Big Water, Big Flies, Big Fish

It’s been a season of big trout for many fly fishermen in southern Ontario this year, at least according to those I’ve talked to and (to a somewhat lesser degree) my own experiences. It makes sense though… the rivers have had an abundance of water, keeping big trout holding in water that might otherwise be warmer, shallower and clearer. High dirty water has also kept dry fly purists at home, reducing fishing pressure on many rivers.

I won’t say it’s been a record season for me though, as I had an especially difficult time keeping big fish on the line earlier in the season. I’m not sure if I’ve finally shaken the dust off my streamer fishing skills, or if the trout have had a change in attitude (or both), but hook-ups with big fish have picked up somewhat over the last month for me. I suppose I can also attribute this to the arrival of warmer weather and the corresponding increase in night fishing success.

A big wild brown from last week, caught just past dark.

Continue reading

The Night Bite

There’s never a dull season fly fishing in Southern Ontario, for better or for worse. This year began with moderate temperatures, average water levels and lots of bug activity – just about perfect conditions for fly fishing. I was casting to big Brown Trout rising to large bugs on the surface and our local streams were teeming with native Brook Trout. Unfortunately, a severe lack of rain (the worst I can recall in recent history) and high temperatures led to low water levels and few insects for the second half of the season. My beloved Brookie streams were reduced to mere trickles, where the only signs of life were leftovers from the tens of thousands of hatchery raised Atlantic Salmon juveniles that had since taken over. Even Smallmouth Bass were struggling on many rivers.

Still, on the upper Credit River, solid numbers of both large and small trout were being caught throughout the season. Cool evenings and the many cold springs that feed the Credit kept temperatures safe for much of the season. Of course, in extremely low, clear water with little bug activity, fishing becomes difficult during daylight hours. More often than not, the fish are completely inactive – hiding in undercut banks, vegetation and under logs, waiting for the cover of dark. This is especially true for Brown Trout and it happens to be ideal conditions for night fishing.

Fishing past dark on a brighter than normal evening, thanks to a near-full harvest moon.

Fishing past dark on a brighter than normal evening, thanks to a near-full harvest moon.

For the most part, my night fishing has become less intentional than in years past. Aside from a few planned late-night outings with friends, most of my night fishing has simply been the result of fishing a couple hours before dark, then refusing to leave after that magic half-hour window when the action just starts to pick up. Some years are better than others and I can recall a couple seasons ago spending a significant amount of time fishing past dark with little to no results. This has been no such year.

A large Brown Trout caught after dark on the closing day of trout season.

A large Brown Trout caught after dark on the closing day of trout season.

Continue reading

Mousin’

Just when it seemed that summer was on its way out in Southern Ontario, it crept back in again and hit us with a wave of intense weather. Combine this with the low clear waters of late and it’s no time to be out on the river for trout.

However, these hot humid days mean the trout are hiding and expending as little energy as possible during the day and waiting for the cooler, dark of evening to feed. This is especially true of the largest trout in the river, which are nocturnal by nature. While I wouldn’t recommend fishing on evenings where water temperatures and dissolved oxygen levels are below safe levels, the right conditions can bring out some absolute monsters on nights like this.

It’s been a while since I wet a line after dark and I made a last minute decision to give it a go last night. I arrived during the last few minutes of sunlight, got familiar with my surroundings and downsized my leader to prepare for the impending dark. It didn’t take long before I hooked into my first brown. Unfortunately, an acrobatic jump (which I don’t see browns doing very often) resulted in losing the fish. I managed to get a good look at it and while nice (around 18″), I knew there were bigger fish to be had.

A few casts later, to a section of water that was yet undisturbed from the previous fight, proved me right as I hooked a much larger fish. I finally got a chance to break in my new Hardy Ultralite DD reel and hear what the drag really sounds like when it’s screaming.

Big brown trout taken on a mouse pattern after dark.

Big brown trout taken on a mouse pattern after dark.

2013 Trout Closing Weekend

Last weekend marked the end of the 2013 trout fishing season here in Ontario for most inland rivers and streams. It’s hard to believe it’s come and gone so fast and we have a long 7 months to wait until we can fish for local resident trout again. It still irks me that nearly all of our rivers here are special regulations (catch and release only, artificial, single point barbless hook), yet we still have such short fishing seasons. Not only does it mean we’re stripped of our favourite pastime for more than half of the year, but it also means money lost by both small and large businesses related to fly fishing: fly shops, big box stores, tourism, etc. Yes, there’s bass (until December) and Steelhead fishing opportunities – and I appreciate that. But for many, including myself, it’s just not the same. Using many of the top resident trout fisheries in the US as an example, it’s easy to see that it can be very viable to keep special regulations trout water open for a much longer season, if not the entire year.

This is my favourite time of year to fish. The scenery is at its peak with the fall colours and fish are becoming more aggressive as they beef up for the coming spawning and winter seasons.

I love fishing small, quiet water like this during the fall

I love fishing small, quiet water like this during the fall

Continue reading

More Action After Dark

I made another quick stop after work last night. Night time action is definitely slowing down a bit, but I land one nice fish before losing my only foam mouse. I guess that’s the motivation I needed to get back to the bench to tie some files.

Another late night Brown Trout, caught on a super simple foam mouse.

Another late night Brown Trout, caught on a super simple foam mouse.

I’m supposed to be taking a friend night fishing for the first time Sunday. He has yet to break the 20″ mark for trout, so hopefully we have a good night and get him over that hump.

Fall is in the Air

Fall is still more than a couple weeks away, but you can already feel it fast approaching. We’re now into September, the last month of trout fishing in Southern Ontario. Days are getting shorter, nights are getting cooler and the weather is becoming a lot less predictable.

I figured I would take the opportunity to get out for some night fishing over the Labour Day weekend, while the water is still warm enough. The weather wasn’t exactly ideal, with rain and thunderstorms on and off the entire weekend. I’m no meteorologist or expert when it comes to weather and its effect on fish, but there are a number of theories about how weather and barometric pressure affects fish activity. While it’s convenient to use lousy weather as an excuse for not catching fish, I can only confirm that fishing was indeed difficult.

Driving into some ominous looking clouds

Driving into some ominous looking clouds

Continue reading

Night Fishing Season

The warmer days of summer are here and with that comes some excellent night fishing opportunities. I still get funny looks when I mention fishing after dark to my buddies around here. I picked up on this addiction after several years of fishing the Au Sable river in Michigan. My wife and I rent a place on the Holy Waters section of the Au Sable main branch and there are a couple fantastic holes right right next to the property. I’d heard stories of the monster fish that inhabited those holes, but for years I was not able to see or catch them.

I still remember a few relaxing nights on the deck where we would repeatedly hear huge splashes in that hole – a big brown smashing prey no doubt. It was after this that I realized just how aggressive these fish get when the sun goes down. A couple years later I caught my first 20+” fish in that very hole after dark, on a big mouse pattern. I lost it before I was able to get it to the net, but I still consider it my first real night fishing success.

Night fishing is so popular out there that Gates Au Sable Lodge began hosting an annual Midnight Fly Fishing Derby, where pairs of anglers head out for an evening fishing tournament in hopes of landing the biggest fish.

Since then, I’ve been doing a bit of night fishing back home in Southern Ontario. Last weekend was my first real chance this year and it was no let down. I landed an 18-20″ fish and lost 2 other similarly sized fish in the span of about an hour.

20" Brown caught after dark

18-20″ Brown caught after dark on a Southern Ontario river

The same rules apply here as they do in Michigan… huge browns come out of hiding about half an hour after the sun completely sets. Here’s are a few things that I’ve found increase my odds when fishing at night for big browns.

1. Use big flashy flies.
I have no doubt that casting a standard dry fly or streamer will catch fish. However I’ve found that consistently catching larger fish is both easier and more fun with a large (up to size 2-4) top water fly like a Gurgler or Mouse. With these flies, not only are they easier to see (or feel), but you generally strip them in and don’t have to worry much about getting that perfect drift or presentation. They also disturb the surface enough to attract predatory fish from all around.

2. Use darker colors.
The smaller the fly, the more important this is. When I fish a Gurgler, I don’t bother with darker colors as I prefer fishing a bright/white fly that is easier to see. A size 2 fly is large enough and disturbs the water enough that the fish are going to see and/or hear it regardless. If you’re fishing smaller dry flies however, you want to be using a preferably black fly which creates a more visible silhouette against the night sky. This seemed counter intuitive to me at first since black is much more difficult for the angler to see. However, we’re looking down from above – a completely different viewpoint than the fish. I’ve heard it described as washing your fly if you try to fish a white dry fly at night.

3. Shorten your leader and use larger tippet.
I learned this lesson the hard way, more than once. Since you’re casting (almost) blindly, you will be dealing with line tangles from time to time. Having a shorter leader definitely helps here. On top of that, the fish are not shy at night and there’s no need to keep your 10-12 foot leaders and tiny tippet. In fact, when I know there are big fish around, I have been going down as low as 4-6 foot 2x tippet. When a huge brown smashes a top water fly as you’re stripping it in, especially when you don’t see it happen, it’s easy for them to snap off even 4x tippet (I’ve had this happen).

4. Know the water and get into a favorable casting position.
Don’t try to wade a river like you would during the day. Pick a hole that looks like it holds a lot of fish and stay put. If you really know the river well, you might be able to move carefully between a few holes, but often you can spend a lot of time at a single location at night. If you’re stripping top water flies, cast downstream and strip them back upstream. This is a very forgiving way to cast at night and accuracy is not too important. I’ve also had success dead drifting flies, especially mice, though it requires a bit more practice to get a feel of where your fly is landing when you can barely see.

2012 Trout Closing Weekend

Well, trout season is officially over here in southern Ontario, which means my fishing days are going to be limited to some remaining warm water fishing (bass, pike) and possibly some steelhead fishing if I can manage to find a place and time where the crowds aren’t too bad.

My wife graciously agreed to let me spend way too much time on the water this past weekend, to finish off the trout season. I took Friday off work and managed to get out for three consecutive days, all of which were spent on different sections of my favourite local river. By the way, you’ll notice that I rarely mention river names or locations. This is on purpose, in an effort to avoid random lazy people from typing a couple words into Google and going away with sensitive and hard earned fishing locations. If you really want to know where I fish… well, I probably won’t tell you unless you’re family or friend 🙂  But, you’re more than welcome to ask.

Anyway, on with the report!

Friday, September 28th

Friday was supposed to be a full day of fishing, but I slept in a bit more than I would have liked and as usual, I needed to do some last-minute fly tying to top up my box. The main ties included a bunch of Red Humpy dry flies (which are always productive on this river), as well as a number of Simulators and a couple Gartside Gurglers for a bit of night fishing.

Lots of Stimulators in sizes 12-14 would be the main go-to fly during the days

Gartside Gurgler (size 6) for hopefully enticing some hungry Browns at night

Continue reading