By Jim Misiura
The first thing to think about when night fishing is of course, safety. You should always fish at night with a friend. It is safer if you have an accident, and more fun for you both. Check for life jacket and other requirements with the state regulations. Even in summer weather it is a good idea to wear one, especially when fishing unfamiliar water, even if just wading. I can speak from experience. It is no fun taking a step too far. Add to that, the fact that you are wearing and carrying a few hundred dollars worth of gear, and a step too far can at the very least be a costly swim. If, like me, you have been chasing nighttime stripers on Lake Wallenpaupac, then be sure to take every precaution. I do most of my fishing from shore, which is where the stripers seem to be. I do occasionally get up the… um nerves… to take my on- man raft on the water, (Manual propulsion only). You don’t want to be a headline in the next day’s newspaper. I am sure it is true on all the lakes with unlimited horsepower. You can see some pretty crazy, if not illegal, behavior at night. A lifejacket is always worn, and my headlamp is always on. As for the referee whistle I carry, well do you think a boat going over the speed limit with a possibly intoxicated driver is going to hear that? I think not. So a lot of praying crosses my lips when another boater is near. This is why I try to stay one long cast from shore.
Fly fishing at night is one of the most productive and fun ways to fish. I use larger streamers or large top water flies. As a trout fisherman, I have spent more time casting to trout at night, which makes me believe that fishing a big river at night will produce some very big fish. Smallmouth would be the most abundant fish to strike, but in the north there are some very big pike and musky. I have caught channel cats up to 30 inches during the whitefly spinner fall. It is an amazing site to behold when the water is covered with this abundant fly. It seems as if every fish in the river is scooping up their fair share. The channel cats look like snowplows cleaning the streets, leaving an empty path of water behind them. On one particular night I sat and watched this phenomenal feeding frenzy, as a swatch of whiteflies an inch thick and 30 yards wide by hundreds of yards long were eaten in just 45 minutes, leaving only a scant few mayflies behind.
If fishing the Whitefly spinner fall, I would use at least a 9 foot 6 weight, with a short stout leader, 6 or 7 feet. Tip that with a strong hooked fly, perhaps a Gurgler. Use your flashlight to spot the eyes of feeding fish and cast your fly into their path. Not the prettiest technique, but when you hook a large cat or walleye, who cares about technique.
If you’re after the explosive strikes of a large bass or musky, then a fly that pops or swims across the surface is what you’re looking for. I like to use big bass flies, an angus of about 6 to 12 inches is just the ticket. When you are using a 12 inch long fly, you need a big rod to handle it and the fish that is going to eat it. A 9 to 10 foot rod with a 9 to 12 weight line is going to be what you want. As for the leader, again a short 6 to 9 foot. A tippet that is 15 or 20 lb test is what is needed when you hook a toothy critter, a steel tippet shouldn’t be out of the question if you are targeting musky and pike.
Let’s take a look at four of my favorites. The Angus is by far my top fly. Coat the head and collar with floatant and give it a long cast. Let it swing in the current so it makes a wake. You can tie this in a wide range of colors to suit your taste. Black would be great during a full moon.
Eleven inch Angus Six inch Chartreuse Deceiver
A Lefty’s Deceiver is a popular minnow pattern. Again, color choice is up to you. Cast up and across to help it get deep, then give six to twelve inch strips on the retrieve. For this and all underwater patterns I use a two hand retrieve. After casting place the rod under your arm with the tip pointing at the fly, strip with both hands. When you feel the strike you have to continue stripping until you feel the fish on the rod, then turn your body and pick up the rod. A stripping basket is a very good idea when using the two handed retrieve.
With a popper, I like to cast slightly down and across, this gives you a tight line right from the start of the retrieve. Pop the fly two or three times, let the current remove any slack line and repeat the process. This will get the loudest strikes, so make sure you wait a moment before setting the hook with a strip and lift hook set. To do this, lift the rod by the handle not the tip (like trout setting). Fish the Zoo Cougar much like the Deceiver with shorter strips and longer pauses in between.
Seven inch Fire Popper Five inch Zoo Cougar
These are just a few of my favorites. I also like the Gurgle Bug when fishing for trout or smallmouth bass. The Moorish Mouse is a great fly on trout streams at night. What big brown trout is going to pass up a meal like that? Remember when fishing at night you should always have a buddy and have fun!