The Best Flies for Night Fishing and How To Use Them

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The days are hot and it's bright out there. Many of the mayflies have been gone for weeks. River currents are warming, clearing and dropping to seasonal lows. And the trout are riding out the lull between the epic hatches and full-on hopper season. They're notoriously fickle, easily spooked, and opportunistic eaters at best. In other words, it's my favorite time to fly fish. When other anglers choose to sit things out, I beat a hasty path to my home waters in Michigan specifically to play some "night games." Because now is when I have a chance to surprise myself and make the big fish eat, provided I know what fly to throw and how to make it dance, just so. Here's a little primer to help you fish after-hours flies... _To read Joe Cermele's guide to catching bass, trout, muskies, flatheads, snook and walleyes after dark, click here! _
Mighty Mice Midsummer is mouse season, plain and simple. Darker, moonless nights are best. Bang the banks with a mouse pattern, and make that fly act like a panicked rodent that just took a very wrong step. Twitch it, pop it, swim it, and you may be shocked to learn what's really living in the deep run next to the logjam.
Any classic deer hair mouse pattern will work. Fancy details in fly design really don't matter. It's good for a mouse fly to have a tail, but ears, whiskers and eyeballs are all window dressings meant to attract anglers more than fish. A big ball of fur popping and rolling through a slack current is plenty -- it looks like a T-bone steak for the trout that's been hunkered under cover all day.
Add a Splash In faster currents, it's important to add some splash and commotion to the mix. I like the flat-faced mouse because it looks and behaves like a popper, and trout, like bass, will react to the surface splashes. My only beef is that I'd change the face of this fly to have an open mouth with a tongue hanging out … maybe fangs. This is, after all, the mouse that bites back.
Staying Dry The mother of all dry-fly hatches happens at night, in slower, sandy, silty water (often in June). The Hexagenia is worth traveling to Michigan or another state where these bugs hatch at least once in your lifetime. It's difficult to cast this huge dry fly (usually two inches long or more) for long distances, but because they fall at night, you don't have to pump out a long cast to fish the Hex with effect. Listen for the slurp, make the shot, and get ready.
For many dyed-in-the-wool Midwest anglers, the gray drake, while it may seem the stepsister of the Hex publicity-wise, is actually the better hatch. This is the one that changes your mind when you think the river holds nothing larger than 10-inch rainbows and browns. When the drakes fall -- and this is also true with green drakes, brown drakes, and other large mayflies throughout the country -- the river turns on. To make it count, however, you must shoot a pinpoint cast, then dead-drift the drake through the run you target.
Streaming You don't have to fish dry flies only to get the most out of night fishing. Fishing streamers like this John Barr-designed Meat Whistle pattern at dusk and after will turn some big trout. The real issue is color. And as the sun goes down, I go darker, not lighter. Human eyes will suggest that yellows, whites and other bright colors are easiest to see. But in low light situations, you must remember that the fish is usually looking up. The surface of the river is bright, even at night. So to fish with full effect, you want to cast flies that accentuate the silhouette. Blacks, browns, rusts and dark olives are best.
Another great night streamer is the Krakken: A big, ugly, back-articulated bug that weaves through the water in a way that often proves irresistible. Cast it downstream, throw a mend on your cast, and then start stripping through the riffle, and the big bows will chow that fly, especially right around sunset.
The best all-around night streamer might well be Kelly Galloup's "Zoo Cougar," because you can work it like a baitfish through the run, or you can grease it up with floatant, and pop and strip it on the surface. Low or high, it creates the kind of disturbances and trout-attracting chatter that makes big browns or rainbows take a hard look.
The Classics There are some classic patterns worth carrying in the evening/nighttime fly box. Sometimes your ability to see the fly and act accordingly in low-light situations is as important as a trout's ability to see the bug in the first place. A hairy, buoyant White Wulff (designed by the late, great Lee Wulff) is perfect for such situations, especially in choppy waters.
The House & Lot Variant (H&L Variant) is great for low light conditions when you hear trout sipping from the surface. It can imitate a mayfly in choppy water, and work as an attractor in calmer water. Don't be afraid to give it a pop or twitch over dark, slow water.
My wife's late grandfather (who taught me to fly-fish) swore by casting oversized Royal Wulff patterns (#12 and larger) at night. His only stipulation was to use flies with** broad mallard feather wings.** They help you see them, and they help the trout key on the pattern that looks like a moth when it hits the water.
While we are on the topic of moth-like flies, it is wise to include a healthy dose of caddis patterns in the evening arsenal. One great choice these days is the "Clown Shoe Caddis," so named for the pink puffball on its back. Trout don't see it, but you will, even in low light. Any dimple or splash near that puff should tell you to set the hook.
Simple elk hair caddis pattern work well too. At night, it is smart to opt for the black body materials over green or tan.
Of course, I don't go anywhere, anytime without a healthy supply of parachute Adams flies in the box. This is the do-anything mayfly. In the summer, the bugs tend to be lighter in shade, so a pale morning dun or pale evening dun (morning… evening, doesn't really matter, it's all about the yellowish body color) might do better. But I'll throw the Adams from April through October, especially in the evening, and I've never felt outmatched.
One of the biggest mistakes anglers make is assuming that terrestrials only get eaten in the bright afternoons. I often fish large, black terrestrials at night. Black foam crickets are easy to float (you don't have to grease them regularly to keep them riding on top), and a twitch here and there can be the trick that prompts an eat.
"Hopzilla" is a gaudy pattern that is like a Chernobyl Ant on steroids. The elk hair on the back helps the angler see the fly position in low light. Try using a Sharpie pen to paint the underside of this fly black.
A large Stimulator (size #8 or bigger) will also work well at night, especially during the Salmonfly season.
Poppers Lastly, popper flies of all sizes work great at night. Color isn't as big a consideration as the action once it hits the water. Be sure to keep it moving as soon as it lands. A hint of fluorescent or even glow-in-the-dark paint can help you see it from a distance.

The days are hot and it's bright out there. Many of the mayflies have been gone for weeks. River currents are warming, clearing and dropping to seasonal lows. And the trout are riding out the lull between the epic hatches and full-on hopper season. They're notoriously fickle, easily spooked, and opportunistic eaters at best.

In other words, it's my favorite time to fly fish.

When other anglers choose to sit things out, I beat a hasty path to my home waters in Michigan specifically to play some "night games." Because now is when I have a chance to surprise myself and make the big fish eat, provided I know what fly to throw and how to make it dance, just so. Here's a little primer to help you fish after-hours flies...