Nocturnal Missions: How To Catch Big Trout at Night

August 15, 2023 By: Kubie Brown

“Worshiping The Light God, Hexagenia limbata.” Image by John Gremmer

Everyone is a little afraid of the dark. Whether you needed a nightlight as a kid or just get nervous walking down a dark alley, there’s something unnerving about the night. It’s an inherited fear, left behind from when our ancestors lived in caves and built their fires high for protection from the things that lurked beyond the flickering flames. Now, of course, the saber-toothed cats and dire wolves that hunted our predecessors are extinct. But that doesn’t mean there still aren’t predators our there prowling in the darkness—specifically in the form of giant trout.

It’s a well-known fact that the largest trout in the river, the ones anglers don’t normally see during the day, come out to play at night. As soon as the sun goes down, these fish move from the deep holes and snaggy structure they hide in during the light of day to feed, presenting opportunities to catch the trout of a lifetime. That is, so long as you’re brave enough to go fishing at night.

Equipment For Night Fishing

Night fishing can be dangerous. Those deep holes and sharp rocks so easy to steer clear of in the light of day can send you to that great fishing hole in the sky very quickly when fishing in the dark. So your first priority before any night fishing expedition should be a good light source.

A powerful flashlight or lantern for walking down to the water and a good headlamp for when you’re fishing are essential for both your success and safety. It’s important to remember, though, that trout are extremely light sensitive and will spook in flashlight beams. Lights should only be used when you’re switching flies, moving from spot to spot, or when landing a fish and not when you’re actually fishing. Aside from a good light source, you’ll also want to carry a cell phone and even a signal whistle in case the worst happens.

While delicate presentations are often essential for fishing during the day, your equipment for night fishing should be anything but delicate. Heavy 2x to 0x leaders and heavyweight 6-weight and 7-weight fly rods are crucial for night fishing. This is not only because of the larger fish you’ll encounter. It’s also because you’ll want to rip yourself loose from snags, tree branches, etc. without venturing into the darkness. There’s little fear about spooking fish with big splashes and thick lines. In fact, the extra movement in the water will often attract them.

Best Night Fishing Methods

There are a lot of night fishing options out there for fly anglers and foremost among these are evening hatches. Large mayflies such as the green drake and Hexagenia can make for some furious nocturnal action. These large insects hatch in the late evening, with the best fishing happening after dark. You can fish these hatches by drifting large mayfly patterns like the Parachute Green Drake or even a large attractor pattern like the Wulff Irresistible. If fish aren’t eating on the drift, you can increase your odds by adding some skating or twitching action to trigger them to strike.

Large caddisfly patterns can be fished in much the same way. Though these insects don’t hatch at night, they are extremely active just before sunset, meaning that drifting or skating these flies in the last light of the day can catch you a lot of fish. Stone flies are also a good option for night fishing, especially large, weighted nymphs like Pat’s Rubberlegs or a Beadhead Stonefly which can be slow stripped or drifted along the bottom where they can be inhaled by a hungry night hunting fish.

Mousing is another a great way to tussle with some big night-feeding trout. Smacking and stripping mouse patterns through the center of slow-moving pools and back eddies or swinging them through the middle of the river on a tight line can produce some truly explosive strikes. There are a lot of different mouse patterns out there, all of which will work but I’ve always found that lighter, more elongated patterns like the Master Splinter and the Morrish Mouse work best. It’s important to remember that trout, especially large brown trout, will often strike hard at a mouse fly to “kill” it before eating it. So, you won’t want to set the hook until you actually feel the weight of the fish on the line.

Now of course, the truly big trout are the ones feeding on those fish eating the night-hatching insects and so if you’re after a real hog, your best bet is a streamer. Streamers are always effective when pursuing big trout, but they work especially well at night. The most effective patterns for fishing after dark move a lot of water. Streamers with large deer hair heads like the Drunk and Disorderly and the Sluggo are your best bets. Fish these streamers through pools, tail outs, and long shallow flats by smacking them down hard into the water and stripping them almost as soon as they land. The fast, loud action is the perfect thing to call in the big ones you’re after.

Going Bump in the Night

One of the biggest things that fly anglers complain about is not having enough time in the day to fish and that’s the best thing about night fishing—you don’t have to go home when the sun goes down. It’s also the perfect thing to relieve the stresses of the day. You can go night fishing after work, after your chores are done, and even after your kids go to bed. In short, night fishing not only offers a chance to catch the giant trout of your dreams, but it can also be your only opportunity to get a line on the water after a busy day when you often need it the most. So if you’re brave enough to face the night, go out and give night fishing a try and perhaps find out what type of monsters are really prowling around in the dark.