Edit-this is a post I started working on a week ago and I forgot to publish. Expect some more posts soon. I know I've been slacking, but it's been a tough few days for me.
Let's face it, fly fishing can become a frustrating experience during the day. At night, it can get even worse. Heading to the river at night is not really ideal, but for some of us with full time jobs and young children, it's the only time during the week where we can wet a line. I've spent the past few weeks making a few trips to the stream at night and it has paid off. I was out last night landing fish around 11pm on slumpbusters.
Here's some tips to help you avoid wanting to break your rod in half in the darkness.
You should fish an area that you know well and I would choose something close to an urban area if possible to help with lighting. Many streets have lights next to the bridges that cross over water. These are great locations. It gives you just enough light to see what's going on, and you might even be able to scout some fish from the bridge.
2.Scouting the water and banks
You should definitely know the water and scout it out in advance. You most likely won't be able to tell that you're casting through a deep pool or a set of really soft riffles at night. Also pay attention to the trees and bushes around you. Casting in the dark is really tough and it helps if you know there's a branch 8 feet up over your left shoulder that you can't currently see.
I don't know how many times I've rigged up at home and then realized half an hour later while on the stream that I can't switch flies because I forgot a flashlight. Bring a flashlight or headlamp. But here's the main point. Only use it when needed. Don't keep your headlamp on the whole time while you're looking at the water. You will definitely spook fish. When you need to use the flashlight, turn away from the stream and point it away from the water. Also, keep the flashlight clean because you'll most likely be holding it with your teeth to tie on some more tippet if you dont have a headlamp.
4.Look before you leap
Before you make your first cast, spent 4 or 5 minutes just sitting still and observing the water. Some fish will be much more active at night, especially browns. I bet you will notice surface action close to the banks either right in front of you, or on the opposite side. This brings me to my next tip.
Many fish will roam the banks at night looking for some easy prey. Casting right through your deep honey hole in the night might not work, because the fish are out hunting under the cover of darkness. Try stripping streamers up and down the banks. It can work wonders, even in a foot of water.
As I said above, fish could be in shallow and wading will ruin it for you. Since they can't see at night, they'll rely on their other senses. You'll just spook them. Plus, if you fall in at night, there's less of a chance that someone will see you and/or come to your aid if needed. Don't be stupid. Stay out of the water.
7.Dealing with the 5-0
Typically when I fish at night, it's in a public park that closes at sunset. About 75% of the time, I get stopped at least once by a police officer who sees my parked car along the side of a road or in an empty parking lot. When this happens, don't be a jerk. Yeah, they'll probably shine a light on you, get out of their car and talk with you, but they are just seeing if you're drinking or doing drugs. As long as you're not drunk or high, they will most likely let you go. Just tell them you are just there to fish, not causing any problems, and ask permission to stay for a while. They always say yes. Remember, saying please and thank you will help the next time he sees you out at 11pm in an empty park.
8.Sub-surface - go dark and big
Unless there are a ton of rises, the fish won't see your size 22 midge emerger, or your tiny pheasant tail. You need to get their attention. Since there's no light to reflect, white and bright colors won't work. Think dark and big. Black is best because it will still be a slight contrast against the night sky. Try black woolly buggers, slumpbusters, muddler minnows, and any other chunky streamer you can think of. I've found that fish will be more willing to chase a streamer at night. I get twice as many hits on them as I do during the day. You want something to move water and get their attention. Double streamers will accomplish this as well.
However, if you are in an area with some street lighting that is bright enough to let you see fish in the water, an occasional glowbug will work.
9.Movement on top
If you're seeing rises, it still doesnt mean that they'll take your size 18 olive. Bigger will be better. Try some bigger dry caddis, terrestrials, or big dries like a Royal Wulff. Anything with rubber legs is great. Definitely give the fly a twitch every 5-10 seconds. Another thing with dries at night is that you might really have to work a fish. I've already found a fish rising in front of a downed tree and it took me about 20 casts to get a strike. Persistence pays off.
10.Zip it up
Make sure all the pockets in your jacket, chest pack, tackle bag, etc are zipped up. I've lost quite a few items while rummaging through my chest pack for floatant at night.
I know some of these seem like common knowledge, but you'd be surprised how easy you can make mistakes while fumbling through the pitch black woods. Hopefully you at least learned one or two things you can take with you the next time you fish at night.