It’s the middle of July and the majority of our hatches are complete. The terrestrial fishing is heating up, our weather is shifting to more humid and warmer days/nights, and the larger fish in our rivers still prefer to hunt at night. Night fishing is a way of life here in Michigan, traditionally it was a quiet pursuit that was only whispered about in the back of a fly shop or amongst anglers that were already in the know. It’s popularity has grown quite rapidly throughout the past decade and Night Fishing has quickly become a popular pursuit among anglers chasing the largest trout of their season. The Night Fishing arena offers a very unique venue and one that offers its own set of challenges with respect to presentation and tact.
Hatches Wind Down
As the Hex hatch winds down a lot of folks will retire for the season and start breaking down their gear and hanging up their waders for the year. In my opinion, this is the time of year that the Night Fishing really takes off and an approach we commonly refer to as “Mousing” provides us with the means to catch sizable trout in the dark. The crowds are mostly gone and food is limiting making for some hungry trout hunting at night. This is our second chance to seek out the larger trout we couldn’t catch during the Hex hatch. Simply put, as much as I love the Hex hatch and the opportunity it provides, I still firmly believe Mousing is your best shot at the largest trout of the year.
Mousing is a form of Night Fishing that has gained considerable popularity here in the Midwest over the last ten years. This technique has been around since before my time and has provided anglers with a legitimate chance at a River Dinosaur while utilizing a completely unique time of the day to achieve success. Unfortunately in Michigan we need the darkness to make it work with conviction. Trust me when I say, “the night time is the right time and mousing is a hair raising experience!” Mousing is an aggressive and explosive way to fish, and much like streamer fishing you are targeting the larger predatory trout in a river system.
Fishing on rivers such as the Au Sable, Pere Marquette, and Manistee River will provide anglers with plenty of shots at trophy trout often leaving you on the edge of your seat. As with most fly fishing techniques presentation is very important. Fly placement, casting angle, pace, and moon phase are all primary functions to consider for your success. Understanding all of these critical variables will dictate your outcome and impact your chances for catching larger trout.
Mousing is a searching technique and you want to cover the water thoroughly during each outing. Casting your fly tight to the bank and moving your fly with popping strips while creating a wake behind the fly are important for success. Remember mousing is a game of cat and mouse and you want to keep the fish interested as long as you can in order to elicit a strike.The darkest nights tend to provide the most productive fishing. Knowing when the full and new moon cycles occur will further assist you in determining the best times to go. There are plenty of Lunar Charts and Lunar Apps currently available on-line or for your phones. Having a couple of your favorite Lunar Charts book marked will aid you in planning your next night time adventure. The brighter nights surrounding the full moon tend to be less productive and the fish are often more shy about eating the fly.
Life is full of lessons and when it comes to fishing in the dark and you should never approach an outing unprepared and under-gunned. When it comes to choosing the appropriate gear and equipment essential to Night Fishing, I have a very short list. First off keep it simple (K.I.S.S). As far as Tippett goes there isn’t a need to get super fancy or overly creative here. I simply use Maxima Ultra Green in 30# for the butt section and I will often taper down to 15# or 12# on the terminal end for a total length of 4-6 feet based upon conditions. However, when it comes to the rod and line I have very specific needs for these categories.
For starters I want a “Big Stick” that can deliver consistent casts over multiple distances. The Scott Sector 8’10” 7wt and 8 wt rods have been a work horse in my arsenal this season and they are definitely the customer favorite in the boat. This rod loads quick and is very accurate from short to long casts with flies of varying size. This rod has tremendous lifting ability which allows you to play fish quickly and confidently, both of which are important aspects to fishing in warmer weather and at night when you can’t see the bottom structure. The overall performance of this rod has been impressing me with every use from the streamer fishing earlier in the season and especially now casting for giants in the dark.
The Scientific Anglers Frequency Magnum taper lines have been my favorite Mousing line for the past few seasons. They are available in both Glow and Non-Glow versions. I come from an old school approach, so NO glow lines in my boat. The line taper is the same in both Glow and Non-Glow versions so pick your poison. The Magnum Frequency line is a very good choice for casting larger flies. One thing I find helpful is to over-line my rods with a line that is one line wt heavier, i.e. run an 8wt on a 7wt rod. By doing this it has greatly improved the short game which is ultimately where most people struggle in the dark. I have tried a bunch of different lines and tapers, but I keep coming back to the Magnum as it is functionally superior for all my casting needs in the dark.
Mice, frogs, Waking Flies, and Gurglers are all examples of fly designs we fish at night, just to name a few. Mice and frogs are pretty self explanatory. Flies that imitate the size, color, and silhouette of your local mammal and amphibian populations found along most river edges are a great place to start when building up your fly selection. Waking Flies and Gurglers are designed to float high and move a lot of water all while creating a very well defined wake.
Having flies that can perform well at the surface interface are very important. Two of my personal favorites are McCoys Mouse and the Amphibious Assault . However, patience is the most important aspect of Mousing and being patient before setting the hook is really important. Most people pull the trigger too soon on the strike and 9 times out of 10 will fail on the hook set. Having nerves of steel and waiting for the fish to turn on the fly before setting the hook is critical. You won’t catch all of the fish that blow up the fly at night, but much like streamer fishing, you should be able to capitalize on a handful per outing.
Many people are apprehensive about fishing in the dark. Mousing is not for everyone and Night Fishing can be safe and effective as long as you take the time to learn the water you are fishing before the lights go out. Fishing with a friend or a guide is a great way to increase your safety and knowledge of the water you will be fishing. The advantage of fishing in a boat is priceless, not to mention the safety factor compared to wading, but the ability to cover water can make all the difference in the outcome of your trip. If you love to hunt big fish and if chasing Trophy Trout is a passion, mousing can provide the angler with one of the best windows of opportunity to cash in on Michigan’s bigger trout.
Peak times to target trout while Mousing range from July to September. However, there are always exceptions to the rule and opportunities may present themselves earlier or later pending conditions. There really isn’t anything else in the world that can compare to the peace and tranquility of a clear star filled night being violently interrupted by the explosion of a large trout. The intensity of the eat and the anticipation of the next take is what keeps us up all night and by the night’s end it leaves you craving more. When all of your senses are on high alert and the fish are playing there best game with your fly, this is where the addiction becomes reinforced. These are the visions dancing through my mind that keep me up all winter craving/thinking about the next opportunity to take on the darkness in search of the next Personal Best fish.