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Fly Fishing at Night Part 4 - in Rivers

Fly fishing at night in rivers - big fish - big risks?

When I wrote the original chapters on fly fishing at night I pretty much skipped over fishing in rivers, except for the story about my first foray into the dark. Hopefully this will fill that hole.

Fishing at night introduces a whole raft of new variables for the angler to deal with - especially if it is a really dark night. But really black nights are the best time to catch big brutes. Especially big brown brutes. Catch 22 - again.

It seems trite to write it - but the biggest problem with night fishing is the inability to see what you are doing.

I guess summing up the difficulties, is that when night fishing you become acutely aware of how much daytime fly-fishing relies on seeing what is going on.

Ok, so it looks like night fishing is confined to a bunch of nutter fishermen, bumbling about in the dark, hoping they are doing the right thing, dreaming of a big fish, while their nose freezes off. Well, call me a nutter. But I am a nutter who enjoys catching bigger fish than are normally found during the day.

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There is one thing that is absolutely essential when contemplating fishing a river at night - know the water.

If these three factors are in place, you maximise your chances of catching fish, and minimise the chances of taking a tumble and getting worse than just wet.

So, here is my sequence of events before tackling a piece of water I have not fished before.

I always visit the water during daylight and fish it with the method I plan to use at night. I never, ever, not even once, night-fish water I have not fished in daylight.

In most cases I fish at night with a sinking line (of varying types - more later) to a dark streamer-type fly. I try and get a feel for the cast necessary to send the fly where I want it. Once I have established that, I find some sticks and make a marker on the bank, for both where to stand and the direction of the cast. I do this in each of the various lies I have identified.

I take particular note, and I mean a written note, of anything, logs, rocks etc. that may trip me up when wading. For each marker I note the depth where I was standing, (ankle, shin, knee, mid-thigh). This helps me ensure I am in the right place for the cast.

I take a note of snags and other things that might interfere with my fly or line.

If the piece of water, is to be fished through, that is cast two or three times, then take a step, and cast again, and so on through the water, I note down the number of steps.

By fishing the water in daylight you can experiment with the tackle required. If you are fishing downstream, you can work out whether you require a floating line or all the way down to a fast sinking shooting head. This decision may well force the decision on what rod weight to use, i.e. shooting head - heavier weight rod.

The daylight fact-finder will allow you to test lure weight as well, in combination with the line weight you have chosen.

While this may seem to be a great deal of effort for a night's fishing, in reality it is little different to what we do on any new piece of water in the day.

The first day we fish new water we discover and commit to memory the dynamics of that water, and on following days we can fish it productively, having identified the best lies. Over time that knowledge gets refined, and honed. It is just the same for night fishing, the more we fish a piece of water at night the more we know the water and the more productive we become.

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Night fishing methods in rivers:

Method 1: Downstream wet lining

By far and away the easiest, but productive, method of night fishing is downstream wet-lining. That is firing a cast across the river, let it swing down and around until the lure is below you, then twitch retrieve the line back ready for the next cast.

This method is the best for anglers relatively new to fly-fishing, because it reduces the variables. But most anglers I know fish downstream at night, including the very best anglers, where the river demands it.

Do not forget using wee wets, flymphs or spider flies. Many insects hatch at night and a small wet fly on a sink-tip line can be very effective. Cast across and allow the fly to swing, then when it is below you, do a 'lift and draw' retrieve. That is lift the rod tip up slowly, draw in an arm's length of line, then drop the rod tip and let the fly sink again.

The idea is to imitate an emerging insect swimming up to the surface. Repeat till the line is back to where you need to recast.

Method 2: Dry-fly fishing

Many insects, especially a number of Caddis, hatch at night, and dry fly fishing can be very effective, but it really does help if you have some moon-light.

Usually small drifts are the answer, to avoid the dreaded drag on the fly. Although sometimes a bit of drag is effective, especially when caddis are on the water.

But my favourite night-time flies are big leggy foam-flies that create all kinds of trouble and strife on the water - just like big terrestrial insects such as moths, cicada, and hoppers.

Fire them out well above the water surface and let them plop down on the water. These foam flies will even work when there is no hatch on - often dragging big fish up from deep water.

On this theme do not ignore small bass bugs, especially those with lots of legs and a cupped face - they make lot of 'noise' and again can pull big fish up from the depths.

Mice patterns work most of the time especially on big brown trout. In fact mice can be fished down and across on water that is not moving fast. The wake off the fly seems to attract big brute browns.

Method 3: Nymph fishing at night

I have tried to nymph fish at night, really tried, but I find it just too problematical.

Nymph fishing in daylight is the most difficult of all fly-fishing methods - we are working in three dimensions.

Give nymphing a go at night if frustration is your close and personal friend.

Stopper Knot

There is one little but important thing you need to know when fishing at night - how to tie a 'stopper knot'.

At night it can be very difficult to tell how much line is outside the rod tip when retrieving. Having the leader pull into the rod guides is one of fly-fishing's more tedious events. Especially at night.

Pull about a rod and a half length of fly-line out from the rod tip then tie on a trimmed stopper knot on the fly-line just in front of the reel. The stopper knot will give you two warnings when the fly-line is nearing the rod tip. First you will feel the knot as it comes through the tip guide, and then as it touches each guide. Plenty of warning to stop retrieving and prepare for a new cast.

Night fishing equipment

Apart from the usual fishing paraphernalia hanging off your body there are a few 'must haves'.

You need a torch of course. I always carry two.
A small one clipped to my waders, some use a small torch that clips to the peak of a cap, for selecting flies and tying them on, and a bigger one for navigation. I carry a fresh set of batteries for both torches.

Regardless of which torch you use, never shine it on the water where you are going to fish. If you need to turn on your torch to change a fly or leader, turn away and face the river bank.

If I am fishing in bigger rivers I always wear a floatation device.
I use a gas cartridge inflatable jacket. I also attach a large cyalume stick to my vest - it can really help in finding me if I go floating off down a river.

I wear layered warm clothing.

Take extra clothing to add as night and the cold seeps in.

You need to leave a detailed plan of where you will be fishing and your expected time of return to your home or accommodation.
Stick to the plan

That pretty much is that. Fly fishing at night is a skill that requires more effort in preparation than daylight fishing, but the rewards in terms of bigger fish are well worth the effort. But always lurking in the background, as in any activity undertaken in the dark of night, is the increased potential for harm. Be careful - keep safe.

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