I love trout fishing at night; the weather is cooler; the crowds have long since gone home. Trout are more confident, and willing to go after bigger prey. After dark the wind normally drops, and the river surface calms. On some nights, the only disturbance from the tranquillity is the swoosh of hunting fish.
Lets cover the basics quickly, trout feed at night, and they take lures. Trout in general are more active under the cover of darkness. The water is cooler and they feel safer from predators. At night, like during the day, we can catch trout on lures, flies or bait. The fundamentals remain the same, but to increase our chances of success a few changes need to be made.
It predominately targeted this article towards spin fishing for trout. Although, much of the same knowledge is also suitable for fly-fishing.
Why trout fish at night?
Fishermen choose to night fish for many reasons. Some enjoy the tranquility. River banks bustling with visitors and anglers during the day are empty at night. Other’s head out hoping to land that trophy fish. Many experience trout fishermen well tell you that the largest trout are nocturnal. Some fishermen simply do not have the time to fish during the day. Between children and work, there is not much spare time to wet a line during the day.
Most trout feed at night
Many more trout feed at night than during the day. When daylight fishing, we only ever get to see a fraction of the trout which inhabit the river. Many choose to lay low and hide during the day. Drift diving or snorkeling trout rivers often reveals huge numbers of fish.
The same applies even for small trout streams. A small stream flows past my childhood house. Most of the time I see no trout during the day. It is only after very wet winter and springs that I start to see trout in some of the pools. Most years, I do not see any during the day.
But if I go out at night with the spotlight, the abundance of aquatic life gets revealed. Most of the deeper holes contain trout, although they are greatly outnumbered by the numerous and large eels. The majority of trout in my small stream only feed at night. This holds true for most rivers, It takes a very hungry or confident trout to feed during the day. Especially in heavily fished waters.
Is it legal to fish for trout at night?
There is no clear answer to this question. Some rivers allow trout fishing at night, while others have strict night-time curfews in place. Before going fishing at night, it is important to check your local regulations.
Some fisheries departments prevent fishing at night to decrease the chance of poaching, and to give the trout a chance to rest.
Can I night fish in winter?
I have not seen any specific regulations preventing night fishing just in winter. With the nights much longer, many fishermen wanting to fish during the week have to go after work. But by the time they get home it is already dark. Just keep in mind that even in temperate climates night fishing is freezing.
If the water gets too cold, the trout might even be reluctant to feed. When night fishing for trout in winter, I always dress very warm and I never wet wade. No matter how unlikely, I do not want to risk an icy swim.
Where do trout feed at night?
Trout feeding habits change at night, trout, especially browns, are more likely to feed over shallow margins and close to the bank. They are likely hunting small minnows and terrestrial insects which end up in the river.
If fishing an urban river, I often find trout holding beneath riverside lights. I guess they are feeding upon all the moths and other insects which the bright light attracts.
Even at night, trout are still lazy fish. They try their hardest to stay out of the current. So will still hold behind logs, boulders or structure which block the current.
What do trout eat at night?
Trout eat the some diet they do during the day. Although they are more opportunistic, so are more likely to predate on baitfish or go after larger prey. Sometimes they even grab mice and frogs as they dart across the surface.
How to spin fish at night
The most important piece of advice, especially to inexperienced night anglers, is to know the water before night fishing. Scout it out during the day, know the access routes, the river channels, holes, shallows and any obstacles which might get in the way. If you go to an unknown river in the dark chances are you will waste more stumbling around than fishing.
My first piece of advice is to fish slow, cast out and slowly retrieve. Trout have excellent night vision, but they do see better during the day. A slow retrieve gives them more time to sense, and to respond to your lure.
Also, take your time. Cover as much water as possible with your casts. Wait, listen. If you hear or see fish raising cast towards the sign. Short casts near the banks can be very productive,
Trout sense vibrations through the water with their lateral line. They follow these vibrations in search of prey. With trout vision lacking, it is often worthwhile to fish loud. Lures which give off a lot of sound and vibration, can grab the attention of nearby trout. Even a heavy cast can send enough vibrations through the water to grab attention. Also, do not be afraid to use a lot of rods action during the retrieve. Really jerk and twitch, he lures.
Your lure needs to be easy for the trout to see. I like to go for large and black. Such lures give of a dark Silhouettes which contrast strongly against the night sky.
Trout have color vision, but it is not the same as ours. They see two main things differently. The first is that they can see UV, the second is that the see reds much more pronounce and vivid. A dark red lure in theory, should really stand in trouts night vision.
There are also many lures which include UV paints. While the jury is still out on their effectiveness, it certainly does not decrease your chances of catching a fish.
Finally, there is glow in the dark lures and baits. These are the most visible of all. Maybe I am a bit of a traditionalist but I have always shied away from fishing them. Other trout fishermen have had great success fishing glow in the dark lures at night. So certainly worth considering.
I like to keep my lures high in the water color or even on the surface. This way trout hunting below can easily see the lure contrasting against the bright sky.
Keep light pollution to a minimum
The biggest mistake, most trout fishermen make is that they use to much light. They turn on their headlight to illuminate the path, to change lure, to check out that strange sound. They flash their light all over the place. Not only does it disturb all the river life, it also ruins your night vision.
When I fish at night, I keep my headlamp off. If I need to change lures, I will use the dimmest red light I can get away with. I also face away from the river.
Now, after I finish fishing. Curiosity gets the better of me. So I will scan the light over the holes and into the shallows just to see what is there. Chances are the light will reveal a fat trout who was quietly mocking me. Use this knowledge to know where to cast next time you night fish the same section.
Another reason to keep the lights off is insect life. Unless you want every mosquito, moth and crane fly on the river orbiting around your light, use it as little as possible.
Rely on your own night vision
Most anglers, and people in general, do not trust their night vision. They reach for the spotlight before their eyes even have a chance to adapt. After arriving at your fishing spot, it is time to start seeing in the dark. Turn your headlamp onto its red setting, use it get your gear ready. There should be no need to use a white light until your walk home.
After just 10 minutes your eyes would have adjusted and a lot more of the night world will become visible. After an hour, on all but the darkest of nights you will spot raising trouts across the river.
Few nights are truly dark. Starlight on clear nights is more than enough to see by, and even the moon is bright enough to provide illumination through clouds.
Best time of night to fish for trout
Like most fishermen, I mostly fish the early night. I get to the river just before dusk, hoping to catch the raise and I stay out there until the clock approaches midnight. Work the next morning then forces me back to the car.
This early night period. While certainly worth fishing. Is not actually the most productive time. The water still holds the daytime heat, and the trout still see some fishing pressure. The best time to fish, is the true small hours of the morning. From about 1am until 4am is when the cunning trophy trout are most likely to start feeding. With all fishermen off the river, and the night cold they have the confidence to go on the hunt. Trout rarely reach impressive sizes feeding when most fishermen fish.
The Moon and night fishing.
I never take the moon into much consideration before going out for a fish. If I have a chance to fish, I will not let the moon stop me.
I have noticed little difference between full and new moon. It is much easier to see under the light of the full moon. The trout still seem keen to feed. If I have to climb over rough uneven rods, I prefer a brighter night.
Many fishermen prefer the new moon. The darker the better. There is some logic that the trout will feel even more confidence but I have experience quality fishing at all stages of the full moon.
In this article I went into much more detail on the moons effect on trout fishing.
One difference is when the moon rises halfway through the night. A bright moon illuminating over the horizon is enough to cause the trout to stop feeding. Usually takes an hour or two for them to begin again.
Best lures for trout fishing at night
My go to lure to fish at night is dark color jerkbaits. I sometimes scribble on them with black pen to make them stand out even more.
Other fishermen have great success with inline spinners, all the vibrations from the spinning blade is a great way to catch a trouts attention.
Surface lures, like Flatfish, Mouse imitations and even poppers can be surprisingly effective. Flatfish, unlike jerkbaits have a very sporadic action which can drive trout crazy at times.
All lures should be in dark, highly contrasting colors. At night it is all about maximizing visibility.
Best gear for night fishing
Most people use the same gear they fish during the day. Although many serious night fishermen choose to use slightly heavier gear. The heavier rod allows to cast larger lures, which are more visible.
These larger lures, need stronger line. Do not be afraid of trout seeing the line at night. Their night vision is not that good. Heavier line also makes it easier to control fish, and increases the chance of landing that 1am lurker when you finally hook them/
Best headlamps for night fishing
I have purchased many headlamps over the years. When buying a new headlamp there are three features I look for. First, it must be compact enough to keep in my fishing vest. Secondly, it needs to have a dim red light mode which can be selected without using the main beam. While not essential I like headlamps that take AA batteries. I keep forgetting to charge proprietary batteries. Finally, I like my headlamps to be waterproof. There is always the risk of dropping them into the water.
There are many suitable headlamps, and there is no need to buy an expensive one. One product I advise to steer will clear off are the baseball caps with small led lights and maybe a tiny solar panel. These hats are a gimmick and the leds are normally too weak for anything useful.
My headlamp of choice is the XTAR H1 AA Commander. It was so good I brought two. The H1 AA ticked all the boxes, and with exceptional build quality. I can turn it on and jump straight to the red light with three rapid clicks. Unfortunately, like most good products it was discontinued and the models which replace it lack the red light.
A good alternative is the Princeton Tec Fred. This headlamp does an excellent job at preserving night vision. Its high beam is not as bright, but that is just a bonus.
If you must have a powerful white beam. The Black diamond storm headlamp is another good option. It is what I use when sea fishing. The red light brightness can be changed in the settings. To protect your night vision you want the dimmest setting you can get away with.
A powerful flashlight can be useful out on the river. I use mine to scout areas I do not plan on fishing. I also use to illuminate any strange sounds in the night, everything sounds bigger and scarier in the dark. My flashlight needs to be bright, but still compact to tuck away in a vest pocket. Ideally with a focusable beam. Sometimes I want to reveal strange sharps and noises in the distance.
More than once I have heard splashing sounds, curiosity getting the best of me usually reveals a large rats or other small mammal swimming to safety. Another time, I full beamed a fight between two feral tom cats. They were making such a ruckus.
Other times I have spotlighted deer, goats, boars and one very curious horse. Was not expecting that on a remote mountain river. Fortunately, I have never encountered any bears or large predators at night.
Flashlights are good for more than just scary away curious animals and spotting fish. They are ideal for charging glow in the dark lures and flies.
This is quite a controversial area. I personally do not use my light to find trout. But, I have heard stories of people using exactly that technique. Often using powerful flashlights, while floating along in a tube or pontoon boat. When they spot a large trout, they turned off the light and wait a few minutes before casting in its general direction.
While others have had success, I personally feel many trout are frightened and put off the feed the moment the light hits the water.
Can I catch brown trout at night?
Yes, brown trout are the easiest species of trout to catch at night. They often feed more actively.
Can I catch rainbow trout at night?
It is possible to catch rainbow trout at night. Because rainbow trout are more visual predators. They can be a bit harder to catch. Make sure your lures are clearly visible. Rainbows might be a good time to get out the glow in the dark lures.
Can I catch Brook trout at night?
Brook trout are tricky to catch at night. They are less predatory than brown and rainbows. In waterways with a lot of smelts, night fishing can be successful but they are best targeted during the day.