The biggest browns got that way by being smart – are you ready to out-smart them? If you’re up for an adventure and catching your personal record brown trout on a fly rod, this is your definitive outfitting guide for the gear, know-how and skills to catch monster browns at night.
Scouting first has two key advantages. First, you’ll know where the fish are, and be more effective when nightfall comes. Know where the log jams, undercut banks, and other structures where the big and chunky german brown trout like to hang out of reach during the day. Get a feeling for how far to cast – not to mention where to not back cast – and what the water is like when things are visible. Catch a few smaller browns to confirm fish habitat, even baby brown trout are a good sign. Where there are smaller browns there are usually cannibalistic monster browns lurking out of sight. At a minimum, every stream with brown trout holds larger browns than you’ll typically see during the day time.
Second, you’ll be safer by scouting it out. Know how deep the water is, where drop-offs are, underwater trip hazards, where sticky silt builds up vs. easier to wade sand, gravel, or stones. Believe me, there’s nothing more erie than sinking up to your knees in soft silt with dark water swirling around at chest level all of a sudden. Know where to cross, where to cast from / to, and where public access vs. private land is. Also check flow levels before heading out, as water fluctuations – especially if on a tailwater below a dam release – can cause rapid rises in water level.
Fish Big Articulated Streamers & Mouse Patterns
Big brown trout are aggressively predatory, and feed predominantly under the cloak of darkness. They pursue baitfish including minnows, sculpins, smaller browns, crawfish and mice. Casting imitations of these should feel like there’s a lead weight at the end of your line. Unlike daytime fishing, where stealth presentation is the game, at night the game is to give the fly lifelike action, even some splash. You’ll notice the hook ups are more violent, so be ready to set the hook fast based on feel, not based on sight. Also, adding a little tinsel can help catch a little flash off the moonlight to add to the attraction.
There are many brown trout patterns, which you may already have in your fly box. Many of them will work for trout at night, even if not articulated. The best are streamers that have dark colors or dark on top and light on the bottom to create a distinct outline in low light conditions. Better yet, streamers with lots of wiggly action, in both design and materials are even more appealing to large browns.
When tying or shopping for brown trout flies, you’ll want at least a few options for each of the following categories:
Articulated streamers: Brown trout streamers tied with multi-section, articulated bodies, and that incorporate materials that pulsate in the water (such as maribou, rubber legs, even excessive feathers and hair) are the best strike enticers. Having two hooks helps increase your hookup rate as well. In fact, some fly tiers represented below are now specializing in enticing patterns for large predatory fish. Here are some of the patterns that have been designed specifically for large brown trout fishing and other predatory fish. Considering the price of some of these, fortunately there’s several you can buy in bulk. Also, these flies have good crossover for use pursuing large rainbows, pike, bass and even saltwater fish as well:
Note – if the flies you want to use are not already articulated, be sure to add a trailer hook after the main hook. As large and aggressive as they are, browns tend to mis-hit (sometimes called a “short-strike”) behind your streamer. If they haven’t seen something like it before, browns are smart enough that they may even just nip at it first, testing to see if it is real or not. Adding another hook can substantially increase your hookup rate.
Mouse patterns: Once the spring high water has settled down, and you’re into the midsummer period, pull out the formidable mouse pattern. Mouse imitations appeal to only the largest trout with voracious appetites – think how many calories they need to consume – and yield the most vicious surface strikes. This is nothing like presenting a mayfly! Drop a mouse along undercut banks, pockets and seams along streamside edges and get ready for explosive hookups. Unlike daytime fishing, don’t worry about an exact or even realistic-looking pattern, just something close to the most basic features of a mouse will work great. Just a furry body (usually deer hair) and a tail (a longish one that cut to wiggle is the best) with legs will do the job. Even ears are optional because they sit on top, but help add to the overall look if you like. Here are several patterns to choose from:
Add in some terrestrial flies like beetles and cricket imitations, and a few topwater poppers to round out your box.
To make your night time excursion as productive and safe as possible, be sure to gear up with a few critical items necessary for night time fishing.
First, get a quality head lamp to keep your hands free. Be sure to use one with a red light – which helps avoid spooking the fish (also try to aim toward the bank not the river when tying flies for example), attracts fewer bugs, avoids flash blindness, and less annoying for your fishing partners. The best models have a lock switch (to avoid draining the battery when not in use), and shine with at least 250 – 400 lumens but also have variable light strengths. Of course, switch from red to white when wading and hiking for the best possible visiblity. Several of the best head lamp models that have different levels of functionality and price points:
Second, if you don’t already have one, be sure to get a wading staff to make wading safe, along with religiously wearing your wading belt, felt or studded soles, etc. Even when you’ve already waded the stretch in the day time, you’ll have much more peace of mind and confidence wading with a “third leg” wading staff for stability and poking ahead to test for drop offs and trip hazards such as large boulders and submerged logs. A cost effective way to save money is to simply get a collapsible aluminum hiking or trekking pole. Two of the highest quality wading staffs designed specifically for fishing include:
Next, consider a heavier rod, reel and line than you would typically use on the same river – after all, you’ll be casting not only larger flies than usual, but also water logged larger flies, and your are pursuing larger fish that will test every aspect of your gear, from the reel drag to rod tip strength, from getting into your line backing on larger rivers to snapping off your tippet with “log rolls” and runs into tangled trees. For example, consider upgrading your 5-6 weight all purpose trout line and rod to an 8-9 weight, minimum 9-10 foot stiffer rod.
In effect you should think in terms of the power needed to land salmon or steelhead. The larger gear will not only make casting easier, but you’ll also be better equipped to horse that trophy out from under the tree roots or the log-jam it’ll dive down under. A classic monster strategy to break off your line – they use brown trout habitat to their advantage. Think of this as setting your own world record brown trout catch – it’s a different level of power than you are probably used to. If you don’t already have heavier gear, consider these models at two different price points, with optional full outfits including reel with line that are up to the job (and cross over well with steelhead, salmon, and saltwater fishing):
Fortunately, fishing in the dark helps conceal both you and your gear, so go with leaders and tippet in sizes 1X – 2X at night, with the best material being flourocarbon. Six to eight feet in length is plenty, but longer is fine if you prefer. Brown trout see better at night than other trout, but still will be less leader-shy at night than at day. The other advantage of heavier tippet strength is that they help with heavy streamer casting, and also prevents break-offs – even before diving under logs big browns often first stage a “log roll” to break you off. Several high quality leaders that work well for night time browns are:
Normally you’d wear polarized sunglasses to reduce glare while fishing during the day. Because sunglasses also serve a safety function (prevent those lunker flies from catching you in the eye or face), and also prevent pokes from tree branches while you work your way along the bank, be sure to wear a pair of clear safety glasses (shooting glasses work well and can double for use at the range), as polarized lenses are too dark to wear at night. Any hardware store carries inexpensive clear safety glasses. Or, two good quality model shooting glasses, which will work perfect for nighttime brown fishing are:
Last but not least, believe it or not, glow in the dark line and strike indicators are aids to consider for brown trout fly fishing. Yes, you can actually buy glow in the dark fly line. While this may seem like a sales gimmick, it actually makes tracking your line much easier. The jury’s out on whether it may make the fish wary, and in full disclosure we haven’t tested these particular product yet, so your comments are welcome on our comment page if you have actually used them. Two quality brands to consider, not only for browns but also for bass and other fish you may pursue at night are:
With or without a glowing fly line, at least pick up a glow in the dark strike indicator. These will help you keep an eye on your drift, and avoid wasted time and flies lost on snags. You can also make your own strike indicators with glow in the dark spray paint, or buy:
Now that you’re all geared up, here’s what you need to know to attract, hook, and land the lunkers. If you’re thinking brown trout vs brook trout, for example, then think in considerably different terms.
Listen As Much As You Look – This is the number one skill for night fishing, and applies as much to streamer fishing as to surface mouse and and dry flies. Listen for fish sipping, slurping, swirling, thrashing, or for really any sign of feeding fish, get ready to cast straight to that noise or just upstream of it. All the time being as aware as you can of potential snags waiting for your backcast and underwater retrieves – night time fishing demands a special acuity and awareness using all of your senses to locate and hook fish without spending too much time retying flies – you have enough of a challenge already wading in the dark and staying safe.
Fish Deep Pools, Slack Water & Transitions – At night, huge predatory browns like to cruise the shallows looking for their prey, or they hold in deeper water to spot swimming prey above them. So it stands to follow, focus on deeper holes and stretches of slack water. Even better, if you can find water transitions quickly from shallow to deeper, that’s likely to be a great spot.
Swing Fishing – My personal favorite approach is to make wide sweeping drift casts with a streamer that has a white and tinsely underbody, and dark upper body for contrast and definition. When they hit there’s no question when it’s a large brown, all I have to do is raise the rod quickly to set the hook and then lean into the battle that ensues. This approach is particularly useful when you aren’t focused on banks or structure. Swinging streamers down and cross-current is a great way to cover lots of water. To cover the most water, vary the length of your casts and also step downstream as you finish each several casts till you find where they are located.
Find The Best Depth – The swing approach described above works fine with weighted flies on a dry fly line. To reach these deeper waters and depth transition zones, particularly in larger rivers, modify your setup to get your flies to the optimal depth. Options to weight your flies include beads, barbell eyes, weighted wire, split shot and weighted putties. For larger waters it can really help to go with a sink tip line designed specifically for the task of getting streamers down. Two very high quality brands – we don’t want to compromise the connection between you and the fish, especially want low-stretch lines – include:
Make Commotion to Attract Attention – A splash landing cast can help draw attention and trigger a vicious strike. We’ve even seem multiple browns chase the same fly in competition at dusk. Landing with a bit of a splash is especially effective when using mouse patterns. If you’re accustomed to brook trout vs. brown trout for example, think about taking it up a few notches – trophy trout have to eat much more to sustain their body weight.
Fish With Slow Twitches – Mix up your retrieve and stripping pattern with alternating fast movements followed by varying duration pauses. It is often the case that nighttime browns – any many other large trout – will strike as the fly sinks on the pause.
You’ve probably got the idea by now, this is different than fishing for searun brown trout, brown trout spawning, tributary run such as Lake Michigan brown trout, etc. which have their own specific strategies such as brown trout eggs patterns (simulating the salmon eggs they are often chasing). There are certainly exceptions, but the strategies we’re talking about here are predominantly for native brown trout. Whether they are hatchery or wild brown trout doesn’t really matter. Nor does location, night time browns caught are usually bigger whether brown trout Colorado, brown trout New Mexico, or Montana, wherever. The great thing is, with this strategy you’re not worrying about when do brown trout spawn, or are they chasing other spawning fish, and whether you can get out when they are. It’s more about what do lunker brown trout eat, and how to simulate their larger prey.
Cast On The Shorter Side – When fishing large, lunky patterns, try to keep your casts shorter than you would during the day time. The less line one, the less you’ll get hung up. Also, since you’ll be focused on specific structures, seams, and shallows for cruising fish, focus more on accuracy and avoiding hangups, and less on distance like you might during the day.
Work the Bank – Especially when fishing lakes and tail waters, look for big browns that sit close in to banks, ledges and logs. You can reach these spots either wading or from a boat, either way, ease into position in a way that makes the trout recognize commotion coming from your fly offering, not from you. Just pay attention to the brown trout facts – where they like to lie and how to present – to be much more successful.
Appeal To Trout Senses – That lateral line running down the trout’s side isn’t just for color and camoflauge. It is actually a system of organs that help detect movement, vibration, and pressure gradients in the water. As such, all trout including massive browns use their lateral line systems to detect prey. Thus, the more you make your flies appear as realistic possible, for example by retrieving with attractive wiggles, tremors, jerks, etc the better you will excite them into hitting. To this end, some fly patterns incorporate small rattles or even spinning blades. These brown trout pattern can be effective if you don’t mind straying off purely traditional fly materials:
To conclude, if you want to know not only how to catch brown trout, but rather land your largest brown trout ever – head out in the darkness. The great thing is, you’ll probably pick up some other nice fish too such as the large rainbow I caught while night fishing for browns on the Deschutes River, Oregon. It’s a different form of fishing, demanding different gear, skills, and especially use of your senses. And above all, safety precautions such as scouting where you’ll fish first in the day time, a wading staff, wading belt, head lamp, and buddy system. Those up for the challenge will bring back better pictures and stories than you may ever imagine fishing the same stretch in broad daylight.