers are many other angler’s favourites as well. Heading to the river on a Saturday morning during “prime time” you will see others on stream. But, there is an alternative to finding excellent fishing and possibly the biggest fish of your life on a quiet local river. You just have to look at other times. Times of day that is.
Fishing in the dark can be productive. Some of our biggest mayfly hatches use this time of day to return to the river to complete their life cycle and deposit the next generation on the river bottom. This gives us an opportunity to test our skills with quality fish in a more challenging environment.
It is also a known fact that a river’s largest fish come out to play in the dark. Bigger fish have learned over the years that eating during the day can be a bit of a pricky experience. Therefore they have learned to eat at night. This nocturnal feeding behavior is most prominent with brown trout - like the seasoned browns of the Grand River.
The fish use this timing because fishing for them in the dark is not easy. You will have to be prepared to test everything you know at every moment while you are standing in the river in the dark. As you know, wading on greased bowling balls is tough at the best of times. Add this having no way of knowing where your cast landed or if it landed in a heap of leader, line and fly right on top of the rising fish you were trying to catch is challenging. You need a plan and to be prepared.
Do yourself a favour and go out in daylight to investigate your hopeful night fishing location. Make sure to mark or at least embed in your mind how to get back to this spot. Do not forget, double check your back cast, it must be clear – branches at night will not be your friend. This advanced work will pay off when a giant trout is rising in front of you.
Pre scouting out those good looking fish holding lies is key. Make sure to check for converging currents that will wreck your presentation. In other words make a cast. Try to mimic all things you plan to do that night. Yes, that includes the flies and leaders you plan to use. A daytime leader of 9ft or longer is suicide to use at night. Do yourself a favour and use a new 7.5 ft leader in 5x or 4x and put away your tippets. Tippet knots are fly snags and in the dark you don’t want any extra problems. Also, fumbling around in the dark can be dangerous. Take a wading staff to help you navigate darkened trails and unseen obstructions on stream.
Let’s face it the real issue of fly fishing at night is the ability to see the fly not alone the actual bulge of a rising fish taking your fly as a meal. Planning a night to capitalize on the moon phases can be a big advantage. Unfortunately, mayfly hatches don’t always run in sync with the best moon phases. But keep in mind even the brightest of moons can be subdued by a cloudy night.
Fly choice and limiting your distance of cast can be critical to your success. First, the fly should have some vertical profile. Patterns that lay flat on the water are hard to see. Try as light of colour as possible - the contrast of the light fly on the dark water seems to help. Don’t be afraid to upsize you fly a bit as well. It can make it stand out during a good hatch.
Casting too far at night is another common night fishing mistake. On more than one occasion I have witnessed (unfortunately first hand more than once) casting for periods of time without a fly. The urge to cast just a couple of feet further can be the undoing of the night. Wandering back casts will find every possible snag in the area and just how easily these twigs remove flies will surprise even the most attentive fly fisher.
One more prevention imperative, wearing a hat and clear safety glasses is a must. Don’t’ make the mistake thinking your cast is perfect and you will never do yourself any harm. Bad things can happen real fast. A hook in the cheek or back of the neck is close call, but a hook in the eye is game over.
Big flashlights or head lamps are good for walking in and out but no good near the water. They in my opinion spook fish but worse they cause your pupils to shrink and it takes time to re adjust your eyes every time you turn them off. Green or red lenses can help this, but you will still need some adjustment. One of the greatest retail finds that we discovered is the lighted magnifying reading glasses. These glasses have the perfect amount of light to see the leader, tippet and flies. Other anglers and fish will barely know you are using them.
There is no doubt in my mind that some of the best dry fly action can happen in these twilight and dark times. However, guiding at this time just isn't worth it - the risks are far too great and trying to watch someone fishing in the dark and adjust what they are doing as a guide we just don’t think we are giving clients our best. Besides we guides need to fish too. Our Grand River Troutfitters motto for this is “it’s the local’s time to fish” and we believe these southern Ontario flowing waters are for all to enjoy. Yes, we try to make a living from them; but, our philosophy is that this should be done during the day – when most other anglers are working. We do not condone hogging prime waters by guides and paying clients late in the evening.
...and remember keep your fly on the water, limit your false casting, Hollywood fly fishing movie producers are not looking for the next Brad Pitt casting double anytime soon. But, the fish are waiting for your presentation and their option for accepting or refusing it will continue to intrigue us for many, many more hours of angling.
I know a place where we can go… Your Fly fishing Guide/instructor Ken
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