John Milner, then owner of the Angler's Paradise motel in Turangi where I regularly stayed, had regaled me with stories of monster brown trout that lurked in a pool on the Tongariro River (central North Island, NZ).
They could only be caught at night it seemed. Finally temptation overcame reticence and armed with a detailed map and John's strenuous warning not to start fishing until dark, but to arrive in daylight to get the lie of the land, I set off.
The first part of the walk was easy, along the clear track for 20 minutes in the evening twilight. The track on one side was bounded by flat paddocks, the other by thick bush. I found the track turn-off that should have led me on a five-minute walk down to the river, but I had mistimed my march.
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Following the map and this less well-defined track deeper into the bush, night drew in and drew all light out. No moon and the lack of any other ambient light soon made the area black as the deep pits of hell. If that is what Hades is like I do not want to go there.
My small torch with its pencil thin beam was no match for this darkness and made my progress a shuffling, many wrong turns, stagger. Finally, nearly 15 minutes later, I lurched out of the bush and tripped and stumbled over the boulder-covered bank to the river's edge.
More stumbling and bumbling finally found me on a sand bank which John's map and advice stressed was the only place from which to swing a fly through the lie of the monster browns.
I sat down, lit a cigarette, and in an attempt to settle my nerves and racing heart, tried to contemplate my surroundings. Not a chance. The blackness was as impenetrable as a wall of basalt rock.
I knew where the river was of course – the sound told me that. But the whereabouts of the cliff on the other side of the river, where I was to cast my line, throw in some slack line, and then drift the line into the pool formed by the current pushed out by the cliff, was a deep, very dark mystery.
I decided that coming this far should provide reason enough to at least throw a couple of casts out into the blackness, so I rigged up and commenced casting. Trying to cast would be a more accurate description.
In daylight I counted myself a competent caster. Years of practice seemed to make the line do much of what I want it to do most of the time. But there in the dark my casting fell to pieces. I could not see how much line was out. My back-casts hit the boulders and driftwood behind. Three times I replaced flies lost in that tangle behind me. Twice I managed to seat the fly firmly in the back of my fly vest.
Finally I got things together and the fly shot out towards the unseen cliff rumoured to be straight out across the river. In direction at least I was right. The fly reached the cliff and secured itself in whatever shrubbery covered its face.
As I sat down yet again to replace a lost fly, I began to notice that I could actually begin to see some of my surroundings. A small piece of moon had risen, and even though a screen of clouds filtered its light, my, by now, more night-accustomed eyes began to pick out some detail in the black shapes around me.
Now empowered by this feeble light I began to cast and my line began to go where I wanted. I even managed to catch two or three fish. Not the fabled brute browns, who kindly waited for another better-prepared night, but nice rainbows. Very nice in fact. Fat, deep-bodied fish that pulled my line all over the pool.
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Even though the moonlight was very thin, my night vision had clicked in to the point where the trip back over the boulders and driftwood was relatively easy. After a few anxious moments trying to find the bush-screened entrance to the track back up through the bush, I set off.
Only a few steps into the bush saw me back in the same predicament as the inward journey. The bush canopy completely screened out any moonlight and I was back in total darkness.
I stumbled and bumbled on in the thin beam of my torch. My progress slowed further as the torchlight seemed to dim. My suspicions were right, the batteries soon died and there I stood in absolute black, totally blind.
I will admit to some panic, but I took what seemed to be the most sensible course and sat down to try and work out what to do. Briefly I thought about trying to use my cigarette lighter to light the way, but its light was too dim and only served to make my night vision deteriorate. There seemed only one sensible thing to do, and that was to sit tight and wait for morning. So I did.
As I sat there in the darkness I began to notice that I could actually begin to see things. Looking up I could see some light through the canopy. Then I began to notice that there was a gap through the canopy that seemed to let in more light from above. I realised this most be the thinner canopy over the track. Then I noticed a lighter patch on the ground. There was a very heavy dew that night and I figured this light must be the reflection of what little light was coming through onto the dew that had settled on the track.
Slowly and very carefully I followed this very faint glow on the ground up the track. I had not gone more than 50 metres when looking ahead and slightly up I could see, quite literally, the light at the end of the tunnel.
The beginning of the track down to the river from the main track was dead straight for the first 50 or so metres and at quite a marked slope. I headed up the tunnel of light and very soon stepped out onto the main track where I could see, it seemed, forever. The clouds of earlier in the night had cleared and the now, to me, bright moonlight reflecting off the frosty dew, lit up the area. Almost jauntily I walked back along the track to my car.
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Perversely perhaps, since this episode, I have become more and more keen on trout fishing at night. The attractions are summed up in two words, big fish.
The dark of night seems to bring big fish out from wherever it is they lurk in daylight into the range of shore-bound casters. Maybe it is the darkness that adds some further mystery to a sport that is already full of mysteries. Out there unseen in the darkness a trout, hopefully a big trout, lines up your fly and engulfs it.
Your first hint of its presence is that first bump, then the tightening of the line, usually followed by a splash somewhere out in the darkness. Landing a fish in the dark is a testing experience. You are never quite sure where the fish is. You know where your line is heading off the rod tip, but that does not always line up with the fish’s position.
There is much to learn about fishing in the night, and I learn something new every time I step out into the black water.
Now I very rarely fish in the lotto sessions lined up across river and stream mouths. I move further afield, and since doing so have caught more and bigger fish. I have also learned some things about fly selection that differ widely from the conventional wisdom held by the stalwarts standing firmly in the pull of the current in the rip.
It can be very cold. Casting in the dark is not easy. Knowing where your fly is, is difficult. On lakes it is repetitive, constant casting and retrieving, but with subtle changes you can help make things happen. The rewards in terms of bigger fish are to me worth it.
Fishing at Night in Rivers
The original chapter on fishing in rivers at night was unfortunately a less than thorough look at all the aspects that go into fishing at night in rivers - especially the potential dangers. For a much more complete article see [this]
Reading the Water
Most fishermen have a few pet theories about what catches trout and what does not.
One of my theories, some call it an obsession, is that it is not what you fish with, but where you fish, that is the prime factor in determining fishing success or failure.
'Reading the water' to find trout is essential if you want to become a good or better angler.
Do Big Bright Flies and Nymphs Catch Brown Trout?
To a South Island of New Zealand trained brown-trout fisherman, the answer to the question, what fly should I use to tempt a brown trout, was easy – a small brown nymph. If that did not work, toss out a smaller, browner nymph.
Use a big bright glistening fly? "No never – scare the fish off", would have been the answer, and to many it still is the answer. But for me that answer took a tumble on a fishing trip to Ireland.Read full story
Catch and Release Dogma
Most aspects of human endeavour have collected their share of dogma and cant.
Trout fishing is one sport where a short-sighted, blinkered view of how things could and should be done is rife amongst a self appointed ‘elite’.
One aspect these dogmatists latch onto with total disregard for the fishery they are fishing in, is catch and release. According to them, all trout should be released in any water, anywhere. This is nonsense.
(In fact strict adherence to C & R in all trout water may indeed kill off the sport - a number of European countries now ban Catch and Release.)