Fishing at night – for fly fishermen, at any rate – often conjures images of giant streamers, meaty mouse patterns, and the faint glow of dull headlamps. After all, fishing those types of flies when you can’t see them isn’t superficially illogical. You know a fish is on your streamer because you feel it there. Seeing the bite in clear water is either an added bonus, or another potential excuse for missing the big fish, depending on how you look at it.
What’s overlooked during the summer months, though, is the opportunity to fish the post-sunset caddis hatch.
Yes, the idea is slightly crazy, and I’m the first to admit to committing acts of questionable sensibility in the name of catching fish. But if we, as anglers, aren’t consistently pushing our own limits then the sport will fail to progress.
Fishing dry flies after dark is hardly a new or innovative idea, but few people do it because of a lack of information on the subject.
So let’s take a look at the methodology for fishing the post-sunset caddis hatch.
Knowing the hatch
The 45 or so minutes before dusk is the “golden hour” for caddis hatches here in the Rockies in late summer. The rest of the day is hot enough that the hatches are either too sparse to get fish up top, or the water’s warmth prevents them from rising. Either way, the hatches start later, and they don’t necessarily end when the sun sets.
A few weeks ago I was out in the High Unitas Wilderness here in Utah, fishing a small stream with a good buddy. We’d fished all day, caught more than we could count, and were just about ready to pack it up and head back to camp.
But the caddis just wouldn’t stop hatching, well after the sun went down. We stood in the stream, listening to the sounds of fish slurping consistently. Just as consistently as they’d done when the sun was up.
This is an important truth of fly fishing to understand. Hatches don’t end because the light’s gone. What does change, though, is your ability to see exactly what’s hatching, how the fish are feeding (which tells you if they’re taking emergers or duns), and where your fly is.
That brings up step two.
The right light
Some guys fishing at night only ever use the light of the moon or stars. They’re also better anglers than I’ll ever be, so I don’t feel terrible using a good headlamp at night.
The key here is to use just enough light to spot your fly, but not so much that it spooks fish. Of course, as with everything in fly fishing, absolutes don’t exist here. I’ve had fish rise readily to a fly that’s essentially spotlighted with a Mag Lite beam. I’ve also spooked fish with that same strategy. This type of fishing really establishes the importance of adaptability and a willingness to learn and quickly apply those lessons.
It helps to have a buddy when fishing the post-sunset caddis hatch. One person fishes while the other shines a light on the fly. This lets you see just enough to know when the sound of a fish rising is the sound of a rise on your fly, not one of the dozens of naturals on the water.
Just one extra fly
Lastly, I like to do this to help out when the fish are either being picky, the hatch is still developing, or using any type of light at all is putting fish down.
Use a caddis that matches what you last saw on the water, then drop a soft hackle fly about 18 inches behind that. I usually make the soft hackle a size smaller than my dun. Observation tells me that, even if a #16 is the perfect dun imitation, emerging aquatic insects are almost always a bit smaller than their full-adult counterparts.
Of course, the decision on fly size is up to you and the water you’re fishing. Doing your own observation will work wonders in helping you fish effectively after dark.
Now, I use a soft hackle because fish usually set the hook themselves. All you need to do is keep the line tight and feel for the subtle bite of an eager trout.
Fishing dries after dark isn’t easy, but it’s not rocket science, either. It’s largely dependent on good prior observation and a heaping supply of blind determination to spend your night fishing instead of sleeping. Regardless of how or why you do it, fishing the caddis hatch after the sun sets is worth trying at least once.
Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer, outdoors columnist, sports writer, and novelist from Utah. Connect with him on Twitter/Instagram, @Spencer_Durrant.